Waterford and Tipperary played out another u21 game to remember last night. Lead by the fantastic Austin Gleeson, the Déise played with freedom, abandon and instinct.
Although last night’s final result suggests a dominant Waterford display, it wasn’t until late on where Waterford asserted their dominance and pushed on to win quite comfortably in the end.
Senior stars Patrick Curran, Tom Devine and Austin Gleeson stood up in the second-half as Waterford claimed their first Munster title at this grade since 1994, when Tony Browne was centre-back. 22 years on, they were inspired once again by a centre-back. This time, it was in the form of Austin Gleeson, who gave a fantastic second-half display.
The Mount Sion man contributed five points from centre-back. The 20-year-old was an utter dominant presence at the back and inspired his team to victory.
One has to wonder why Gleeson doesn’t play at centre-back for the senior side. Derek McGrath’s system is tailored to suit the type of players he has but when Waterford’s best player isn’t playing in his most influential position at centre-back, questions have to be raised.
The likes of Tom Devine and Patrick Curran thrived in traditional roles at centre-forward and full-forward respectively. Unlike the senior team, the Waterford forwards were positioned close to goal and had support every time one was in possession.
Derek McGrath isn’t going to change his tactical system this year. However, if they are to lose to Kilkenny in ten days time, the Déise bainisteoir will be forced in to some sort of change. Yesterday’s u21 display showed exactly what Waterford can do.
Admittedly, there is a massive difference between senior and u21 grades. The u21 championship has and hopefully always will be, renowned for thrilling games played with abandon. Senior games have become a lot more cagey in recent times and that is largely down to the fact that Waterford and Clare are playing with such defensive systems.
After Clare’s defeat to Galway last weekend, there have been calls for Davy Fitzgerald to step aside. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that Clare’s performance was hugely disappointing on the day. Limited by a tactical system, the Clare players weren’t allowed play off the cuff.
The young talent in both Clare and Waterford is frightening. However, both counties are the two teams that are playing the most complex defensive systems. Galway, Tipperary and Kilkenny are the best teams in the country by quite a distance. However if Clare and definitely Waterford played a traditional game, 15 on 15, they could beat one of these three teams.
Freedom, expression and abandon are words all associated with last night’s Waterford u21 performance. The question has to be raised; is the system that Derek McGrath is implementing actually limiting these young Waterford stars?
Although the u21 championship and the senior championship are hugely different competitions in terms of standard, this writer can not see Waterford’s style of play implemented last weekend against Wexford, beating Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. The u21 side performed admirably last night and that style of play is the way forward for the Déise men, if they are to beat the likes of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway.
Next Sunday week’s All-Ireland semi-final will tell a lot. Waterford’s tactical set-up will be under huge scrutiny and should they lose, the u21 performance last night showed the way forward.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena