Waterford take on Tipperary in this weekends Munster Hurling Championship Final
The GAA has often been criticised for being too traditional, looking inward and refusing to evolve. That interpretation must be disregarded. The GAA has in the last number of years opened its doors to ‘foreign games’, welcomed a foreign Monarch and has signed many commercial deals with international companies. To the credit of the GAA, it has simultaneously managed to retain many of its traditional community based values. The evolution of the association has therefore been managed in a way in which our political leaders can only envy.
Yet tactical evolution within the hurling is one area where some within the association refuse to move forward. Some refuse to accept that hurling is no longer a man on man game, that exists within the framework of individual battles. Some believe that passion and fire will triumph over all else. It is not the case however, as such qualities have to be married with organisation and attention to detail. In short planning and video analysis have replaced running up mountains. Nowhere is the debate between the traditionalists and the modernists more intense than in the debate surrounding the tactics employed by Waterford.
Indeed much of Waterford’s success has been overshadowed by the debate surrounding the ‘system’ they employ. The Deise’s system has been both praised and disparaged and has hid the fact that Derek McGrath is building a team that could potentially push for All Ireland success in the future. How far into the future remains the question, but this weekend will tell a lot.
When Waterford’s game plan was first analysed, many compared it to football’s blanket defence. Within the GAA world it is a straightforward conclusion to make, and many of the same criticisms levelled at Tyrone, Armagh and Donegal were thrown at Waterford. However we can cast the comparison much further. Under Mose Mourinho, Chelsea have often been criticised for ‘parking the bus’. During the Six Nations Joe Schmidt was adjudged to employ a negative style of play, the primary purpose of which was keep Ireland’s error count low. Indeed some tired of Spain’s tiki-taka style, arguing that denying opponents possession for sustained periods, was in itself a defensive strategy.
When rushing to make their judgements, many commentators have promoted the ills of the defensive style without analysing the merits of the defensive strategy. In each of the above cases, opponents were not merely denied opportunities to inflict damage, but there existed a cohesive counter attacking strategy to inflict maximum gain from the slightest error. For Chelsea, it was often Branislav Ivanovic who would find himself at the end of a well choreographed set piece. For Spain it was Xavi or Iniesta that would spot the defender who had lost concentration, and played a ball past them into the path of David Villa. For Ireland it was the ceaseless exploitation of opponents technical weaknesses, before taking advantage of the errors that inevitable occurred.
Waterford then are walking down a well trodden path. They are not merely a team who sits in front of their goal, hoping to come out on top of a low scoring game, as some football teams do. Like the successful teams mentioned above, they have the ability to transition from defence to attack in an instant. Once Waterford turn over possession, their ball carrier always had close support on hand, ensuring that they can move the sliotar quickly and accurately to create significantly easier scoring opportunities – and more importantly, goal chances.
In fact watching Kilkenny line up last Sunday, only further proves the benefits of such a system when applied properly.
Why it has taken hurling so long to arrive at this strategic juncture is the only question remaining.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena