THE question on everyone’s lips this week – aside from ‘are there any tickets?’ – is can Galway defeat Waterford to land that first, elusive All-Ireland senior hurling title in 29 years. Yet, to achieve that, they must break down an effective sweeper system which has been four years in the making.
Since Derek McGrath took over Waterford in 2014, he has been crafting an approach that has, at long last, secured them a berth on hurling’s biggest stage. While McGrath’s tenure did not get off to the best of starts – losing his two championship fixtures in ‘14 – he has stayed the course and, in doing so, has taken the sweeper method to a whole new level. It is this Galway must now overcome.
Already this year, Michéal Donoghue’s men have encountered similar styles of play against Offaly and Wexford in the Leinster semi-final and final respectively and, although the Tribesmen passed these tests with flying colours, McGrath’s charges will be a different proposition altogether as the quality of player in the Déise squad is far superior.
In this respect, the likes of Tadgh de Burca – returning from suspension – and the roving Darragh Fives have done spectacular work in killing the space, working off breaking ball and making themselves available when opposition teams venture into the Waterford half.
Consequently, Galway cannot be loose in their use of possession on Sunday – be it hitting long, aimless balls into the heart of the Waterford defence or, indeed, coughing up the sliotar cheaply anywhere in that middle third to allow the Munster men in on a quick counter.
Galway, however, are not short of options and what should stand them in good stead is their adaptability. For the most part, one suspects, Galway will look to play through the lines from Colm Callanan’s puck-out and, on this, their vision, precision and first touch must be spot on.
They will also need to maintain plenty of width in their attack as, by doing so, they can isolate Waterford players one-on-one and, more importantly, negate the influence of those opposition players dropping deep.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.