Sunday, June 1, 2008

Munster Senior Hurling Championship-Clare defeats lethargic Waterford

Today at the Gaelic Grounds Limerick, Clare easily defeated reigning Munster Champions, Waterford by 2-26 to 0-23.
This was one of the poorest performances from a Waterford side since the early eighties.
Whilst deprived of the services of injured players Ken McGrath, Eoin Kelly, Eoin Murphy and Paul Flynn, the reality is that the team with some notable exceptions displayed an insipid attitude and appeared singularly short of the fitness levels required.
An insidious mentality has begun to permeate hurling circles in Waterford. There is a belief that the Munster Championship has lost its significance. This appears to have translated to the players. There was a lack of appetite for this game.

In marked contrast the Clare players were superbly fit. Except for the first ten minutes of the game the Bannermen were on top.
Their backs hunted in packs. Waterford forwards were generally surrounded by two to three players. Waterford attackers attempted to mix it with the Clare backs. This led to bunching and suited the Clare defence. More ground play, less bunching and more wing play and low ball could have opened up the Clare defence. Waterford forwards were largely static and failed to move off the man. They were sitting ducks for the no nonsense Clare defenders. Waterford forwards generally played as individuals. John Mullane gave probably the greatest performance of his life in a Waterford shirt and was certainly man of the match.
It is obvious that injuries have taken their toll on Dan Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast. It was noticeable that Clare halfbacks cleared their lines with little pressure being exerted by Waterford half forwards.

The Waterford defence was under extreme pressure throughout the game. Similarly at centre field Clare dominated. Both in defence and at centre field the Waterford marking was too loose. A simple illustration of this, Diarmaid McMahon was moved onto Brian Phelan. He promptly drifted away from his marker and scored three points in quick succession in the first half. Even in victory loose marking has been a facet of the team’s play, which was unsatisfactory. Much of the pressure exerted on Waterford backs emanated from ball supplied by Clare halfbacks and centre-field. In fairness Dave Bennett was immaculate from placed balls.

It is time to radically recast the team. Ken McGrath should be placed at full back and Brick Walsh at centre back. Tony Browne is beginning to slow and should be placed in a corner back position. Kevin Moran should be tried at centre field. It is time for Waterford mentors to insist on man to man marking in defence. They must be ruthless with players on this issue. In the course of Championship matches one mentor should supervise the backs, another keep an eye on centre field and a third should monitor the forward line.

Finally in future National Hurling League campaigns Waterford must experiment more. Today Garry Hurney was thrown in at the deep end. He has plenty of potential but would have benefited greatly from experience gained in the National Hurling League.

It is back to the qualifiers now for Waterford. The team has the capacity- especially with the return of injured players- to undo the damage inflicted today. The back room team must radically recast the defence for the game against Antrim. Hopefully fitness levels will improve. Tight marking by the defence and centre field is a sine qua non. No opponents should remain loose between the 65 metre line and the Waterford goaline. A return to combination play by the forwards allied to more wing play and ground hurling is an essential prerequisite for success. In addition forwards must move off the backs more.

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