Have the wheels fallen off the Waterford juggernaut ?
On the most up to date evidence it certainly seems that they are more than a little loose. Juggernaut probably isn’t the most precise word now that it’s on paper.
That would probably best describe Kilkenny. Maybe truck would be a better word for the Waterford hurlers. They certainly freewheeled through all kinds of terrain and opposition until the Munster final playing a similar system in each game.
Then the “wise after the event” experts with their 20/20 vision hindsight glasses told us that Waterford would find it difficult to keep winning with their ultra defensive system .
“Yes they might stop the opposition from putting up big scores,” they said, “but they would be very dependant on a high return from their own attacks but with very few bodies up front.”
After Clare beat Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2013 I did the usual series of post-match interviews. I remember having to inhale deeply as RTÉ's Clare McNamara asked if we considered changing our starting line-up for this game ?
This was the same line-up that had beaten Tipperary and won Limerick’s first Munster final in 17 years against Cork. We had introduced subs to great effect in both games. Why would we change ?
Why would Waterford change a winning formula ?
But it’s now no longer a winning formula. The difference with the Waterford 2015 position and Limerick ’13 is that Waterford have a second chance. Limerick didn’t at that stage of the competition. Yes they need to find a new gear of some sort or a way of not committing so many players to defence so often.
Are Dublin still a small cog in a big wheel? The answer is probably yes. They can’t be considered realistic contenders on their form this year. They have been far too inconsistent to be considered contenders. However, they showed great resolve in coming back against Limerick from a position that looked very bleak leading up to half-time.
It was interesting to note the influence of a number of the top inside forwards in the country and they being very effective farther out from goal a fortnight ago. In Dublin's case they than be very thankful to Paul Ryan. But of course over dependence on one player is not ideal. They can't depend on him alone winning Sunday's game for them.
The performance of their forwards as a unit was poor. They’ll hardly do against a highly defensive Waterford but the Déise’s confidence has taken a dent in recent weeks and they mightn’t play with the same passion and self belief that has been their hallmark this season. Hard to call but based on this year’s hard evidence, Waterford has the stronger case.
The wheels of the bus go round and round, also known as the mushroom theory, which informs us that a new crop of Cork hurlers can appear overnight. But that’s not the case or is unlikely to be again .
The facts are Cork is the biggest county in the country. It has the most clubs . Cork should be competitive every year. But they’re not. The latest crop of players won their last two games mainly because they and the management have smartened up a bit and realised that the 2015 version of hurling is quite a tactical, high-octane game and not because they unearthed a new batch of players.
They are showing a growing maturity and adaptability to the requirements and adjustments needed. Mark Ellis was very effective again against Clare in the sweeper role but, allied to that, Cork also withdrew their main strike forwards (in particular Patrick Horgan) away from the defensive attentions inside.
They can now be considered as contenders of sorts and a goodish outside bet (Nothing like a bit of decisiveness!).
There is a bit of talk down south of them beating Galway and Tipperary (semi-final opponents) not being too enamoured with giving them the opportunity for retribution for their 2014 public humiliation of the same rebels.
But that’s for another day. They certainly have improved and have an even chance of winning.
Are Galway hurlers freewheeling yet? Well if four games is sufficient to prove this particular rule well then the answer is in the affirmative. Yes they lost the Leinster final but they showed that they are managing to string a number of successive good performances (even if not for 70 minutes) together. This, as we are well aware, is not something that Galway teams always manage.
History and tradition favours a Cork victory but in recent years Galway have started to address that.
I don’t think this Galway team fears playing Cork. Anthony Cunningham and his management, at this stage, has to be fairly sure of their best 20 available players with four championship games played.
Joe Canning now has a number of potentially dangerous forwards at his side. It’s the make up of the backs that might cause a bit of concern. Iarla Tannin, whom I would have as a starter, maybe isn’t the best centre back .
He held on to the ball much too long on several occasions against Kilkenny . I'd also be starting Fergal Moore as a corner-back where he is vastly experienced.
This is a very difficult game to call. Cork love playing in Thurles. I’m not so sure the same could be said for Galway. Both teams have a number of top forwards. Only one team has a Joe Canning though.
PS: Charlie Cullinane scored a goal for Cork in 1970 in the first 80-minute All-Ireland Hurling Final against Wexford. Cork won that day on a scoreline of 6-21 to 5-10.
This week he died unexpectedly after an accident. Charlie Cullinane was a gentleman in the very real sense.
He hadn’t a bad bone in his body or a bad word in his mouth.