(originally posted by Giveitfong on boards.ie)
In the first half yesterday I thought Waterford showed all the symptoms of a team which was unable to handle the new level of expectation which had been placed on them after the win over Tipperary. For the first time they were being widely expected to win this game, and the weekend papers devoted acres of space to the new pretenders.
You could even see in the prematch warm-up that Galway meant business, and they got stuck in right from the throw-in, playing with confidence and drive. Waterford, by contrast, had the jitters. Their first touch was desperate, their decision-making was poor and they made loads of mistakes. Watching the replay, I counted nine Galway scores (and four missed chances) which came directly from Waterford errors.
Fair dues to the management who got the team’s heads right at half time, and they played much better hurling in the second half. Unfortunately, playing against the wind made it difficult to land scores from distance, while Galway crowded the goal area to snuff out goal chances, as Waterford persisted with long balls into that area.
While it is true that Galway probably would have won the game more comfortably if Joe Canning had been even half his normal self, the fact is that Waterford also missed a lot of good chances. The referee’s eccentric refereeing didn’t help their cause either. I counted eleven incorrect decisions that he made which went against Waterford. Most of these came in the first half when Waterford could have made better use of the frees they should have got. I was amazed to read in today’s paper that Stapleton gave Waterford thirteen frees in the second half and Galway just one. I presume someone let him know at half time that he hadn’t been exactly fair to the home team in the first half.
While Waterford’s skill level is high and their attitude has been top-class, they need to go beyond this if they are to be serious contenders. The supply of ball going into the forwards throughout the league has generally been poor. This is particularly important when you have a lot of small forwards who find it hard to gain possession in one-on-one situations. They need early, low, ball played into space and not to players.
If they are going to play a ball-winner at full forward then the ball needs to be played into him and he needs support players to feed off breaking balls or hand passes. When Waterford had the gale force wind against Cork they were playing only one or two players in the full forward line. Last week against Tipperary when playing with the wind they put Seamus Pender in full forward but wouldn’t send the ball into him. I remember at one point yesterday when a long ball was played in and Pender had four Galway defenders in attendance while there was no other Waterford player within 30 yards.
One of Waterford’s potentially greatest attacking assets is the way Kevin Moran is able to break forward from midfield. However, very little ever seems to come from these sorties, with Moran either running into trouble or out of ideas. The management need to work on making the most of these situations, with support players running alongside Moran, or moving into designated places to receive through balls. Alternatively, once Moran breaks the line in midfield, he should find the spare man when the next defender comes up to face him, rather than taking him on too.
The management surely must also realise that placing Maurice Shanahan at full forward is a waste of time, and you can see that he is just not comfortable in that position. I thought he did much better in the half forward line in the second half. There were also signs of improvement in Pauric Mahony’s play when he came on as a sub. I think that our championship team should have Shanahan, Prendergast and Mahony in the half forward line – three tall men who will cause opposing half back lines a lot of problems.
Although things didn’t go well for Ray Barry, he still showed signs of having something to offer. He took up a lot of good positions and showed on occasion that he could win his own ball. Anyone who has seen him play for Waterford under-age teams and for Lismore will know that he is a very talented and versatile hurler.
I was amazed after the match when someone remarked to me that he didn’t think Darragh Fives had much of a game. I thought watching the game “live” that he did very well, and after seeing the replay on TV I would say he was possibly Waterford’s best player on the day. His constructive use of the ball is a key feature of his game.
Despite being a super wing back and then centre back for the county minors, and being a star centre back on two winning UCC Fitzibbon Cup teams, I suspect that yesterday was the first time that Fives started a competitive game for Waterford in the half back line. He had the misfortune of starting off with Waterford two years ago as a corner back when they were stuck and then, when he did well there, was left there. He is the kind of player who would play well anywhere, but playing him at corner back was a waste of his talent.
The same fate befell Jamie Barron who started off with the county minors at corner back when he was 16 and was then kept there for two more years. Last year he was still there with the under 21s, despite being the top scorer in the county at senior level with his club.
I also think Stephen Daniels has more to offer Waterford in the half back line than at corner back. His strength, drive and ball-winning ability are perfectly suited to wing back. With Shane Fives doing an excellent job in one corner and Noel Connors now available for the other, I think a half back line of Darragh Fives, Brick and Daniels and a midfield of Shane O’Sullivan and Kevin Moran would give us a unit in this sector of the field better than most other counties.