Monday 20 November 2017

Mullane on Monday: System failure must prompt a change in Waterford approach

Cork and Waterford players tangle off the ball after Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash had a penalty saved by Waterford stopper Stephen O'Keeffe. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Cork and Waterford players tangle off the ball after Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash had a penalty saved by Waterford stopper Stephen O'Keeffe. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

John Mullane

That's right up there with the worst beatings that Waterford have shipped in recent times. I'm thinking back to Tipperary in the 2011 Munster final and the crushing All-Ireland final collapse at the hands of Kilkenny in 2008.

Yesterday ranks up there with those setbacks – the only consolation that we can take from Thurles is that it wasn't a final.

This time, I wasn't a player, but it was hard looking on as a spectator.

I'm echoing how a lot of Waterford people felt as they left Semple Stadium – disappointed and upset with the team's performance.

Naturally, you can find yourself on the wrong end of a comprehensive defeat, but the manner in which we failed really rankles.

During the Allianz League, we raised just two goals in six games and, yet, we persevered with similar tactics into the championship.


The system is good when it's in full flow, but when it breaks down, it's awful. Is it the way forward? I don't think it is.

It's not the Waterford way and that's why supporters were annoyed.

There were so many breakdowns in passages of play, forwards getting on balls and taking that extra pass when they could have possibly put the ball over the bar.

We played with just one man inside and with the two corner-forwards withdrawn out the field. The system broke down badly and management must now ask the question – do we stick with this into the qualifiers?

After 21 minutes, Waterford had just three points on the board, two from play; when Pauric Mahony pointed a 48th-minute free, we had 0-8 scored.

That tells its own story. It simply wasn't good enough. Management will have a good look back at the game and hold their hands up, but players have to take responsibility too.

Some of them didn't play with the same intensity and aggression they showed a fortnight before, particularly in the forward line.

Having said all of that, you have to give great credit to Cork.

I was critical of them and wondered if they had learned any lessons from last September's All-Ireland final defeat.

But they learned a hell of a lot from the first game against Waterford and focused on breaking down our short game at every opportunity.

When Waterford tried to use the extra pass, Cork players were on them like a flash.

And the Cork players that were probably below par the last day came up with top-class performances.

Conor Lehane and Séamus Harnedy got seven points between them and Daniel Kearney was exceptional too. Bill Cooper is another big find and Patrick Horgan was just magnificent.

His score in the 40th minute was worth the admission fee alone – I honestly believe that Horgan has the best set of wrists in the country at this point in time.

It was great to see Paudie O'Sullivan back for Cork, and he took two lovely scores when he came on.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy has an increasing number of options; on the other hand, when your goalkeeper is the best man on your team, as was the case with Waterford, you have to ask questions.

Colin Dunford and Shane Fives performed well too, but Noelie Connors was a big loss and Cork exposed Waterford for pace from midfield up in a big way.

Anthony Nash was involved in another moment of controversy when his penalty was saved by an unbelievable piece of bravery from Stephen O'Keeffe. It's not Nash's fault but it seems very unlikely that this will be the last time we'll see a similar situation throughout the summer.

But this was a good day for Cork and it's ideal preparation for them ahead of Clare on Sunday.

Two games under their belt and I think they can beat the All-Ireland champions. The talk was that Cork had played well below form in the first game against Waterford and that proved accurate.

They were quick off the mark and, when they went five or six points ahead, they soon stretched that out to nine and beyond.

When they were nine up, Cork weren't going to do a Waterford and let a lead like that slip.

They were going to see the job out and tack on more scores.

For Waterford, it's back to the drawing board and it's going to be very difficult to pick things up now.

Management have two choices – change tactics or stick with a system that failed during the league and, now, in the championship.

Under this system, Waterford have shipped heavy defeats to Kilkenny, Clare and now Cork this year. They have to tweak it, but they have a few weeks to regroup and plan a course forward.


Withdrawal of Kennedy shows Cody's ruthless frame of mind

I take no pleasure in telling you that I told you so, but I did foresee a big win for Kilkenny against Offaly, and flagged it in last week's column.

I felt that this would be Kilkenny laying down a marker – and that's exactly what they did. There was no let-up and 2-22 on the board by half-time tells you what kind of mindset they were in.

I noted how Brian Cody took Brian Kennedy off in the first half, after Brian Carroll had taken him for a couple of scores.

On any other day, Kennedy would have stayed on the field but Cody was in a thoroughly ruthless frame of mind.

I feel sorry for Offaly manager Brian Whelahan, such an iconic figure.

But this thumping defeat is a real cry for help, an eye opener for the Offaly County Board and Croke Park.

Offaly need to reassess what they're at from grassroots up and try to rebuild, like Laois have done.

But Kilkenny are the team to beat on this evidence. Take JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell out of the equation and the team is still relatively young, with the vast majority of them under the age of 28. Kilkenny may have had wake-up calls with defeat to Wexford at U-21 level and Dublin's minors, but they still have the bones of a very good senior team and critically, they still have the firepower.

The big concern from Saturday is TJ Reid's injury. I've seen at first hand how hard he worked to come back from that broken kneecap sustained in 2012 because he has been liaising with our own Steven Daniels, who suffered a similar injury. My big hope is that TJ's latest setback is nothing serious.

Saturday's tie at Nowlan Park also marked a GAA debut for the Sky Sports cameras and I was impressed by the coverage. The camera work was very good and they didn't go overboard on it, keeping it Irish.

But in my role as a pundit, I am also involved with RTE and I don't think the state broadcaster has anything to worry about.

As a young fella, I was born and reared on 'The Sunday Game' and I don't see that changing. But Sky coming on board is really good and we've seen the response in the UK through social media. This can only help to spread the hurling gospel across the water and worldwide.

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