I was struck by something Liam Sheedy said after Sunday’s anti-climactic All-Ireland semi-final. “All we do is let these guys out and let them play. They’re all very good hurlers… To be honest we just let them play”, shrugged a man who’s happily going about proving that nice guys can win.
It was a slight over-simplification perhaps, but the basis for Tipperary’s victory was freedom of expression. Whereas Waterford tied themselves up in knots with tactics, Tipp’s were straightforward. Play to your strengths, not the opposition’s.
In his ‘exclusive’ Daily Star column Sheedy’s counterpart bemoaned his players’ inability to follow through on his gameplan, still caught up with the minutiae of where things might have worked out differently.
“I know that we didn’t do ourselves justice,” Davy Fitzgerald reflected. “We didn’t push through with the tactics we talked about. We needed to stay with what we said we’d do and we didn’t.”
However, his pre-match blueprint was effectively out the window after 20 minutes. Half-an-hour later and the game was as good as over. That Waterford managed to haul it back to a three-point deficit at one stage in the second half showed their resolve but didn’t reflect Tipp’s utter dominance.
“The few things that we expected to happen happened,” Fitzgerald claimed, making what transpired even harder to comprehend. “We went from the things that worked for us in the Munster final and when you abandon certain things you are going to be in trouble. We can’t afford to leave men loose and that happened too much.”
God be with the days when hurling was about fifteen against fifteen, six forwards against six backs, and may the best team win. As Dave Kelly cogently put it in the Irish Independent, this was “a Waterford team who, such was their devout attention to suffocating the opposition, ended up suffocating themselves”. (The heat could certainly have been a factor in why Waterford’s reconfigured approach – which depends so much on harrying and less on letting the ball do the work – fell flat.)
Fitzgerald said his players would have to learn from this setback. Him too. “Have I made mistakes? Of course I have. Every manager makes them.”
He could hardly deny it. The errors were everywhere. Putting the smallest man on the field on one of the biggest for starters? Leaving Tipperay take short puck-outs to a free man time and again to launch the ball over ‘Brick’? There was no plan B to counteract it or give Tipp something different to think about. As Donal O’Grady said after the Munster final replay, “Waterford’s tactics are out of the bag.” Sheedy capitalised in spades.