Waterford’s run to League glory was coupled with criticism of their defensive style of play. However, a lot of hurling teams, and even football sides, could learn from Derek McGrath’s system.
A hurling team’s advantage over football is that the instant the opposition is dispossessed in the middle third, a score is nearly always on. Points are regularly picked off in games from as far as 90 metres out.
It’s safe to say that anyone who watches football will be able to recall numerous examples, or particular teams and matches where the football has been slower, and more tedious than a wet week.
Sides bring more men back to shut down their opposition and then go in pursuit of scores themselves. What’s the problem?
The problem is when teams forget to attack. Sometimes there is so much emphasis on minding the shop that scoring is overlooked. You’re left with a stalemate in two crowded defences, and very few scores.
Given Waterford’s average score in this year’s league is 26 points, and they accrued 2-63 in their last three games against Division 1A opposition, the hurling has not been bland.
What Waterford have crucially been able to add to their defensive style, is vision and composure. Several times in the league final, Waterford dispossessed Cork and found a man in space with a simple pass. As a direct result of their defensive tactics, Waterford were at a huge advantage in attack the second possession was regained.
The real question is, why hasn’t this happened sooner in Hurling? It looks so simple, and when executed well, a team with accurate players in the half backs and half forwards should be able to convert a high percentage of shots that are pretty much taken under no pressure.
They haven’t perfected it but the signs are good. It’s not like they are the first hurling team that have dropped players back down the field. It’s done at every level and creates more space inside for their forwards.
People will always criticise something they don’t know or recognise. It happened with the blanket defence in football originally, but now it is an integral part of the game. What some need to remember is that there is a significant difference between playing defensively, and having an effective defensive game plan.
Perhaps they have only received criticism because they have been so successful, but don’t be surprised to see the trend catch on.
John Ivory, Pundit Arena.