Sunday’s Leinster Hurling Final showed that Kilkenny may be back to their best. They out-hurled Dublin all over the pitch, and put out a statement to the rest of the teams around the country. But what was the secret to their success? Simplicity.
Anthony Daly set up his team to stifle the Cats, and frankly, he got it wrong. In 2009, the Dubs took on a Kilkenny team at the peak of their powers in the provincial decider. Eager to avoid an embarrassment on their return to the big stage, Daly set out to limit the Cats. They succeeded, and lost on a respectable scoreline of 2-18 to 0-18.
Since then, the hurling landscape has changed and there was no need for Dublin to play with a sweeper in Croke Park on Sunday. Firing aimless high balls into a two-man full-forward line played right into Kilkenny’s hands. Tactics are all well and good, but you need to first get the simple things right. Messing around with short passes or missing shots on the wrong post are inexcusable at this level.
Dublin were simply poor, and it was a bad reflection of where the county is at. With more belief, they could have went toe-to-toe and brought the game to the Cats.
Everything Dublin did badly Kilkenny did right. They employed a simple game-plan and played the Dubs man-for-man. Although the Dubs greatly facilitated the Bob O’Keeffe Cup’s return to the Emerald City, nothing can be taken away from Brian Cody’s team.
They showed why they have been the best team in the country for the last decade. They hurled smartly; letting the ball do the work. It was seldom a player in black and amber went on a solo run. Rather they played clever diagonal balls, stretching the Dublin defence. Were it not for the brilliance of Alan Nolan, and some impressive defending from the full-back line, the gap could have been much wider.
So are some teams putting too much emphasis on tactics? In the 2010 All-Ireland Final, Tipperary stood up to the Cats, putting them under pressure, and demolishing them all over the field. When the sides met again in 2012, Tipp came with a more intricate game-plan under Declan Ryan.
Lar Corbett was infamously charged to remove Tommy Walsh from the game, as the plan spectacularly backfired. They thought too much about the finer details, and it rendered their most dangerous forward redundant. They were a shadow of the tour de force which brought down the ‘Drive for Five’ two years earlier.
However, tactics are not necessarily all doom and gloom. Cork revolutionised the sport in the middle of the last decade, and set the bar for others to reach. Kilkenny, to their credit figured it out and outwitted the Rebels in the 2006 final by pulling each player back a line for the opposition puck-outs; they crowded out the area of breaking balls. This set out a blue-print for teams all over the country in years to come.
So is there a correct balance of tactics? Keep it simple. Play your own game without worrying too much about the opposition, before working out a straightforward strategy. Perhaps if Dublin had believed in their own ability on Sunday, they would be Leinster Champions once again.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.