Nicky English: Better conversion rate can seal title win for Waterford

Ironically, losers at weekend could be better placed for the teams’ championship clash

It’s not always the case with replays but I don’t see this weekend’s game being any different to the drawn encounter.

Afterwards I had a feeling for Waterford to win because they had created more chances and missed more chances, particularly frees, and I still hold to that view.

They are very well-matched teams, playing the same kind of game – which is hard to watch to be honest – and I’d be surprised if either make any changes to their system for the replay. I wonder would it be better to reconsider this even for variety.

Both managers said afterwards they were happy with their teams’ work rate and you couldn’t disagree with that. It requires huge effort to play in the middle of such congestion.


Getting the ball out of those rucks in the middle third is an unbelievable challenge – often against a player’s own team-mates – and then to break out in traffic without giving away a free for over-carrying; all that for 15 points in normal time.

I’m posing the question of myself as much as anyone else because it’s the way the game is going, as I know from personal experience in this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup.

You start with a maximum of two in the full-forward line and that drops to one most of the time – which is a very tough role for the chosen player.

Win ball

It’s doubly tough for these two teams because

John Conlon

, who plays that role so well, is injured until mid-summer and

Maurice Shanahan

who has excelled at it for Waterford isn’t back to full speed just yet.

As I say I’ve been in that camp at third level but looking back I wonder, what is all of the rucking in the middle for – what purpose does it have? If you have forwards you can really depend on, should you not back them to win ball in attack? Goals win matches.

Clare and Waterford are the two prime exponents of the modern system but if you can only manage 15 points in a big match you'll be vulnerable in the latter stages of the championship.

Waterford found this out in the All-Ireland semi-final last year because Kilkenny got the goal despite the system.

Kilkenny always get goals from somewhere.

These are just questions and I’m not saying orthodox formations are the solution to everything because those days have gone but I do wonder would a change in tactics work to unblock the type of logjam we saw last week?

The championship match between the counties has become more of an issue because it’s now a week closer.

I remember with Tipperary in 2001 when we played Clare in the league final a month before the championship it was a strange experience and that was without having to play them in the interim or having to go through extra time.

I think a more relevant comparison, which I clearly remember, is 1993 when Cork and Wexford went to two replays. I think it left the winners, Cork, drained for the championship, which you can be sure isn't what they had in mind going into the league final.

What happens is that the final becomes an event in itself for the teams.

For instance this weekend is already a bigger event than the drawn match. People are talking about the tactics and style of play and I think it will be harder for the winners to refocus in time for the championship.

But the nature of these “events” is such that they take over on the field and teams don’t choose to step back.

If the replay becomes an epic like 1993, which means it takes on a life of its own for the teams and becomes something they have to win regardless of it being just a league title at stake, then the winners will have to very conscious of the pitfalls.

The losers will be that bit more fired up and will have that bit more to work with before they meet again in the championship and that could be very important when you’re talking about two teams who could play twice on any given weekend with very little between them and no guarantee of who would win.

Energy levels

There’s no doubt in my mind that Clare look to be back to the energy levels of 2013 but they are also missing players with Conlon out and no certainty that David McInerney, their best defender, or

Conor Ryan

will be back for this.

They depend a lot on Conor McGrath who, although he did really well the last day got, very little support in the forward line.

Waterford are learning.

Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran are both young and potentially very good but not quite at McGrath's level yet. Their experience of difficulty with frees will stand to them as they develop and their defence was solid.

I still think that they will get chances and are likely to improve their conversion rate this time, which gives them a slight advantage.