Friday 18 January 2019

Sinead Kissane: Festival of curiosity with tactics and tailbacks expected at all-new home of the Rebels

Numerous plotlines and sub-plots should make this a weekend to remember for hurling supporters

Former Cork hurler Seanie McGrath, Head of Sales at OCS Ireland, gives his team a talk at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this week. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Former Cork hurler Seanie McGrath, Head of Sales at OCS Ireland, gives his team a talk at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this week. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Davy Fitzgerald did something his players didn't expect before Wexford's Leinster SHC semi-final with Kilkenny at Wexford Park last month.

During the squad's training week in Portugal in May, they had a sing-song while travelling on the bus home one evening. A few weeks later, as the players were getting psyched-up to play Kilkenny, Davy pulled out his phone and played a recording of them singing together in Portugal.

The recording silenced them as they listened to themselves singing.

Maybe it reminded the players of the hard work they put in for this championship, maybe it was a reminder of their unity, either way, the unexpected helped as they went out and beat Kilkenny.

There's a Festival of Curiosity going on in Dublin this weekend but it will be hard to match the festival of curiosity around the two All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals between Tipperary and Clare this afternoon and between Wexford and Waterford tomorrow.

The presence of two personalities like Davy Fitz and Derek McGrath would usually force you to take sides but this is a game where you don't want either county to lose.

It's not hard to imagine the tinkering, tailoring and soldiering of their squads and the spying of the new features at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"This will be a tactical game of that there is no doubt," Fitzgerald promised earlier this week after bringing his squad on the near five-hour round-trip for what could be an invaluable training session on the new pitch in the Páirc on Monday evening.

There has been so much talk of tactics going into tomorrow's match that you wonder if a game of hurling will break out.

Davy and Derek are seen as such innovators that their reputations can send opposition teams into an unnecessary tail-spin over what they could possibly concoct.

Ireland rugby head coach Joe Schmidt, who gave a talk to the Waterford hurlers a few seasons ago, has described situations when one manager might try to figure out the other as descending into a case of double-bluff.

But Dan the Man gave us a shot of it anyway.

"He's definitely going to come up with something different," Shanahan informed us about his former manager Davy, making us hold our breath even more at the thought of what tomorrow may bring. "He's played a sweeper there all year and he could go with two sweepers the next day. It's going to be different with Davy."

There are also the more straightforward questions: What's Wexford's plan for Austin Gleeson? What's Waterford's plan for Austin Gleeson? Now insert Lee Chin into those questions.

Whose sweeper system will be come off as the more sophisticated? Or maybe the greatest trick either Davy or Derek will play tomorrow will be along the lines of that beloved All Blacks saying: KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid.

Run your fingers through this summer and two of the stand-out days were Wexford and Waterford's wins over the same county.

Life after beating Kilkenny came with a defeat to Galway for Wexford in the Leinster SHC final.

Chin said one of the biggest things they learned from that game was not being so negative after making a mistake. Despite being deflated about that defeat, I don't know if I've ever heard a player talk with so much belief in his manager as he did about Davy.

"All of us trust in what Davy says. No matter what he says, what it is, we think it's golden," Chin stated.

Tomorrow will be Waterford's first game since beating Kilkenny for the first time since 1958. The after-kick of that victory must surely be an added confidence allied with that reminder from the magnanimous Brian Cody in their dressing room after that this win was just a stage in their journey.

But Noel Connors tried to turn the volume down on the notion that Waterford's greater experience should see them through tomorrow.

"They've been consistent, a hell of a lot more consistent than we've been," Connors said about Wexford.

"It took them normal time to beat Kilkenny. And, unfortunately, we had to go to extra-time, so that's perhaps the best reflection on where they are ahead of us at this particular moment in time."

Sorry Noel, I'm not buying that logic!

But the illogical has been a feature of this hurling championship. While Wexford v Waterford might be about the plot, Tipp v Clare should be more about style especially with their classy forwards.

The most curious team left in the last six is possibly Tipperary. They've looked like a team which could do with a word from Rory McIlroy's caddie JP Fitzgerald to shake them out of their stupor: "You're the defending All-Ireland champions - what the f**k are you doing?"

Tipp had been fire-fighting this summer but their rescue mission started with that impressive win over Dublin. Maybe it was all a ploy because it's hard to remember any reigning champion ridding themselves of huge expectation as fast as Tipp did.

When you read through their team with a full-forward line of John O'Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and John McGrath, then this side can become contenders again very quickly.

It seems there has never been as much fretting about bottlenecks in Cork city as there has been ahead of this weekend's double-header. But there's something special about pitching up in a new place, a new home with its freshly-painted face, new facilities, the kind of newness which underlines that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

This weekend is stacked with curiosities. Derek v Davy v Dan. Tipp v themselves v Clare. A housewarming with hurling's equivalent of Twister and the championship's version of musical chairs.

High summer by the Lee has been worth the wait.

Irish Independent

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