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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Davy Fitzgerald

Davy Fitzgerald column: Wexford need to protect themselves from beatings like Sunday's

Waterford were on fire on Sunday and showed why they are frontline contenders to knock Limerick off their perch.

Their pace and power was too much for Wexford and their use of the ball was terrific. They have an ability to mix it up, long or short, and this is particularly important as it means they are not reliant on a specific style and can adapt as required.

It’s fantastic to see Tadhg de Burca back to his best after his lay-off. He’s a great hurler but also a very smart one.

He plays a similar role to that of Limerick’s Declan Hannon in that he’s a sitting centre-back rather than a sweeper.

There’s not a world of difference between the two, but De Burca and Hannon sit in front of the full-back line and they go and help those behind them by cutting out space or doubling up in the tackle.

That means that they’re leaving the opposition centre-forward free at times, so a midfielder has to drop to pick him up and then your centre-forward drops to pick up the spare midfielder. So there are a lot of moving parts to allow the sitting No 6 to work - everybody has to be in sync.

The difference with a sweeper is that he’s an extra defender that is spare at all times and the centre-back just marks the opposition centre-forward.

But, to be honest, I don’t like the term ‘sweeper’ in this context - quarter-back or utility player would be more appropriate.

Which brings me to Wexford, who will be gutted at the manner of their defeat on Sunday as I know from dealing with them over the years.

Darragh Egan has done a good job and Wexford supporters are top class - they’ll give him the patience he deserves. He has retained Wexford’s running game, which I feel is important, but he hasn’t played an outright sweeper.

Trying to rotate someone back into the hole can cause problems with the potential for gaps to open up when players don’t get back on time.

I heard that an ex-Wexford player said on radio that they need to tighten up at the back but he didn’t want to hear any talk of sweepers. Now, the man in question was a big supporter of mine when I was in Wexford and I’m grateful for that, but I would question whether he and many others of his generation have fully grasped the sweeper role.

There is an assumption that, by playing a sweeper, a team has seven backs for the 70 minutes. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

With a sweeper, the wing-backs can attack and it also allows them to follow the wing-forwards and not let them pick up handy ball in the middle third like Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey do so often.

To me, it’s a very progressive system and allows more players to get forward and draw on all of their skills.

Granted, some teams pull their half-forwards back and it can make for 12 or 13 players behind the ball which is defensive, but so what if it works? The flip side is that you get up to eight players in the opposition half attacking at once.

Wexford will bounce back and have a say in Leinster, but Sunday showed that they need more structure in defence, be it by employing a sweeper or a sitting centre-back.

Time the penny dropped with Gleeson

Austin Gleeson was in scintillating form for Waterford on Sunday, particularly in the first half, when he had the freedom of Nowlan Park.

The offence for which he was sent off was relatively harmless but, ultimately, John Keenan got it right.

Austin needs to stop and check himself before getting involved in that sort of stuff. It’s particularly inexcusable given how Waterford were out the gap at that stage.

He has reacted like that in the past when there was no need for it. He’s a tremendous hurler and a nice guy off the field but the penny needs to drop with this type of behaviour.

Walsh switch has worked a treat for Kilkenny

Kilkenny's Pádraig Walsh (©INPHO/Ben Whitley)

Saturday night’s League semi-final was a really good game to watch and one that both teams will have taken plenty from.

Cork can be loose when the opposition have the ball but when they work it through the lines themselves they look incredible, to the point of nearly being unplayable. Darragh Fitzgibbon is back to his best and Ciaran Joyce adds a lot with his work rate and power.

Kilkenny’s short game has really developed. Mikey Butler and David Blanchfield are two good finds at the back and the move of Padraig Walsh to centre-forward has been a good one.

I questioned the wisdom of shifting one of their best backs into attack but he’s really added something up there.

Kilkenny have improved steadily as the League has gone on. They’re very close to settling on their team with TJ Reid still to return.

Cork just have the edge - for now

With Cork and Waterford not due to meet until the last round of the Munster Championship, I expect them to have a right go at each other on Saturday evening.

It’ll be a good workout for both ahead of the Championship but, most importantly, there’s a League title at stake.

It has the makings of a very fast-flowing encounter and I’m really looking forward to it.

Waterford still have Conor Prunty, Jamie Barron and Stephen Bennett to come back and when they do they’ll be especially formidable. Without them for now, Cork might just have the edge.

Gleeson working the oracle for Antrim

Darren Gleeson has done a magnificent job with Antrim and it’s very important that they keep hold of him.

They were very worthy winners over Offaly last Saturday and having got it wrong tactically against Laois’s 14 men when they went long all day, they worked it through the lines very well, got some great scores and could have had another goal or two. Staying in the top division is crucial for them.

Offaly struggled big time throughout the League but, looking at the bigger picture, I believe that they’re making progress.

A high wides tally didn’t help them on Saturday and they need to tidy up on that but a year in Division 2A will allow them to regroup.

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