Monday 23 April 2018

KILKENNY v WATERFORD (Croke Park, 3.30)Damian Lawlor

The debate has raged as to whether or not a team deploying a sweeper system can go all the way to win the All-Ireland title.

Unless Waterford, in this instance, get more resources up front and start to accumulate higher tallies, it's hard to see how they can hit the necessary score to win today.

Long-range points and immaculate free-taking have been a feature of their progress this year - along with massive work rate and excellent use of the flanks - but today offers a different proposition.

Firstly, the vast space of Croke Park makes the sweeper system difficult to maintain as more gaps can be pierced by the opposition. Added to that is the fact that Kilkenny play a compact game themselves, dropping every line of the field back to offer support to the department just behind them.

And so with all that in mind Waterford may not even go with the extra man in their defence for the entire 70 minutes today. It wouldn't be the biggest shock - after all, they dispensed with the system against Dublin. Tadhg de Búrca, who has been expertly commanding the role of sweeper this season, played as a traditional centre-back but once they got a firm grip on the game the sweeper, understandably, was deployed again to see the game out.

Today, no matter what mechanism they use, it would firstly be advisable to try and man-mark Richie Hogan. That's a difficult task as he constantly drifts into zones that no one else spots.

And so while Waterford have the ability to defend and attack with purpose and while they work very hard in digging out breaking ball, keeping tabs on Hogan - and also TJ Reid - must be top of their list today. If they can snuff those two out they can win this game. If they don't silence the deadly duo, however, their 0-23 average score per championship match will hardly be enough. Waterford are unlikely to offer up too many goal chances, so that, at least, gives us hope that we will have a fascinating, evenly-matched affair in what has been a most disappointing season so far.

Added to the stack of big-name players no longer available to Brian Cody, Jackie Tyrrell and Richie Power are absent today. Tyrrell may have struggled last time out but he is rarely found wanting and his bullishness and experience will be missed. There has also been speculation that Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Mick Fennelly would not be right.

Those injury worries give this Waterford team, a combination of 2007 and 2008 All-Ireland De La Salle College teams, the successful Waterford Colleges team of two years ago and the All-Ireland-winning minors, a chance. These kids are used to success and not one bit afraid of the sight of more of it.

Derek McGrath has learned much from Kilkenny over the years, often attending their training sessions, and you would expect that he will have his tactics spot on today. He has had to overcome doubt, both internally and externally, to get his side to the level they are at now, and he will relish the chance of a huge scalp. No matter what happens, McGrath is already Manager of the Year.

Ultimately, the outcome today depends on their approach. If they set out to contain Kilkenny and take it from there we see only one winner. Many of Cody's men have been here before. They seldom fail to perform on the big stage and losing semi-finals is not something they usually do. They should have enough to win.

Verdict: Kilkenny

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