Improving Waterford hurling

(Fogra: during the week I wrote a meandering article on how far short Waterford were of the standards being set by the likes of Dublin. It was heavy on problems and short of solutions, so it was great to see John Barry respond with several ideas on how to make things better. He has kindly allowed me combine his comments into a guest post.)

The following comments are not meant to be critical of any Waterford Minor or Senior player. I just hope they may spark a discussion which may help the country get over the remaining hurdles.

The Dublin minors though very skilful were physically stronger. They were built like tanks. The Waterford minor team has some brilliant hurlers. However at senior intercounty level players will need to bulk up. Looking at Waterford inter county hurling teams in general there has been a major problem with defensive play for many years.Waterford defenders tend to do too much ball watching whilst ignoring the positioning of their immediate opponents. In the Munster Senior Hurling final Tipperary forwards were allowed walk through the Waterford backline. Waterford backs at minor and senior though skilful tend not to use the shoulder. Now contrast this with Kilkenny, Tipperary and Dublin. Forwards running at the defence should be upended by a fair shoulder charge. Sacrifice a yellow card but lay down a marker at the start of the game-”Thou shalt not pass”.

Waterford backs need to become a little more physical but within the rules. Skill on its own is not sufficient. In training more emphasis is required on blocking and hooking.

The great Tipperary team of the 50s/60s had a famous full backline of John Doyle, Mick Maher and Kieran Carey. It was known as Hell’s Kitchen. It was an apt name. They were there to stop you scoring. They used their physical power. Now of course the great Waterford 1959 team destroyed that defence by scoring 9-3 against it in the Munster Championship. It used skill and SPEED and DIRECT hurling. That particular team also used ground hurling to great advantage. Waterford teams need to play more direct hurling. What has become of ground hurling at inter county level? It seems to have died out in Munster.

Also speed of striking of many Waterford players tends to be a little slow. It think that can be ironed out as follows:

  • Players should do some work in ball alleys.
  • A mentor should count the number of strokes made by the player in one minute. The player should progressively increase the number of strokes per minute over the next few days and weeks. This can be done striking from the left and right hand sides. Overhead striking can also be practiced in a ball alley.

I think Waterford intercounty forwards at all levels can improve in the following facets of the game:

  • They need to be more proactive: By this I mean that they must be in motion (rather than being static) and prepared to take a pass from a forward who is being tackled. Just look at Lar Corbett. He appears to be in perpetual motion and always alert to the breaking ball. The ground shot on the edge of the square is the bête noire of any goalkeeper.Waterfordneeds to use more of that.
  • The tactics used by the Dublin Seniors and also by Kilkenny -whereby they pack the centre of the defence- can be counteracted by driving the ball to the wings and stretching the defence. Using this approach Waterford can counteract ruck and maul hurling.
  • The function of a forward is to score and make scores. In addition half forwards need to blunt the opposing half backline and prevent it becoming a launch pad for attacks. Forwards need to keep backs guessing. Pick the ball on some occasions but strike on the ground at other times. Alert half forwards move TO the ball. They do not wait for it to come to them. Half forwards must vary tactics sometimes delivering ground ball to the full forward line and on other occasions picking the ball and shooting for scores. Too much picking of the ball in the vicinity of the goalmouth slows down play and favours the backs.

In short Waterford forwards in general -in my view- need to use much more VARIETY in their hurling and need to be more alert to the half chance. Moves need to be executed at speed. In addition it is necessary for forwards to practice shooting for points from all angles and distances at SPEED. More emphasis should be placed on this in training. This will increase accuracy.

Hopefully others can come up with more suggestions.

Update: Since I posted my first comment here I have been speaking to Maurice O’Brien a Waterford supporter resident in Dublin. He has isolated a major fault in Waterford back play.Waterford backs are too slow off the mark and run after the forwards with the hurley out. They tackle from the back and foul. Increased speed off the mark ensures the back can tackle from the side shoulder to shoulder. This would go a long way to solvingWaterford’s defensive problems.