Ryan Byrne/INPHO Davy Fitzgerald: provocative, a deep thinker, entertaining.
# Analysis
Anthony Nash: Waterford not playing to strengths but Fitzgerald can find right formula
Deise have yet to marry talented players to a game plan that suits them.

A TEAM’S NEW manager must have a lot of qualities, the defining one often being they’re different to the last guy. That’s a pattern established across many sports over many years.

And it was part of the reason I was surprised to see Liam Cahill replaced by Davy Fitzgerald at Waterford. Both are brilliant coaches and they’re hardly each other’s mirror image, but both practice a more autocratic rather than laissez-faire style of management.

Fitzgerald is arguably the more prescriptive so it was interesting when he took over from Cahill, whose not entirely dissimilar approach was deemed to be something Waterford needed to move away from.

Should the Fitzgerald era eventually be judged a disappointment, the critics will have their ‘I told you so’ line ready. From what we know of Fitzgerald, he will relish the chance to shut them down before they get a chance to speak up.

Fitzgerald is a fascinating character to me: provocative, a deep thinker, entertaining; I think he’s been brilliant for our sport. It’s impossible to imagine a hurling world without him these past 30 years. If you try for a moment, it’s a lot more dull.

Should you ever find yourself stuck for something to think about, watch one of his teams. This I did on Saturday night, when Waterford took on Cahill’s Tipperary.

What you can see at the minute with Waterford is a plan coming together, but some way off fruition. Saturday showed some of the strengths and the weaknesses, particularly when it comes to conceding goal chances and a lack of a similar threat themselves.

The priority for Waterford seems to be to control the middle of the field. To this end, the full-back line was pushed up and attackers were often withdrawn. This approach suits some players such as Calum Lyons, who can get on the ball and has all the freedom in the world to power forward. The same for Patrick Curran and Jamie Barron. It’s a game that depends on an incredible level of fitness; a capacity to put in consecutive sprints, up and down the field, time and again.

patrick-curran Ryan Byrne / INPHO Waterford's Patrick Curran. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

If you have 15 athletically and technically accomplished hurlers, and more on the bench, it’s incredibly hard to stop. An opponent that is a couple of percentage points off your workrate will get ironed, but there’s the rub. When a team can match you for intensity then there are ways they can profit.

There was an eye-popping amount of space behind Waterford’s full-back line that was exploitable with so much as a decent flick or even a handpass. And when you have a team like Tipp, where Cahill demands a work rate to compliment the intelligence and distribution skills of players like Noel McGrath and Jason Forde then you’re up against it.

Now, come the championship I would be amazed if Waterford leave themselves exposed to the extent they did on Saturday evening, yet there are other areas of concern.

Players such as Dessie Hutchinson, Stephen Bennett and Mikey Kiely, when introduced, will not profit from a system where they are withdrawn from goal.

Lyons scored one point in the opening quarter where there were no Waterford players within 30 metres of the goal. This is not playing to everyone’s strengths.

Hutchinson is a nightmare to mark. The only time I felt half comfortable in the Cork goal when he was around was when Sean O’Donoghue was on him. O’Donoghue had the pace and endurance to track Hutchinson’s constant movement and probing that would give him the glimmer of an opportunity to power in on goal.

padraig-delaney-and-dessie-hutchinson Bryan Keane / INPHO Waterford's Dessie Hutchinson. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Were I in the Cork goal now I’d love to see him closer to the middle of the field than the goal. The same goes for Bennett and Kiely. Any two from these three played close to goal will give defenders and keepers all kinds of hassle.

I’ve seen Kiely at close quarters with UL the past two seasons, his goals both years and in particular his four-goal haul in last month’s final show the kind of threat he brings.

He’s the type of player that evokes the thrilling Waterford forwards of the previous generation, John Mullane, Paul Flynn, Dan Shanhan, Eoin Kelly – gifted guys who just went for the jugular. I had the challenge of trying to keep them out, it was one I couldn’t meet. I’m in good company there. In full flight they could not be shut down.

Nostalgia is no basis for a game plan, but I do think there’s something in the Waterford psyche and that craves menace up front. There’s also a practical benefit to making best use of the raw materials you have, and Waterford have the weapons to score the kind of goals that negate the impact of an in-form Jake Morris at the other end of the field.

In the months ahead, I would not be surprised to see Fitzgerald hone a plan that allows for greater potency up front while not giving up so many chances at the back.

He will do it his way, though. At times it will seem counter-intuitive to observers such as myself, but I learned 10 years ago just how innovative Fitzgerald can be. The Clare side he and Paul Kinnerk oversaw which beat Cork in the 2013 All-Ireland final was the first I’d encountered that pulled the half forwards back so deep. They were able to compete for and win breaks to an extent that surprised and hurt us.

It seems to me and maybe a few others today that Waterford’s chess pieces are in the wrong places, but I’d be wary of what Fitzgerald will produce a few moves from now.

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