Sunday 17 December 2017

Waterford the team of the year so far but this may be a bridge too far

Waterford manager Derek McGrath has faith in himself and in how he wants to go about reshaping his side
Waterford manager Derek McGrath has faith in himself and in how he wants to go about reshaping his side

Cyril Farrell

All managers experience it at some stage. That's unless they are very lucky altogether.

Everyone is shouting out their version of events, telling you what you should and shouldn't do, why what you're doing is wrong and why you would so much better off listening to them.

Of course, their theories are never put to the test, so they cannot be proven wrong.

The only response is to ignore all the advice and do your own thing. That's precisely what Derek McGrath has done. He has faith in himself and in how he wants to go about reshaping Waterford.

His approach to the game wasn't - and probably still isn't - universally liked in Waterford, but good results are. And tomorrow, Waterford will head for Thurles as the team of the year so far.

Few thought they would come out of 1B ahead of Limerick and Wexford and fewer still believed they would beat Galway and Tipperary. But they did.

It's a tribute to a number of factors. One: Waterford have very good players. Two: McGrath is doing a fine job organising them. Three: they obviously have bought into his approach.


The latter has been absolutely crucial. No doubt, they would have heard whispers that the game plan "isn't the Waterford way" and that, sooner or later, it will come unstuck.

Clearly, they have ignored that. Being in 1B was a help as it gave them a chance to get the system working in a less pressurised environment.

As the good results flowed, confidence rose. And, by the time they had won 1B and moved on to 1A level, their self-belief was sky-high.

They smothered Galway quite easily, but it was never going to be as straightforward against Tipperary who were going extremely well.

Waterford took on Tipperary with a fairly conventional line-up early on and were nearly blown away, but when they adjusted their shape, it was a different story.

They won't score many goals on a consistent basis but it doesn't matter if the rest of their game works so well.

There are similarities with Clare and Dublin in the way Waterford are playing. It's a hard game to play, but when it works, it's very effective.

How do you curb it? I would put a designated man - probably a corner-forward - on their sweeper because if you allow the likes of Kevin Moran to play loose, he will make it count.

It will be interesting to see how Cork react to Waterford's game plan. My hunch is that they will use an orthodox system and see how it goes.

Besides, they will be meeting Waterford in the Munster Championship next month so they might wait until then to show their full tactical hand.

Cork have been a curious mix so far. They have put up some very big scores, but have conceded a lot in some of their games too.

They have operated at opposite ends of the spectrum, blowing a big lead and losing against Tipperary before falling way behind against Dublin and winning.

That sort of inconsistency is worrying for Jimmy Barry-Murphy, but on the positive side, their ability to rack up big scores always gives them a chance.

In fairness, the absence of Mark Ellis and Cormac Murphy weakened the defence against Dublin, who played very well for a long time before being overpowered.

It was very encouraging for JBM that his players responded so well, when they might have checked out and started thinking ahead to the championship.

Of course, this league is very important to Cork. They need to win a national title, just to get the feel of it again. After all, they haven't won one since the 2005 All-Ireland, a very long wait by their standards.

I fancy them to win tomorrow. They will have studied how Waterford beat Galway and Tipp and can avoid the pitfalls.

Also, Semple Stadium will suit them, especially the attack, which is capable of putting a hefty score on any opposition if they get into full flow.

Waterford's system will make it difficult but probably not to a degree to prevent Cork running in a match-winning score. Even if that happens, it will have been an excellent league for Waterford.

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