Sport Hurling

Monday 18 December 2017

Diarmuid Lyng: Trust in Davy's system key to winning war against Rebels

Diarmuid Lyng

Few pieces of literature have survived the test of time on such a definitive subject as Sun Tsu's 'The Art Of War'. In any great battle, any foray into the unknown, where tactics and skill are mentioned in the same breath as courage and discipline, it does no harm to remind ourselves of the ancient lines on which battles are won and lost.

Of course, it's worth remembering that it's not really war – though I won't be wasting my time persuading Davy Fitz or Jimmy Barry-Murphy of that. The hurling championship this year has run on the principles of anarchy, governed each Sunday by the knowledge that in the end, despite our carnal craving for order, it's chaos that lights us up.

Which brings us to Sun Tsu.

Amidst the mayhem of warfare, Sun Tsu sought to understand. To measure. To know. And to predict. There are five main principles laid out by the Chinese strategist. 'The Moral Law', 'Heaven', 'Earth', 'The Commander' and 'Method and Discipline'.

'The Moral Law' is defined by the side willing to follow their leader into battle, irrespective of the consequences. Which side believes in their manager more. Davy Fitz left a more dictatorial style – that seldom breeds true loyalty – in Waterford. He has surrendered control, no longer hell bent on proving he's not whatever people decide he is. It's not soft. But it's softer. Players identify with that.

On the other side there's a paternalistic nature to JBM that draws you in. Despite Cork being one of the big three and despite our need for a return to the tumultuous '90s, where it seemed we all could have a slice of the All-Ireland pie, you find yourself rooting for him.

I can't imagine a single request of the Cork hurlers this year that hasn't been met with the enthusiasm of a child showing off on his first day without stabilisers, but it's advantage Clare for the enthusiasm Davy invokes.

'Heaven' signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. We're currently enjoying the last of an actual summer, but there will be showers tomorrow. This carries most significance in relation to the tactical battle ahead. Where sweeper systems are employed and the possession game utilised, long-range accuracy will be crucial. You see, the ball flies differently when it's wet.

The team that commits to working the ball into the red zone of shooting, that has the most composure in the shot, will decide on what side a one-point win will fall. Against Limerick, Clare had the space to be composed.

Their shot selection against Cork in the Munster semi-final and noticeably against Wexford in the qualifiers left a lot to be desired, and could prove to be their achilles heel in the face of a Cork team that are imbued with a traditional sense of knowing.

Just because the chance hasn't presented itself yet, it doesn't mean it won't come. Patrick Horgan is their only goalscorer in the championship to date, but that doesn't concern Cork. Very little does. Certainly not the weather. Cork to roll with the elements.


'Earth' comprises of distance and space, narrow passes and open expanses. Cork have a lightning-fast forward division, with Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane beginning to play less of a supporting role to the outstanding Horgan, while Daniel Kearney is revelling at midfield as the link man to a well marshalled back division under the generalship of Shane O'Neill.

But Clare have the upper hand in the effectiveness with which they employ Patrick Donnellan as a second centre-back to close off that space.

In terms of narrow passes, I've never seen corner-backs as assured as Domhnall O'Donovan and Cian Dillon. Tony Kelly bringing Brian Murphy to midfield and Podge Collins playing a free role around the half-forward line opens up the space for Honan, Conlon and Co to thrive. Clare to close down at the back, open up in attack.

'The Commander' is for wisdom, sincerity, courage, benevolence and strictness. Davy Fitz and JBM have garnered enough attention. They bring each of the above in abundance not just to their respective teams, but to the game. JBM has an iconic status seldom seen in Irish sport. Davy Fitz is on his way to building his own version of that. But he's not quite there yet. Cork on experience.

And finally the most telling of all, 'Method and Discipline'. Cork and Clare have cultivated styles that work. It's a culture that has been bred into them, and it has served them well.

They have persevered in the face of definite adversity. Davy with exasperated roars from the stands of "will ye bloody let the ball in" and JBM with relegation to Division 1B. But they both trust themselves and their players. And now it's Little Bighorn and one last stand. So who blinks first?

Who has the most discipline to stay the course, regardless of the pressure that may push them back to old habits? Who will be tempted into a clearance that may bring the house down in the bleachers, but ultimately that breaks from the pattern that serves the team?

Clare own their own system. It was tested at minor, perfected at U-21 and is thriving now where it matters most. If they stick to it, Cork are on the back foot – left in a reactionary space that doesn't lend itself to the ultimate expression. Clare to trust in their system.

The championship this year has made bluffers of all of us. But amidst the chaos, Clare play a brand of hurling that suits them, and maybe no one else. They have a manager with a sense of destiny. And a system that works.

JBM will still be the king on Sunday evening, and no one will have died. You get the sense of a beginning for both teams and we'll see them here again on this, the most magical of days.

Clare by three, but I'm not even sure Sun Tsu could call this one.

Irish Independent

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