Friday 24 January 2020

John Mullane: Cody's conveyor belt starting to stall as fear factor ebbs away

Opportunity knocks for this high-energy Waterford team - and I'm predicting a Munster final rematch in All-Ireland decider

Brian Cody. Photo: Sportsfile
Brian Cody. Photo: Sportsfile
'Bubbles' O'Dwyer will be champing at the bit to make an impression. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

Travelling home in the car from Dublin last Sunday, my thoughts turned to this evening's replay, and how both managers might set their teams up.

The element of surprise from Derek McGrath really threw everybody last Sunday, not just the Kilkenny team and management, but hurling fans all over the country.

For Waterford, it was the elimination of the sweeper system and the return to a more conventional format, with at least two forwards inside, and three for the vast majority.

The ace in the pack was Austin Gleeson at No 11, in that deep-lying role, and he caused endless problems for Kilkenny.

Waterford also interchanged their forwards to great effect and with this in mind, and taking into account also that the Déise dominated the physical exchanges, what will Brian Cody and his management team be thinking?

He has named an unchanged team for the game but will Kieran Joyce stay at centre-back or will Cody bring in a player like Robert Lennon, for example? I think Kilkenny will be looking to man-mark Austin now, a la Jackie Tyrrell and those famous battles with Tipperary's Lar Corbett.

This replay brings me back to the 2014 final rematch between Kilkenny and Tipp, when you will recall that Joyce was brought in to pick up Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and won the man of the match award.

In fact, each Kilkenny defender was designated to a particular player and instructed to follow him wherever he went.

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So, wherever you see the Waterford players go, their Kilkenny markers will follow.

Cillian Buckley or Conor Fogarty may go to centre-back, with Joyce on the wing. Eoin Larkin isn't starting as per team selection but if he is a late inclusion, he could come out as a third midfielder, allowing Michael Fennelly to move to centre-forward, with Lester Ryan possibly coming in.

Kilkenny really could do a Waterford on this, flooding the middle third and leaving a two-man inside line of TJ Reid and Walter Walsh.

The challenge for Derek McGrath is to pull another rabbit from the hat. He fooled us all last Sunday, but it took me back to our first outing against Clare, when a more conventional starting 15 won the day.

There is a school of thought that players who didn't play well last Sunday could be match-winners this time but the deeper you go into the championship, the more your squad is tested.

In this regard, I believe Kilkenny are facing a massive rebuilding job over the next few years.

The conveyor belt of top-class talent is drying up. Kilkenny could yet win three in-a row but their recent graph reminds me of the Kerry footballers, who won four-in-a-row between 1978-81, and were famously denied a fifth successive title in '82.

They were back for a three-in-a-row from 1984-86 but didn't win another All-Ireland until 1997.

I'm not suggesting that Kilkenny will go missing for that length of time because it was straight knock-out back then but I don't see any potential superstars coming through the underage ranks.

There was a time when you'd look at their minor teams and pinpoint future greats but I haven't noticed too many of them in more recent times.

What was critical for Waterford last week was that they really homed in on the first 15 minutes after half-time and they outscored Kilkenny by seven points to four in that time.

You know that Kilkenny will come with a run where they're hooking, blocking and playing with enormous work-rate and Waterford need to zone in on this period again.

Waterford did to Kilkenny last Sunday what the Cats have done to other teams in the past. They went toe to toe with them and overpowered and out-muscled Kilkenny.

And I do think that all of the talk about sweeper systems and styles of play is irrelevant to a large degree. The key to Waterford winning this replay is to keep the wides count down again.

On any given day, they have a great opportunity of beating any opposition, because they create so many scoring chances.

Consider that Waterford had 24 points last Sunday and nine wides - that's 33 scoring chances, not taking into accounts effort that dropped short.

They didn't raise any green flags again (that's just one goal in four championship games now) but Waterford will be more concerned about bringing work-rate, high levels of energy, honesty and endeavour.

If those qualities are present, Waterford are in with a cracking chance of winning this game.

In the Munster final, it wasn't the system that imploded, it was the fact that the aforementioned characteristics were missing.

Listening to the players that spoke after last Sunday, they highlighted work-rate and high energy. As we found out, they have to be there for 72 or 73 minutes, until the final whistle blows.

I honestly believe that Kilkenny have lost their fear factor now.

Ger Loughnane described them as functional at the start of the year and while I think that comment may have been a little extreme, there's certainly merit in his argument because Kilkenny are no longer an outstanding team.

Over the years, the question was often asked: 'How many Waterford players would get into the Kilkenny team? You'd always say one, maybe two at a push, but some of those Kilkenny players wouldn't start for Waterford based on last Sunday's performance.

Kilkenny are not the animal they once were and yes, I do think Waterford can finish the job.

There's also a sense of déjà vu surrounding Sunday's second semi-final between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park.

It's interesting that Galway manager Micheál Donoghue was in the Tipp camp for the 2014 and '15 seasons but of the four teams left in the competition, if you were picking a winner now, you'd pick Tipp.

They're the most likely team to get goals and they think goals, but last year, Seamus Callanan was basically a one-man show up front; the other Tipp forwards didn't lend a helping hand.

If their other forwards perform and they click, Tipp are solid enough at the back and midfield to push on and win this game.

I'm expecting that John O'Dwyer will start despite not being named in the team. 'Bubbles' is an incredible hurler and it's eight weeks since he has played a game for Tipp. He'll be champing at the bit to prove a point, fresh and ready for action.

Bubbles in the team makes Tipp even stronger but Galway will make plans for not only him, but Callanan in particular. Daithí Burke will pick Callanan up and Galway will try to get their match-ups right again, as they did against Clare. Expect Padraic Mannion on 'Bonner' Maher, and Adrian Tuohy, one of the finds of the year, could start on John McGrath.

For Galway to win, however, they'll need more from their young guns, namely Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan up front.

Much of the talk about Tipperary has centred on how they'll handle the five-week gap. You can only go on what some of their players have been saying and captain Brendan Maher, immediately after the Munster final, said that things would be done differently.

They might have taken Galway slightly for granted last year, with one eye almost on the final, but they're in a much better place mentally going into this game.

And they'll realise that if they can get over Galway, they'll have a cracking chance of winning Liam MacCarthy again.

Calling both games, I'm expecting two hugely physical encounters but Waterford and Tipperary to be the last teams standing as they set up a repeat of the Munster final on the biggest day of all.

Irish Independent

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