Now that Davy is reappointed it’s time to get behind him, right? Er . . .
Waterford’s dedicated statistics team volunteered at great expense to the cause but they were overlooked at the vital hour, writes Enda McEvoy
The sick man of Munster hurling appointing a new manager to general acclaim. The reigning provincial champions reappointing the incumbent boss to less than general acclaim. Ordinarily the first Sunday of October is far too early a juncture to be talking about next year’s Munster championship. Not this first Sunday of October.
With the appointment of Donal O’Grady, Limerick’s wounds have been cauterised, at least for the next year or two. Thus the county’s annus horribilis, one that saw them relegated from the top flight after losing most of their panel, finishes on an upbeat note. Things will get better for Limerick, if only because they cannot get worse. With Davy Fitz handed a one-year extension, an uneasy peace was maintained in Waterford. Thus a season that saw them win a slightly improbable Munster title finishes with the Clareman still in situ but with no shortage of detractors dotted throughout the long grass. The long-range forecast suggests storms.
Consider the contribution of the Dungarvan delegate at last Monday’s county board meeting that rubber-stamped Fitzgerald’s reappointment. “We’ve lost the ability to turn out skilful teams,” he lamented. “Whereas Waterford teams were once loved and respected all over the country for the quality of their play, the standards have come down dramatically in the last few years. When we came up against the counties that really mattered we failed.”
Consider the reference by another delegate to supposed “problems” between “some players” and the manager. Consider the pointed enquiry from Tony Mansfield about the size of Fitzgerald’s backroom team. Consider the pledge given by the county board that any future expensive weekends away for the panel would have to be agreed to in advance by the executive. Consider the Munster Express poll that indicated support from 57 per cent of the Waterford public for another year of the Clareman. Now opinion polls can and should be taken with a grain of salt, as Enda Kenny is no doubt telling everyone at the moment, but as a gauge of the mood on the ground on Suirside it’s instructive.
Here’s another subject for contemplation while we’re at it. Consider the views of Fitzgerald’s unpaid stats team, who say the feedback they provided to him and his selectors during matches, from the National League opener against Dublin onwards, put Waterford “way ahead of all other counties in terms of the ability of the management to assess each player’s performance in real time.” Yet on the day of the All Ireland semi-final went ignored. In fact, when presented with the half-time printout, the manager “put it in his back pocket and never looked at it”, they claim.
The stats team was headed by Kenneth Cullinane, an ordinary Waterford supporter from a farming background in Ross, Carrick-On-Suir, who works in transport. Following a meeting with Davy Fitz in September 2009, he and his brother Bernard were asked to provide both statistical and video analysis for the Waterford management this year. The brothers thereupon assembled a team of 12 people to provide live statistics during the course of games and commissioned a computer programmer to write a software package to analyse and compile these statistics on the spot. At each game they had eight people monitoring the Waterford players, with each person concentrating on two particular players and the eighth concentrating on the goalkeeper. Each monitor had a hand-held device that recorded every piece of action involving the players he was monitoring.
The information was instantly relayed to a central laptop computer held by Bernard Cullinane in either the team dug-out or the stand. This meant that each player’s performance could be seen on the screen live, with an instant accurate assessment available to the management. The information was then relayed to Fitzgerald via Pat Bennett, one of his selectors. A printout of each player’s performance was also provided to the team management at half-time and full-time. The system was trialled during the Waterford Crystal tournament at the start of the year and, according to the Cullinanes, “worked perfectly” all the way through to the All Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.
In addition, the brothers put together a separate group of four hurling experts to provide video analysis. On the basis of this analysis they compiled an individual DVD of each player’s performance, to be handed to the players on the Tuesday night after each game. Overall an enormous amount of work went into the initiative, all of which was done voluntarily. The running costs came to a total of €16,500, all of it borne by the Cullinanes’ team apart from a contribution of €3,000 from Club Déise towards the cost of providing the live game statistics. This, asserts Kenneth Cullinane, “reflects the depth of commitment to the cause of Waterford hurling on the part of the entire statistics team.”
So what went wrong against Tipperary? Firstly, Cullinane says, the team put “exactly the same effort” into the semi-final as they did for previous matches. “Secondly, against Tipperary our live statistics identified key problem areas with certain players at a very early stage of the game. However, on this occasion the normal system of relaying this information was dispensed with by Davy Fitzgerald and his selectors. Furthermore, when presented with the half-time printout, Davy put it in his back pocket and never looked at it.
“The key point here is that the statistics clearly identified the problems [the corner-forward playing way too deep and nobody covering the space in front of Brick Walsh, meaning Noel McGrath had the freedom of the park] and without the manager looking at them he either could not see where things were going wrong himself or if he could, he failed to act on them. I should add that Davy also chose not to use video analysis of Tipperary in the run-up to the game, as was done to great effect prior to the Munster final against Cork. It was very disappointing that an effective system which had been put together at great cost in terms of time, effort and money and which had been successful throughout the year was abandoned by Davy when the need was greatest for Waterford, its players and huge band of loyal supporters. This course of action, we believe, proved fatal to our chances of beating Tipperary who are now, of course, the new All Ireland champions.”
That’s what the Cullinanes have to say. They’d have said it before this but their local paper wouldn’t print their letter. There’ll be more to come about Waterford in the next few weeks when Dan Shanahan’s autobiography and Damien Tiernan’s account of the county’s fortunes under Justin McCarthy and Fitzgerald hit the shelves. Further storms are forecast for the month of October.
I wouldn’t say this was explosive stuff in itself. There’s something self-serving about it. Kenneth Cullinane says it “worked perfectly” right through to the Tipperary match, but he would say that, wouldn’t he? This isn’t meant to imply any malign motives on the part of the Cullinanes, merely to note that we only have their word for it that the system was followed to the letter in the games that we won. And as for a local paper not printing their concerns, the Munster Express were happy enough to print Prionsias Breathnach’s letter ripping Davy a new one so the notion of a conspiracy of silence is incorrect. Still, the mere fact that Enda McEvoy, not a man given to flights of fancy, is writing about it speaks to me of an underlying truth, that Davy is vulnerable to rumblings in the camp. There may be trouble ahead.