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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Analysis: Waterford systems failure, John McGrath magic and Tipp's unsung heroes

All-Ireland winning captain Tommy Dunne takes a closer look at the factors behind his native Tipperary’s demolition job on Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds.

AS PART OF our 2016 Hurling championship coverage, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Tipperary’s 2001 All-Ireland winning captain and former team coach Tommy Dunne. 

Tommy has joined The42 for the summer and in his latest column, he takes a closer look at Tipperary’s mauling of Waterford in yesterday’s Munster senior hurling final. 



This was a huge systems malfunction from a Waterford point of view. From what I could see, they started with Tadhg de Búrca as the extra man in defence but never had more than one extra player back there, when frequently we’ve seen them with two. At times, they went man on man and this was a new departure for Waterford. 

They probably tweaked it slightly to be more attack-minded and offensive but fell between two stools and paid a heavy price.

Waterford’s lack of aggression

Tipperary’s first goal struck me in particular.

Waterford are very tight on their men when the ball arrives into the danger zone but de Búrca is yards away from where it lands. Tipp have bypassed him with a long delivery but Waterford still have plenty of bodies in the contact area to deal with it.

The problem is that no Waterford player attacks it and maybe that’s something ingrained in them, that they allow the ball to drop in behind in the hope that the sweeper is there to mop it up.

Looking at the set-up above, there’s no way that a goal should develop but in the next picture, we can see how John McGrath drifts around the back of the ruck to pick up the loose ball:

To be fair to de Búrca, he does make up the ground and applies pressure to McGrath’s initial shot:

However, de Búrca’s momentum carries him to a place where he’s not in a position to deal with the follow-up, as John picks up the loose ball and taps it into an empty net.

Attacking the ball is a huge part of the game and it’s something that Tipperary and Kilkenny do particularly well from a defensive viewpoint.

But for some reason yesterday, this facet of Waterford’s game wasn’t good at all.

Derek McGrath mentioned at full-time that perhaps they were over-trained or over-cooked? Were there problems of a physical nature yesterday in that they didn’t have the legs or enough energy in the tank? Even so, attacking the ball and contesting aerial exchanges is basic stuff and Waterford fell down badly in this area.

Tipp’s hat-trick hero more than just a scorer

John McGrath was sensational for Tipperary. He scored 3-2 and provided the assist for Michael Breen’s goal, which I want to concentrate on in a little more detail.

It came direct from a lengthy, wind-assisted Darren Gleeson puck-out but what Tipp did here was attack where Waterford were perceived as being strong.

It was directed right down on top of the sweeper, de Búrca, but McGrath beat him in the air and executed a clean catch.

McGrath brings not only a scoring touch but also an ability to win these aerial exchanges. In recent years, not winning enough primary possession is an accusation that’s been levelled at Tipp but McGrath can do it.

Watch Breen’s starting position in the first picture to follow as it provides you with an example of how much trust he has in McGrath to win the aerial contest.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that McGrath will beat de Búrca to the punch (blue circle) but Breen is already gambling (red circle). It’s one of numerous, similar runs he will have tried during the game but this one pays off big time.

goal 3

McGrath goes highest to claim possession, and Breen is eating up the yards to provide the support run:

And in the final picture in this sequence, Breen’s industry is rewarded as he’s onto McGrath’s perfect pass and through on goal:

What you had here was conventional wisdom flipped on its head – Tipp winning excellent primary possession against what was regarded as a watertight defence. So, rather than worrying about how good Waterford were from a defensive viewpoint, and trying to keep the ball away from the centre of their defence, Tipp went for the jugular.


McGrath’s decision-making and general game awareness really is first class. I discussed him after the Cork game in May and he’s getting better as the season progresses.

John only scored a point in that Cork game but was involved in so much more. Yesterday, his rewards came on the scoreboard but his assist for the Breen goal was magnificent, too.

He can break tackles very well and in tough conditions, his finishing was impeccable.

I’ll take you back to McGrath’s second goal for an example of his game intelligence and general awareness.

In the first picture, he allows Niall O’Meara to challenge for yet another aerial ball. McGrath (circled), is hovering with intent:


The ball falls McGrath’s way and he has one thing on his mind, his body shape issuing a clear statement of intent as he prepares to advance on goal:

Now, here we can see how good he is at breaking tackles and his determination to create a clear opening takes de Búrca (red helmet) out of the equation again:

The end result is a clear run on goal for McGrath:

You want another example of game intelligence and improvisation? You’ve got it. As the Waterford defenders converge, he improvises brilliantly, showing his football skills to boot the ball to the net.

