Wednesday 29 January 2020

John Mullane: Nowlan Park or nowhere for Waterford if Walsh Park is unavailable

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

John Mullane

If it's not Walsh Park for Waterford's home games in the 2019 Munster senior hurling championship, it's Nowlan Park or nowhere.

That has to be the clear message sent out in the wake of the decision to bring tomorrow's Leinster final replay to Thurles.

Under regulations, a home match can be moved to a neutral venue only if the alternative ground is within the province, but a precedent has now been set with Galway and Kilkenny playing at Semple Stadium.

If Walsh Park isn't ready for next year, and we want to play at Nowlan Park, that wish should be granted.

Now, I should point out that I was against Waterford playing 'home' championship games at Walsh Park this summer.

I didn't think it would have suited out team but, with the benefit of hindsight, and bearing in mind how the championship panned out, not having a place to call 'home' was a massive factor.

We would have had far greater numbers travelling up the road to Kilkenny than made the trips to Limerick and Thurles for the games with Tipp and Cork.

You had only 10,000 in Limerick when we played Tipp but I reckon you'd have 10-15,000 from Waterford alone at Nowlan Park.

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So, Thurles it is for Galway v Kilkenny Part II tomorrow. When trying to assess the first game, and looking ahead, it's useful to take on board the post-match thoughts of the respective managers last Sunday.

Brian Cody was happy with how his team performed and how they managed to close the eight-point gulf that existed between the teams when they played in Salthill.

He also suggested that Galway are forewarned now and complacency can set in with even the best when you're hot favourites.

Micheál Donoghue, on the other hand, accepted that his team didn't play well, that they were sloppy at times and lacked variety in their play.

Galway's game management was better on other days and Donoghue highlighted that his team is human and that many people were getting too carried away about them.

It was Galway's most intense game in a long time but that will stand to them.

After seeing the Kilkenny team selected, I did think they'd have a real go and that it would be tight.

Billy Ryan was sprung by Cody and I was delighted to see him involved.

He was thrown into the lion's den at Walsh Park when Waterford played Kilkenny in the league, named at corner-forward but marking Noel Connors on a tight pitch and in heavy underfoot conditions.

Billy was called ashore shortly before half-time but I saw this guy at U-21 level and I spotted potential in him.

Cody was being ruthless as only Cody can be and nobody's safe from the curly finger when he's in charge.

I thought it was a tad harsh on Ryan and we didn't see him again until last Sunday. I was pleased to see him give such a good account of himself and he's now another live option for Cody.

I did feel that the wide-open spaces of Croke Park would suit Kilkenny's young guns far more than Salthill and nobody revelled more than James Maher at midfield.

Cody's set-up was pretty much spot on, with experience held on the line and Richie Hogan delivered when he came in.

Joey Holden thrived at wing-back but the two key battles were the centre-backs against the centre-forwards.

Cillian Buckley had the better of his duel with Joe Canning, who didn't look fully fit, while Galway's Gearóid McInerney just about broke even with TJ Reid.

These two duels will be crucial again and Galway need to win them to win the game.

I wonder if Cody's considering Richie Hogan in a roving number 11 role, and moving TJ or Walter Walsh to the wing?

He also has the option of popping TJ into full-forward at times and that has to be tempting when you consider how good the full-backs were.

Similarly, Donoghue might position Johnny Glynn on the edge of the Kilkenny square.

You'll recall that he pulled a rabbit from the hat when he placed Glynn on Liam Ryan in the Wexford game - a move that worked a treat.

Both half-forward lines mirrored each other last Sunday, dropping deep and hence why we saw so many bodies around the middle third area, and that bunching on display. But in a high-octane game, it was Kilkenny's work-rate that will have pleased Cody most.

It was nearly at its max in his forward line when the Cats didn't have the ball.

That was a huge contrast to Salthill when the Kilkenny forwards were almost pushed aside.

That allowed Galway to deliver near perfect ball into their attackers but we didn't see as much of that last Sunday.

Cody will demand more of the same a week on and the stakes are even higher now.

The losers will face into a third game in as many weeks - and in searing temperatures that we're not accustomed to in this country.

Waiting in the wings for the Leinster runners-up are a fresh and re-energised Limerick team - and that's a potential banana skin.

The first instalment of this Leinster final was a bruising affair, with the hard grind leaving Anthony Daly and Jackie Tyrrell to wax lyrical on 'The Sunday Game'.

I have to say that I enjoyed that side of the game myself, even if it was a lot different to the free-flowing Munster final in Thurles.

The winning of this replay will boil down to which forward line is going to work the hardest when they don't have the ball, by putting opposition defenders under maximum pressure.

Both have strong benches but Thurles is a challenge, given how the bounce of the ball is so much more unpredictable on rock-hard ground.

To sum it up, Galway have the greater room for improvement and I do expect them to. They get my vote by a tight margin but you wouldn't rule out the draw again.

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