Jackie Tyrrell: Waterford are nice, you’d want your sister going out with one of them
Derek McGrath has put all the eggs in the championship basket, now it’s time to deliver
Waterford have a real chance this weekend to lay down some markers. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
For Waterford, this Sunday has the feel of the English Championship play-off soccer game that decides who goes up into the Premier League.
There’s a massive upside and an equally massive downside. If they beat Cork, they are 100 per cent contenders for the All-Ireland. If they lose, I don’t see them fighting their way through the qualifiers and it becomes just another season.
Cork are not in the same position, even though the prize for winning and the punishment for defeat are the same for them as for Waterford.
Cork are in a different stage in their life-cycle. They’re not really contenders for an All-Ireland, even if they do beat Waterford. They’re a season or two away from that. And whatever happens from here, the win against Tipperary has kick-started their future. No matter where they end up, they have made progress and they have something to build on now.
Waterford are past that stage. They’re together four years now under Derek McGrath. They’ve done the clear-out, the rebuild, the sweeper. They’ve won the league, been to two Munster finals, lost an All-Ireland semi-final after a replay. They’ve gone bit by bit along the road and now the next thing on the agenda is to win a Munster title and carry that on into the All-Ireland series.
What I like about them is that they’ve made no bones about it. Everybody saw how they approached the league. They wanted to stay in Division 1A but they had no interest after that.
When you do that, you’re immediately putting pressure on yourself for the championship. You’re saying the league is no good to you, that you’re past that stage and only an All-Ireland will do from here on out.
That’s alright for Kilkenny and Tipperary to be saying to themselves. If you’re playing for those counties, you have no choice but to think that way. For Waterford, you can say it all you like but it will naturally take you a while to convince yourself of it. Some guys will believe from the start, others will come along in their own time. It’s not a uniform process.
That’s why a game like this is so important. Let’s say they lose to Cork on Sunday. Then on Monday morning, they’re drawn against Kilkenny or Tipp in the qualifiers, with the game to be played in a fortnight.
All of a sudden, the mental task in front of Derek McGrath and Dan Shanahan is massive. They’ve spent the whole of 2017 drilling it into lads that championship is what it’s all about – and now, out of nowhere, the whole thing could be done and dusted in two weeks.
Of all years, this is a championship for going through the front door. Beat Cork on Sunday and Waterford don’t have a bogey team like Tipp waiting on them in the Munster final. Win the Munster final and even if they meet Tipp or Kilkenny later on, they’ll be going in as provincial champions. A team on a roll. A team doing what it set out to do, getting more and more convinced with every game that this is their year.
Growing as a team is all about becoming comfortable in situations you’re not used to. On the biggest days, you don’t have time to be knocked off your stride. Waterford are favourites on Sunday, which isn’t something that has happened too often. They have to make sure it has no effect on them.
Kilkenny were favourites in probably 99 per cent of the games I played. Our way of dealing with it was to look inward. I wouldn’t know what was going on in the world the week of a game because all I concentrated on was what we were doing. I wouldn’t look at the news, wouldn’t pick up a paper, nothing. Everything was internal, laser-focus, tunnel vision. The outside world didn’t exist. It will still be there on Monday.
There’s no dirt in them – and to be very honest about it, they could do with some
That’s what favourites have to do. Bring the pressure on themselves to perform. Demand it of each other. And then deliver. That way, the whole thing snowballs. You become comfortable putting the pressure on yourself because you know you can live up to it. So you keep doing it.
The one thing that has puzzled me a little bit about Waterford though is the big hullaballoo about Derek McGrath taking the leave of absence from teaching. I can’t work out why he would speak so publicly about it. Okay, it would probably have come out but you don’t need to comment on something that is basically your private life. His work is nobody’s business.
By telling the whole world he’s taking leave from teaching, he’s naturally heaping more pressure on Waterford’s year. I’m all for heaping pressure on players as long as it’s a means to improve performance. If I was a Waterford player looking at that, I’d be wondering what’s the motivation there. I’d be questioning the relevance of talking about it to the media. I just think it’s a strange one.
