3 weeks ago, Tipperary dispatched of Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds in a clinical display. In the aftermath of the game, it was put down to the superior skill of the Tipp forwards, and in particular, Séamus Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer. The pair were in imperious form, and rightly drew plaudits. But having defeated the Premier the two previous seasons, it is incorrect to write off the Treaty as simply having inferior hurlers.
On the day, Tipperary were tactically immense. It was Eamon O’Shea’s finest performance to date at the helm of the 2010 All-Ireland champions. The puck-outs were used as a weapon. Following last year’s semi-final victory over Cork, Donal Óg Cusack hailed Darren Gleeson’s performance as the best puck-out display he had ever seen. High praise indeed.
Limerick, as per the norm for any inter-county team these days, started the game by crowding the midfield and half-back line for the opposition puck-outs.
If a short puck-out is taken, well and good, but it is up to the goalkeeper and corner-back to execute this perfectly and consistently. It is regarded as a risk worth taking.
However, in the Gaelic Grounds, perfection and consistency were achieved by Gleeson and his corner-backs. They bi-passed the crowded areas of the midfield, and ball was sent straight into the full-forward line, where Callanan picked up two first half goals.
To his credit, TJ reacted quickly, playing man-for-man from the Tipperary puck-outs for the rest of the game. The Plan B was to take the Premier on, and ultimately, Tipp’s class told. Nonetheless, it was a positive move by the Limerick manager, and one which brought Limerick right back into the game in the second half.
It is quite clear that Derek McGrath and Co. would be less willing to take on Tipperary 15-on-15 in the Munster Final. The whole game-plan is propped up by Tadhg de Búrca assuming a sweeper role. This is a deeper role than just floating between the midfield and half-backs, and fulfills a greater importance than to merely offer the Déise an advantage when Tipp go long with the puck-outs. Colin Dunford’s presence in the middle third backs this up, allowing De Búrca to drop deeper again.
But if Darren Gleeson hits Cathal Barrett and Ronan Maher with the same precision that he displayed the last day, Waterford could struggle at the puck-out. High, long balls could rain in on top of Callanan and O’Dwyer, and they will find goals. Considering Richie McCarthy, Séamus Hickey, and Stephen Walsh, one of the best fullback lines in the game, were taken to the cleaners the last time out, defences all over Ireland should take note.
In this year’s league semi-final, Tipperary were undone by McGrath’s blueprint. One obvious variable to that day was the venue. Nowlan Park is a tighter pitch than Thurles. Waterford were able to crowd out the Premier in the Marble City. In the open layout of Semple Stadium, this will be more difficult. Yes, the system worked a treat against Cork in the Déise’s last two visits to the ‘home of hurling’, but Cork do not possess weapons akin to an in-form Tipp.
Waterford are here on their merits, and it would be wrong to rule them out. The last day out against Cork, they proved that their league triumph was no fluke, with a powerful display. This is a young team, with some of the best hurlers in the country at present. They have been underdogs for almost every game they have played this year, yet are the only team in the country undefeated. A date with Tipperary will by no means phase them, and should not be written off.
Waterford’s system is still standing after several tests this year. However Tipperary are best equipped to better it. Not that they will necessarily unlock it completely, but they have the tools to take advantage of any chances that come their way. Waterford are not to be written off, but long balls over the crowded area and into messrs Callanan and O’Dwyer ought to see the Premier home.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.