Player Rotation to the fore in opening rounds of NHL
Brian Flannery at Semple Stadium
Derek McGrath did warn us that this was going to be different. The change in Championship structure has seen Waterford taking a completely different approach to this season’s National League.
There are only three trophies on offer in top class hurling, All-Ireland, Munster and League but they are decidedly in that order of importance: possibly now more than ever before.
Waterford’s League record during Derek McGrath’s reign to date reads: Relegated, Winners, Finalists and Quarter Finalists.
But, two games into the new campaign, the imperative for the 2018 League season appears to be in allocating sufficient game time to the entire 35-man panel with winning games at this time of year apparently a distant second.The bainisteoir has told supporters that not using a single substitute in the opening game against Wexford was not an attempt at being “smart”. And the mainly reserve side selected for the Tipperary game was a necessary evil rather than any “disrespect” to the League or a display of “arrogance” to the hurling world.
As Derek McGrath so eloquently put it, what’s the point in having so many players on the panel if you don’t use them? And if you don’t give players game time now, when’s it going to happen?
Tipperary boss Mick Ryan has echoed these sentiments citing his need to build strength in depth as the main motive for his match day tinkering. Ryan firmly believes that he will need 25 to 26 players to manage the hectic schedule of Munster Championship games come May and June.
The Tipp manager told us in his post-game interview that wearing the jersey is a privilege but one that can’t be taken for granted. The Premier had two outfield debutants against Clare, Tom Fox and Ger Browne. Fox was withdrawn before half-time with Browne also failing to see the game out. Neither were handed a jersey for the Waterford game.
Another team very much in experimental mode is Brian Cody’s Kilkenny. In the Cats’ case you get the feeling that player rotation is out of necessity rather than design.
There is no doubt that Kilkenny have come back to the pack and the black n’ amber is no longer scarring anyone. The former kingpins have been competitive in both their opening games yet they remain pointless and only off the bottom of Division 1A on score difference.
There’s little doubt too that this is Cody’s greatest challenge, trying to win when you no longer have the best players.
Funnily enough the two sides, Wexford and Clare who have invested most in the League remain unbeaten and in pole position to advance to the knock-out stages. Wexford are keen to consolidate their newly attained position at hurling’s top table while the Banner seeks more titles while their ‘golden generation’ are still ‘golden’.
Time on the pitch is valuable and wearing the jersey is indeed an honour. Only time will tell which team’s philosophy is best in a changing hurling environment.
Winning is a habit. So too is losing.