(originally posted on boards.ie)
I cannot get my head around what reasoning (if any) underpins Derek McGrath’s tactics and player selection and placement. Here we were playing Laois on our home pitch with a strongish wind behind us and we employ a sweeper (Tadhg de Búrca) behind our own half back line and a two-man (and frequently a one-man) full forward line. What was this about?
De Búrca got an ocean of free ball inside the Waterford 45 metre line but what was he supposed to do with it? There was little point hitting it long into the full forward line because time and again it came straight back, but with few other options this happened repeatedly.
Given that Laois only played with five forwards, I would have had de Búrca playing in his left half back position where he would have provided an added scoring threat (he is a fine long-distance ball striker) or been more constructive with his use of the ball.
To cover the area where de Búrca would normally be playing (left half back), Austin Gleeson – possibly our forward with greatest scoring potential – is brought back to occupy a position and play a role that is totally foreign to him, and from where he poses no scoring threat. His frustration and desperation were obvious with the two snatched second half shots which led to his substitution.
What role did McGrath envisage for Ryan Donnelly when he picked him? He has come to prominence as a goal-scoring danger man picking up ball around the goal and then using his strength and pace to get into scoring positions. Yet he spent most of his time out the field, again in a role that was foreign to him.
Replacing Donnelly with Seamus Prendergast made no sense at all. Shane Walsh had already done twice what he is very good at – scoring goals from the edge of the square. Yet the introduction of Prendergast meant that Walsh was displaced to the corner or further out the field.
Walsh and Prendergast are useful ball winners but both lack pace. In my view you can only afford to have one of them on the field at the same time. Furthermore, when they are on the field they should be located close to goal with a speedy forward always in close proximity to feed off passes or breaking ball. Pat Horgan got most of his points from play in the replay against Waterford by picking up breaking ball around the D in front of the large square and popping it over the bar. Last Saturday when high balls came into Shane Walsh he was almost always on his own apart from having two markers in close attention, one to knock the ball down and the other to clear it away.
At one stage in the first half last Saturday, Shane Walsh got the ball out near the corner flag and attempted to make his way in along the end line. There was no other Waterford player inside the 45 metre line with whom he could link up. More worryingly, there was no Waterford player busting a gut to get into the goal area to help out. And this is with Waterford playing with the wind?
McGrath’s use of Colin Dunford to mark the Laois sweeper also made little sense. With his pace and close control, Dunford should have been flitting around into space or looking for passes, and then using his great strength i.e. running at defenders. It would have made more sense to me to use Jake Dillon in the sweeper-marking role (if there had to be one).
It seems to me that the key ingredient in McGrath’s tactical approach is fear. His prime concern is to guard against perceived weaknesses rather than play to the players’ strengths. We have players coming out of successful under-age teams being presented with this negativity and inflexibility and being asked to perform roles that are foreign to them and making no use of their capabilities. We should be building up their confidence rather than telling them that they are not capable of slugging it out, man for man, with other teams (including Laois).
Besides, McGrath’s negative tactics have not prevented us from shipping several hidings already this year. Furthermore, Waterford are now totally predictable and easily targetted by other teams, as Cork showed in the replay. In any case, I believe that one of the key ingredients of a successful team is the ability of their forwards to play defensively i.e. stop the other team’s defenders from hitting free ball. It is hard to do this when the other team has one (if not two) free defenders to pick up loose ball or take passes.
In terms of playing to our strengths, I think we should be employing both Fives brothers further out the field. If/when Noel Connors comes back we should place Paudie Prendergast in the other corner, move Shane Fives out to half back or midfield and move Darragh Fives into the half forward line where we desperately need more ball-winning ability.
And what’s the story with Stephen Molumphy? He seemed to be back to full fitness when he came on as a second half sub in the Cork replay. He is a player that I would always have first in the team sheet for his work rate, ball winning ability and sheer cussedness. At first glance, in bringing on both Richie Foley and Jamie Nagle with five minutes to go, I thought that Derek McGrath was just making a token gesture. On reflection, was he sending out a message to Molumphy that he is not part of his plans? If that is the case, then my estimation of McGrath’s managerial abilities sinks even lower.