Editor’s note: John Mullane is the brand ambassador for JJ Kavanagh & Sons and will be bringing his thoughts after all hurling championship/National League games!
So John, you’ve played under both Derek McGrath for your Club and Davy Fitzgerald for Waterford. Are their styles different in how they train and prepare for big matches?
I think they’ve very similar styles in how they manage people. They are both very tactically driven and are up to date with the modern game. They always have their teams well programmed into the system that they want to play. I also think they are very tactically aware, they keep their defences very tight at the back and then go on the attack with their fire powers up front. Their styles in how they play nearly mirror each other! From playing under both managers their strength lies in the amount of time and work that they do away from the hurling field. Their attention to detail is top class. In my experience when coming up to a big match, Derek McGrath has a more calming presence about him. What he is exceptional at doing is having his team mentally focused for the big day. Although, I think this year after the appointment of Donal Og, Davy Fitzgerald has become more mature and there seems to be more of a calmness with him and this has reflected on Clare’s performances.
The most important aspect of being a top class manager is building a great team around you and these managers have done that. Derek brought in a top class physical coach in Fergal O’Brien and a top class hurling coach in Finton O’Connor. Waterford have physically gotten stronger under the guidance of Gary Walsh. Then on the flip side Davy has brought in Donal Og. He has reintroduced Paul Kinnerk who for me is nearly the mastermind behind Clare’s success both at underage and at senior level in 2013. He has also brought in our own Jimmy Payne who has Clare at peak fitness this year. At the moment both teams are extremely fit and are the best two teams in the country.
Where do you think the game will be won and lost?
The game will be won and lost in the middle third of the field. The team who will concede the most green grass and space on the day will be on the losing side. How silly this may sound but whoever wins the most amount of rucks this Sunday will win the game. I think who will come out winning the dirty ball in those rucks will be victorious. What I don’t see is Waterford giving up the same amount of space that Kilkenny conceded the last day against Clare. As both teams play sweeper systems, it will make it tight for both teams to score freely. What makes this game so intriguing is how hard it is to break down the Waterford’s defence and on the flip side Clare have the best fire power up front in the country.
Waterford won’t be able to leave forwards like Tony Kelly, Podge Collins and Aaron Cunningham an inch of space.
The one worry that I would have for Waterford is that Clare have the personnel to open up the space up front. This game will also hinder on movement and who does the best movement on the day and which team counteracts that movement. Both teams are excellent at this and is the reason why I’m really looking forward to this tactical battle!
Do you think that either manager will be thinking about their championship game and sparing themselves for it?
Clare haven’t won a National League title since 1978 so that tells it’s story really. A massive amount is at stake.
For both managers, that date or fixture in June won’t be on their minds coming up to this game. From a Waterford point of view Derek McGrath will be thinking of trying to make a little bit of history as no Waterford team have ever won back to back National League titles. From my days with Davy Fitzgerald he aims to go out and win every match and this one will be no different. For him to turn around on Sunday and win a National League title on top of that All Ireland win would be a big thing for him. It would be an incredible feat if Waterford were to win and come out of Thurles on Sunday after winning back to back titles. It’s another medal and trophy that all players and management involved in will want to win. Both teams will go hammer and tong come Sunday.
Where will be the key battles on the field be next Sunday?
There will be a couple of key battles that I’m really looking forward too and they are….
Connor McGrath V’s Noel Connors
Both players are in top class form and with Connor McGrath being one of the top players in the country matching up to last year’s All Star corner back this will be a ferocious battle.
Colm Galvin V’s Jamie Barron
This pairing at the middle of the park will be an interesting one. Colm Galvin who is really only coming back to his form of 2013. He was a fabulous player back then and is slowing getting back to this All Star form. For me however, Jamie Barron is the un-sung hero of this Waterford team. He is the one man that Waterford cannot do without and is the key link in Waterford’s system of play.
Tony Kelly V’s Darragh Fives
Tony Kelly was player of year in 2013 and if Darragh Fives isn’t playing the role of sweeper he maybe given the role of man marking Tony. Darragh like Jamie Baron is a crucial player for Waterford and was badly missed last year but is back to his best and is in top class form. Whoever picks up Tony Kelly whether it be Darragh it could be the winning or losing of the game this Sunday.
Brendan Bugler V’s Shane Bennett
For me I think Shane Bennett is the one player that I love watching on this Waterford team. A bit like TJ Reid, Davy Fitzgerald will put a man marker on him. The man he may pick for this role is Brenden Bugler similar to the last day against Kilkenny. If this battle unfolds it may be the deciding factor.
What’s your verdict on this year’s Allianz League Final?
I suppose the bookies have it spot on! They are both very evenly matched teams and it’s hard to separate them. Clare without the services of John Conlon, David McInerney and Conor Ryan are going to be big losses for Clare. But as we’ve seen the last day against Kilkenny, Clare have a very strong panel and will replace these three players with similar qualities and strengths which shouldn’t hinder them on the day. Waterford also have their injury concerns and will it be interesting to see if Maurice Shanahan will be back for Sunday’s game.
We might not see many goals in this game and sometimes it might be stop-start and not as free flowing as everyone might think. I don’t envisage it being a similar style game that we witnessed in the semi finals and to be fair to both Limerick and Kilkenny they conceded both a lot of space and green grass to both Clare and Waterford. At times it will almost be like a game of Russian roulette on who is going to break first. It might be a low scoring game with a score line of 18 points to 17 or something along those lines.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this match goes to extra time and If I had to name a team it would marginally go to Waterford.