(originally posted on boards.ie)
This Waterford minor hurling team should be called the “Comeback Kids”, as in each of their games to date they have saved the day with a late scoring surge. However, if they have any ambitions of winning titles they will have to produce more consistent high intensity throughout their games.
In the first game against Clare they played second fiddle for 50 minutes and if Clare’s shooting hadn’t been so wayward they would have been out of sight before Waterford finally roused themselves. In the second game against Clare Waterford were played off the pitch by 14 men for 20 minutes in the second half but the lead they had built up in the first half meant that Clare were within reach when the late surge came.
Yesterday in Cork they were seven points behind when the surge began, but it still took a goal in injury time to get the draw. If Limerick had converted even half of their nine second-half wides there would have been no way back. While the overall wide count was similar for both sides (Limerick 11; Waterford 10) a lot of Waterford’s six first-half wides resulted from balls being overhit with wind assistance and running harmlessly out over the end line – in other words they were not clearcut scoring chances like the ones Limerick missed.
Waterford have shown in patches in all three games that they can play excellent hurling. However, they have to gain possession first, and that has been their problem. At half-time yesterday I said to my companions that Waterford had the hurlers but not the required intensity. Limerick were sharper, more alert and quicker off the mark all over the field. They were also more physical both in tackling and taking tackles.
However, when the alarm bells started ringing with ten minutes to go, Waterford finally raised their game and took control all over the field. It may be that Waterford were simply fitter, but my own guess is that, due to their earlier lack of application, they had more left in the tank in the closing stages while Limerick’s earlier exertions left them unable to contain the Waterford surge.
The Waterford defence also seemed to be upset by the constant interchanging of the Limerick forwards and at times the players did not seem sure who was supposed to be marking whom. There was also a lot of confusion over puckouts, several of which went straight to unmarked Limerick players. Waterford players were making runs expecting balls which never came. There also seemed to be a concentration in the second half on hitting puckouts to Shane Bennett which wasn’t working out (just as there was an overconcentration on targetting Cormac Curran against Clare in Dungarvan which also did not work as it was too predictable).
Last year Limerick unexpectedly moved their freetaker Ronan Lynch from full forward to centre back for the replayed Munster final and it proved a master move as Lynch was the dominant figure in the Limerick victory. While Lynch also played at centre back in this year’s semi-final against Cork and was named in this position for the final, he actually played in midfield where again he had a major influence on the game, scoring three points from play.
I thought Waterford’s decision to start two physically small players with similar styles (Darragh Lyons and Andy Molumby) in midfield was the wrong mix – even though both players did a lot of good work – and Conor Gleeson seemed to have a substantial impact when he was switched to the midfield area.
However, the key switch was that which brought Cormac Curran to full forward midway through the second half. Curran actually started at full forward but was unable to gain possession from several high balls which were sent in to him, and he was then switched out to wing forward where he improved somewhat but was still not imposing himself on the game.
I have always felt that full forwards actually do better when playing against the wind as the incoming ball holds up giving the target recipient more of a chance to get in position to challenge for it (and even if the ball is missed it is not inclined to run over the end line). When Curran did move back to the edge of the square he did really well in gaining possession or otherwise causing panic in the opposing rearguard. He scored the goal which launched the comeback. Although he missed the high incoming ball, Patrick Curran was right behind him and did really well when he dived to get hold of the bouncing ball near the ground and then hand-pass back to the inrushing Cormac who finished to the net.
Patrick Curran got his injury in this incident when his marker fell on him, driving his knee into Curran’s back. First reports indicate that the injury is not severe, and hopefully he will be okay for the replay.
Cormac Curran then set up the equalising goal when he superbly flicked an incoming ball to Shane Ryan on his right, with the team captain finishing expertly to the net. Cormac had previously been unlucky when, after Shane Bennett’s 20 metre free was blocked out, he got a great flick on the loose ball only for someone on the line to somehow keep it out. Bennett, who played amazingly well given his recent hand injury, deserves great credit for the way he nailed a late free from out on the right sideline (after Patrick Curran got injured) to reduce the deficit to three points paving the way for Shane Ryan’s equalising goal.
While the overall team performance was rather uneven, I thought that Michael Cronin did well at left corner back and Colm Roche had a good second half at centre back. Andy Molumby, Peter Hogan and Aaron O’Sullivan all paid their way with two points apiece. For the replay I would be inclined to move Shane Bennett back to wing back where he was so effective last year. I think Eddie Meaney is due a start in the half forward line, perhaps with Conor Gleeson moving to midfield and Darragh Lyons to centre forward (with a roving role). Meaney could also come in at midfield, where he did well in a recent challenge against Dublin.
There is a lot of quality in this team and they definitely have what it takes to win the replay, but they need to hit the ground running and to stay running right to the end.