This picture from behind the goals shows that he had no chance to swing the hurl and took the right option, kicking it home with his right boot:

Niall O’Meara’s influence in that goal shouldn’t be underestimated either. It’s an example of why he was in the team yesterday. Niall is an aggressive player, hungry for work and got himself into an ideal position under the high ball.

If he wasn’t going to catch it, the chances were that it would break very kindly for a runner, McGrath in this instance.

We could talk all day about tactics but there wasn’t a huge amount of science behind Tipp’s. It was just very direct stuff but Waterford’s inability to compete, which I’ve already referenced, allowed Tipp to profit.

The examples I’ve illustrated show how de Búrca’s influence as a sweeper was nullified. For Tipp’s fourth goal – and McGrath’s hat-trick – he was marked absent again from a long delivery.

To be fair, Waterford needed to push on at this stage but the end result was the nightmare scenario that they would have feared – Seamus Callanan in a one-on-one situation with Barry Coughlan, the arrow indicating the amount of ground that de Búrca has to make up:

Next, I’ve cropped de Búrca into the position where, ideally, he would like to have been, compared to his starting position:

If the extra defender, or sweeper, is to work effectively, he must be in a position to intercept the original ball in.

None of this happened yesterday but conditions played a part too as Darren Gleeson, Paudie Maher and Cathal Barrett could launch ball after ball in on top of that Waterford full-back line.

Tipp’s unsung heroes

In big games like Munster finals, you need your marquee players heavily involved and at their very best.

Within the space of eleven second half minutes, Waterford took off Maurice Shanahan, ‘Brick’ Walsh, Austin Gleeson, Noel Connors and Pauric Mahony.

Big names, limited influence.

But Waterford did start brightly enough and Jamie Barron looked dangerous early on. He was very prominent around the middle of the field and carried some terrific ball but Waterford’s template is based around making solid starts, building a lead and maybe getting a goal on the board early on.

They’re just not suited to chasing a game, particularly when they operate with one or two inside forwards. That’s a flaw in their system. How many goal chances did they create? I can’t recall one. If you’re trying to win Munster or All-Ireland championships, I don’t know how sustainable this approach really is.

Tipp realised that Waterford were there for the taking and the floodgates opened. I was involved as coach with Tipperary in 2011 when we took them for seven goals in the Munster final.

You get a sense on a given day that a team is vulnerable and you go for it. Tipp would have sensed it yesterday, that any time the ball went in, they were onto a winner.

They went long and hard, straight down the middle, and made hay. McGrath and Seamus Callanan collected 4-13 between them but don’t underestimate the influence of Dan McCormack and ‘Bonner’ Maher, who we spoke about in detail after the Limerick match.

And so while Waterford’s main men didn’t perform, Tipp’s did. The likes of Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Paudie Maher, Brendan Maher, Michael Breen, Bonner and McCormack were hugely influential.

McCormack’s tackling needs improving but he’s fulfilling a really good and workmanlike role for the team. His industry created a first half point for Paudie Maher, which I will discuss shortly, and a couple of minutes later, he was fouled for a free that Callanan put over.

What Bonner and McCormack are doing particularly well is dropping deep and working ferociously hard around the middle third. This is a hallmark of Michael Ryan’s regime so far – that appetite for work – and you’d have to acknowledge that the message is getting through to the players.

They understand what is required and, so far, are carrying it out very well.

Here, we see a Waterford player in possession:

Within a second, he’s surrounded by a swarm of four Tipperary players:

As the ball squirts lose to Darragh Fives, the Tipp players don’t give up and go after him:

The end result is a turnover, as Dan McCormack gains possession….

And Paudie Maher has now positioned himself well to take a pass, before he fires over a point:

Early in the second half, Bonner is seen chasing down Jamie Barron:

Bonner works deep into his own half and within four seconds, is in a perfect position to execute a tackle: 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this Tipp team is now playing how Michael Ryan wants them to. And if your half-forwards are prepared to track back, it allows your midfielders and half backs to drop back a little bit more.

All of a sudden, you become very compact and the space is cut down for the opposition to work in. Putting all of this together, it really is no surprise that Tipp are looking really, really solid at the back right now. 


I was leaving the Gaelic Grounds yesterday when I happened to see Maurice Shanahan making his way out. 

He was walking a little ahead of me but parked his disappointment to take a few steps back and stand in for a photograph with a disabled supporter.

It was a remarkable touch of class on Maurice’s behalf as he was carrying a world of hurt leaving the stadium but still found time for somebody less fortunate than himself.

It was just a beautiful touch from Maurice and I wanted to reference it here while it’s still fresh in my mind.

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