Jackie Tyrrell: Cody will react and Cats will show their claws
Wexford are improving but we still don't know if they have the belief required
'Championship is a different animal. That league quarter-final wasn’t the Kilkenny we’ll see this weekend. Brian Cody will be determined to have Kilkenny fully prepared this time.' Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Every game has its own context. You have to be careful when you’re looking at it not to talk yourself into the wrong one. For a lot of people, Wexford v Kilkenny on Saturday is either a revenge opportunity for Kilkenny or a chance for Wexford to show that the two teams are back on the same level after so long being in Kilkenny’s shadow. I wouldn’t be so sure on either count.
If you go through the reasons Wexford won the league quarter-final in Nowlan Park, you could say it was down to the aggression they showed in the physical exchanges, allied to the fact they have a focal point in attack in the shape of Conor McDonald. And while both of those factors were important, the biggest influence was actually the fact that Kilkenny were nowhere near at the pitch of what was required.
They were disorganised. They didn’t know who their sweeper was or how best to use him. TJ Reid was getting ratty with James Breen. They just looked to be rattled. Wexford played well but I know what a well-prepared Kilkenny team looks like and that was not it.
So really, the context in which to look at this game is what Kilkenny have done in the meantime. I fully expect that Brian Cody has gone away and looked at what’s needed to match Wexford. He has probably told Paul Murphy that he is going to be the spare man at the back and I’d imagine they have spent time in training playing out scenarios.
Six forwards on five backs to sharpen up Paul’s distribution, half-forwards pulling off their men as soon as he gets the ball so that he knows his options quickly, decoy runs to make space in at full-forward for Colin Fennelly. There’s no way they were working on all that stuff ahead of the league quarter-final.
In my time playing Wexford, I got two reminders of what can happen if you don’t take your job as seriously as you should. One was in 2004 when they beat us with that last-minute goal in Croke Park. The other was more personal – the 2011 game where Rory Jacob gave me the runaround down in Wexford Park and I got the curly finger from the sideline halfway through the second half. We won the game handy enough but, without anyone saying a word, I had my warning not to let it happen again.
Our attitude to Wexford was always that if we were at our best, we would beat them. But underpinning it was that warning – you better be at your best because it won’t take much for them to turn things around on you. Collectively, our attitude was: “We have Wexford by the throat and they’re under the water now – keep their head down until there’s no more bubbles.”
I wouldn’t say we were ever complacent against them. Come championship time, you were fighting so hard in Kilkenny training to get on the team that complacency never really came into it. What did happen from time to time, however, was that once a player had come through training and got the jersey, he might think he had the hard work done and would relax a bit. But it doesn’t work like that. I found that out against Rory Jacob.
Our image of Wexford was of a team who could definitely hurl but who lacked a bit of belief. In 2007, we both played in a double-header in the All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park on a Saturday. Wexford beat Tipperary in the first game and we beat Galway in the second one. It meant we were going to meet each other in the semi-final the following weekend.
Afterwards, we heard that a few of the Wexford lads had stayed on in Dublin on the Saturday evening and made a night of it. We latched onto that and took it as proof that they didn’t believe they could beat us.
We always felt they would be bringing doubts into any game with us. Our job was to feed those doubts. You always knew that they’d come out of the dressing-room pumped and full of intent. But would that intent still be there if they were 1-4 to 0-2 down after 10 minutes? We felt you could rely on a few of them to just decide it was the same old story and die off accordingly.
That’s a big thing to look out for tomorrow night. How will Wexford react to an early Kilkenny goal? We can all see that this is a different Wexford team than before – bigger, more organised, focused. But have those doubts been erased? The win in the league quarter-final has to give them some level of confidence but how robust is it?
Championship is a different animal. That league quarter-final wasn’t the Kilkenny we’ll see this weekend. The onus on players to be prepared and to perform cranks up to a different level. When the Kilkenny team is named later tonight, I would expect to see some names of fellas who have been injured and maybe to some extent still are. You wouldn’t see that in the league.
Once it gets to summertime, the Brian Cody’s attitude is simple. You have a responsibility to get yourself right. Get yourself on the pitch, don’t be coming with excuses. Do the work. I’ll leave you at it there and when you’re ready, we’ll take a look at you. That makes players push themselves above and beyond to be ready in time.
Apart from very rare exceptions, you need to prove you’re fit a good fortnight to three weeks before a game. You generally have to be able to take a full part in a 15-on-15 game two weeks beforehand. It’s never a case of coming in on a Tuesday saying, “Yeah Brian, I’m good to go for the weekend”.
You either come in and prove it or you wait for the next game. At best, you might get into the 26. His whole philosophy is that if lads can just breeze in a few days out from a match and walk into the team, then it creates a bad environment among the rest of the players who are killing themselves to get a jersey.
If you’re injured, don’t be expecting people to feel sorry for you. We’re all disappointed for you but that’s not going to get us over the line on Saturday. All we can do for you now is win the game and give you another opportunity down the line. Until then, we have a job to do and you’re not involved.
This is a huge game. Win it and you’re guaranteed an All-Ireland quarter-final. Lose it, and you might be playing Tipperary three weeks from now in the qualifiers. Forget about revenge or anything else – that’s the context for the game.
Brian has probably been backed into a corner a little bit here. Kilkenny lost the All-Ireland final last year and followed it up with a mixed league campaign that ended in the quarter-final. That has to bring pressure on management and it means there are question marks now for the first time in a long time.
If past experience is anything to go by, Kilkenny will simplify this down to brass tacks. Full-back and centre-back have been a problem – I think they will man those positions with men. Possibly Cillian Buckley at centre-back and Kieran Joyce at full-back.
The first job will be to shut down Conor McDonald. He was the danger man in the quarter-final, winning ball, getting scores, causing havoc. Kieran Joyce is very strong in the air so I think he will be sent to do that job.
A lot was made after the quarter-final of how well the Wexford sweeper Shaun Murphy played. But from a Kilkenny point of view, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that aspect of the performance. Yes, they will have worked out some game scenarios designed to bypass him but the more important aspect of the Kilkenny game plan will be to get bigger performances out of their key forwards.
The job done by the three Wexford man-markers in the quarter-final got totally overlooked. Breen got the better of TJ, Matthew O’Hanlon dominated Walter Walsh and Liam Ryan marked Richie Hogan out of it. That’s Kilkenny’s three marquee forwards taken out of the game through good, aggressive defending. You take those three guys out of the Kilkenny forward line and it’s a very ordinary attack.
So it’s actually pretty simple. Kilkenny’s job isn’t to nullify the Wexford sweeper, it’s to win those match-ups first and foremost. If Wally Walsh starts calling puck-outs down on top of himself and winning his battles with Matthew O’Hanlon, there isn’t a thing Shaun Murphy can do about it. Same with Richie and TJ.
They’ll be told to go out and win their battle, get on the ball and affect the game. For Kilkenny to win the game, at least two out of those three match-ups have to go their way.
In all honesty, that’s what I expect to happen. Kilkenny are under pressure here and I can see them coming out fighting. I think they will have learned their lessons from the last day and will be a far more serious animal. Four key battles – at full-back and the three main forwards. Better distribution from the back and a better attitude all around. That’s what the game comes down to.
It should be a cracker but I expect Kilkenny to win.