My impression of Waterford all along is that they’re a nice team. You’d love your sister to be going out with one of them. Bigger teams can get away with looking down on them, seeing them as a team that tends to take two steps forward and one step back. They have no intimidation factor. There’s no dirt in them – and to be very honest about it, they could do with some. Or at least the threat of some.
They have a real chance this weekend to lay down some markers. They’re going to be faced with a young Cork team that has a totally false impression of what championship hurling is. All those young lads who had a field day for Cork against Tipperary must be having the time of their lives over the last month. Summer time, no stress, everyone falling over themselves to tell them how great they are.
Waterford should be rubbing their hands together at the sight of them. When you’re in your infancy as a team like Cork are, you’re very vulnerable. You don’t know what it takes. And worse, if you’ve got a big win out of nowhere, you think you know what it takes. You haven’t a clue. Waterford do know and they need to be using that knowledge to their advantage. Otherwise, what were the last three years for?
Whatever Waterford defenders are marking Shane Kingston and Luke Meade on Sunday, they should be letting them know they don’t belong on this stage, right from the handshake. Be relentless. Put the doubts in their minds from very early on. Ye all played great the last day – how likely is it that ye’ll all do the same again? Don’t let them settle into it. First ball, second ball.
Verbalise it, if you think it will work. Tell them they’re only young lads who should be up in the stand. Ask them how they got on in Maths Paper One during the week. Drill it into them that what they got against Tipperary wasn’t how this thing works. This is man’s stuff, come back in two or three years. You think we’re a nice team? Not this year.
Waterford need to show they’re different now. That they’ve taken that step forward from the team that just came up short against Kilkenny last year. They need to do that collectively and individually. Someone like Austin Gleeson can’t be coming back with the same game he had last year, good and all as it was.
You’d love someone to sit Gleeson down with a tape of Lee Chin’s performance last Saturday night for Wexford. Just to remind him of what it looks like to truly dominate a game by taking the right options. Gleeson does so much that is right during a game but he has always been prone to these 80-yard shots from the sideline that look great when they go over but suck the life out of a team when they don’t.
If I was a corner-back or half-back playing behind Austin Gleeson, I would love him. He would be my best friend. Every ball he pulls out of the sky is one I don’t have to go for and by extension, my life is made easier because I can keep better tabs on my man. But if I was an inside forward, I’d be raging at him.
Waterford are massive contenders. This championship is waiting on somebody to put their hands up and grab it
And as an opposition player, you’re thinking, ‘Shoot away, Aussie boy. You might get one, you won’t get them all. And either way, we’ll have the ball when you’re finished.’ You defend against him accordingly. Shepherd him over to the sideline, send an extra man to push him to the wing because you know he’s not going to flick a pass inside. You want him to keep shooting.
I love watching Austin Gleeson play. He’s one of the few players in the country who could take over a game like Lee Chin did last week. But he’ll only do that if he has developed his game and worked on his option-taking. And if it hasn’t improved, if it’s the same old story again, then maybe Derek McGrath has to take him off early in a game to teach him a lesson.
If he becomes the ultimate team player, Waterford are massive contenders. This championship is waiting on somebody to put their hands up and grab it. Tipp and Kilkenny have been poor. Clare were unconvincing. Cork and Wexford have put in big performances but they’re not at the top table yet. Galway could be serious but they’re an unknown quantity until they meet top-class opposition.
Sunday is Waterford’s chance to make a statement – to themselves as much as to anybody else. If they win, the belief that will flow through them will be massive. They can sit down together on Sunday night and tell each other that all it’s going to take is winning three games back to back and they’ll have an All-Ireland.
They are at a crossroads. Which direction will they take?
Georgie Leahy RIP
Georgie Leahy passed away recently after a brave fight with illness. He was a great hurling man and enjoyed success as a manager and coach. His influence within our club, James Stephens, within Kilkenny and other counties is immeasurable. Georgie was first and foremost a genuine and humble gentleman who was loved and admired by everyone who came in contact with him. He had the unique gift of making everyone feel important. Georgie was a big man with a big heart and at a recent club function to mark the inter-county retirement of myself and Eoin Larkin, the admiration people had for Georgie was evident.
Georgie Leahy was someone people didn’t just want to know, they wanted to be.
I will miss Georgie but I have no doubt his legacy will continue to inspire.