Tuesday 21 January 2020

There’s no such thing as 15 on 15 anymore, insists McGrath as he defends Déise tactics

Derek McGrath has had plenty to smile about despite criticism of his tactics. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath has had plenty to smile about despite criticism of his tactics. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Waterford hurling manager Derek McGrath says he can't wait to get "stuck in to" a debate about the evolving tactics in hurling, claiming there is currently no '15 versus 15' game played by any team in the game.

McGrath, who has come under fire during his four-year term for consistently deploying a sweeper, believes the "guns are loaded too easily" when it comes to a collision of purist virtues and innovation.

"The argument between traditionalists and purists versus innovation? I think we're all traditionalists," he said. "We all love hurling. We all live and die for it. I think the guns are loaded too easily behind the whole debate. We're playing the game the way we feel the game should be played every day we go out but we're tweaking it. Every team is.

"A really good piece of analysis that I'm sure you'll all look at was mid-summer by Liam Rushe, the Dublin player, when he spoke about Galway," he recalled to the assembled media at yesterday's Waterford All-Ireland final press morning. "I'm sure people will tap into that."

Rushe said last June that Galway's forward rotation and massing of defensive numbers, including Joe Canning, made them a much more difficult proposition to beat, suggesting there hadn't been enough analysis done on how they were playing.

"I'm not any kind of theorist or anything like that, but the language that is out there in terms of 15 versus 15. There's no 15 on 15," he pointed out.

"What I mean by that is that, if a wing-forward tracks back 80 yards and his man is not with him, that means it's not 15 on 15. Because if it's 15 on 15, number 10 should be seven. So it's a fairly simple argument for me. But that's a problem for the GAA at every level," he suggested. "I was at an U-11 game the other night, the mentor shouts in at the young fella 'get out in front'. The young fella gets out in front but by being out in front, he's out 60 yards. The ball goes over his head. Do you stay in? he asked.

"The language, the whole thing, when you say things like the game is evolving, we're all old-fashioned about it. But there's a definite change about it. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to a debate about it.

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"There's structured flair. This argument that everyone is being hamstrung by instruction. People asked me does it irritate me. It doesn't really. It's just not true. I believe what actually supports that is, how hamstrung was Austin (Gleeson) going in on goal the last day? Dummy handpass one way, dummy handpass another way, and then you flick the ball off your hurley into the net. I don't think that's someone who is being absolutely restricted."

McGrath's tactical appreciation crosses over to football too and his acknowledgment of RTé analysis of the Mayo/Kerry All-Ireland semi-final from Ciarán Whelan that focused on Keith Higgins' movement when Mayo were defending by comparison to Kerry's man-to-man approach.

"I watched the football last Sunday and there was a great debate afterwards about Kerry's defensive structure and the balance between man-marking and if you're following your man, you're opening up space then for someone else," he said.

"And I thought Ciarán Whelan was brilliant showing Keith Higgins' role.

"It was a really good piece of analysis that showed Keith marking but then when they lose possession, Lee Keegan would go to left half-back and Higgins would funnel back to the 'D'. But then when they were attacking, he was available as well."

McGrath confirmed that Conor Gleeson would not be appealing his one-match ban after the Central Hearings Committee upheld the proposed suspension at a meeting on Monday night. He said there was a difference between this case and taking Tadhg de Búrca's case all the way as they did to the Disputes Resolution Authority.

"We accept that, but I'd have spoken to Conor about the different circumstances. There are different circumstances with each case. The loco parentis issue, the duty of care.

"I was up with his mother yesterday (Monday) and they're very supportive of the stance we felt we should take, which is to go to the first hearing, see how that goes, and our approach then was to get the red reduced to a yellow in terms of the infraction.

"When that wasn't going to be successful as a result of Monday night, we felt it was a case of a different scenario to what Tadhg faced. That was the reasoning behind it, rather than a duty of care to the players. These fellas are well able to accept that each situation is different, we're moving on to look forward to the All-Ireland."

McGrath said he always felt confident that Austin Gleeson would not be sanctioned for his faceguard pull on Cork's Luke Meade in the All-Ireland semi-final.

"Given the route we'd been down with Tadhg in terms of the referee's report being sacrosanct and all the judicial learnings from the two weeks previous, which the management had immersed itself in behind the scenes, I was confident from the outset.

"I was confident, based on conversations which had taken place with our own on-field players in terms of bringing back information as per conversations between referee and linesman. I was confident an adjudication had been reached on the given day.

"Having experienced the laws of the GAA over the last two weeks, the language being used was allowing me to concentrate on the All-Ireland."

Irish Independent

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