He shows absolutely outstanding knowledge and analysis of Waterford’s current and prospective inter county hurlers.
I want to help to promote this kind of analysis as it is years ahead of his time within hurling.
The following is the Waterford team an Moltóir feels Davy should be rebuilding with:
The system in operation in the GAA whereby counties tend to appoint high-profile coaches/managers for their senior teams for a 2-3 year period is problematical in many ways. One of these is the lack of developmental continuity as one manager works with a certain group of players for a couple of years and then walks away leaving it to his successor to pick up the pieces and repeat the process.
The situation with the Waterford hurlers for the coming year is particularly problematical. In a situation where a number of established players are in the veteran category (Ken and Eoin McGrath, Tony Browne, Eoin Murphy, Seamus and Declan Prendergast) and a lot of new talent is waiting in the wings, the time may now be opportune for initiating a major rebuilding phase. Clare bit the bullet this year and threw a number of their recent under-21 stars into the deep end of the championship, just as Cork did back in 1999 (with spectacular success).
The problem for Davy Fitzgerald is that he was given a single year extension to his managerial contract, which is worst possible thing the Waterford County Board could have done at this stage of the evolution of the county senior team. In this situation Davy is unlikely to opt for wholesale reconstruction which would probably rule out any form of league or championship success in the short term (i.e. the length of his current contract). Instead, he may seek to persevere for one more year with the current panel of players, with perhaps one or two new faces, depending on how things develop in the training camp over the coming months.
To give Davy credit, he has devoted much more attention to developing some depth in his squad than his own predecessor did. A wide range of players were given a decent chance to show their worth in this year’s Waterford Crystal and National League competitions, and a much more inclusive approach to squad training produced a situation where some observers have suggested that Waterford’s second team is now better than most intercounty first teams.
Davy’s reappointment has not been met with universal approval from within the squad, and there has been talk of several players dropping out for the coming year – not all of them in the veteran category. There has been a drip of information circulating about new players being added to the panel and winter programmes being issued, but nothing definite about the actual personnel pencilled in by Davy for the 2011 campaign. Assuming that all players (apart from Dan Shanahan) remain in the picture, then one can do worse on a wintry November evening than to muse about the possible make-up of the Waterford first 15 which will take the field against Limerick next June.
There has been some speculation about Clinton Hennessy retaining the goalkeeping position which he has made his own over the last five years. Like Galway, but unlike most other top hurling counties, Waterford have experienced major problems in finding top-class goalkeepers over the years. Hennessy’s return from the USA got Waterford out of a major crisis, and his tenure has been one of solid competency and a safe pair of hands. However, it has been noted that he rarely produces the blinding saves which are part of the repertoire of other keepers and can make a crucial difference in terms of ultimate championship success.
Hennessy now faces a challenge from no less than two players for whom producing regular breath-taking saves is just one component of a wide array of goalkeeping skills. These are Adrian Power, the current understudy, and Stephen O’Keeffe, the county’s minor goalkeeper in 2009. Given that relations between Power and Davy are reported not to be the best, it may be that we will see O’Keeffe being given his chance to establish himself should Davy opt for a changing of the guard in the coming year.
The fullback position has been an Achilles heel for Waterford since Seán Cullinane retired in 2002. Liam Lawlor made a reasonable fist of the job this year, but if Waterford are to make the ultimate breakthrough, reasonable isn’t good enough. Lawlor is a skillful and intelligent hurler, but top class full backs need to have some combination of physicality, pace and ability to win ball in the air, and Lawlor possesses none of these.
Earlier this year, it looked like Mark O’Brien was being groomed for the position, and his pace and positive approach initially impressed many, but his star waned following some less than convincing performances in the run-up to the championship. The failure to try Shane Fives out in the position remains a mystery. Fives was excellent at full back for the Waterford under-21 team which beat Tipperary and could well have done the same to eventual All-Ireland winners Clare in 2009. This year he was voted the best full back in the Fitzgibbon Cup competition. He did have injury problems in 2010, so perhaps his combination of physical presence, coolness and good skills will finally win him a decent try-out in the coming months.
At corner back, Noel Connors’s position is assured, but Eoin Murphy, who will be 33 next year, may come under some pressure, particularly from Aidan Kearney if he can shake off the injury and illness problems which have been plaguing him (along with, if reports are correct, less than amicable relations with Davy). Also in the picture is Jerome Maher, who has performed well whenever given a chance and has reportedly been a star performer in training. For 2011, then, we could see a fullback line of Connors, Fives and Kearney, with Lawlor, O’Brien and Maher as very useful backup.
One wonders if the Waterford halfback line could be subjected to major surgery in the coming year. The main factors here may not be inadequate performance of the players in possession, but the quality of the competition and the wider needs of the team. It may be strange to suggest a change for Brick Walsh, the current All-Star centre back, but there are many who feel that Walsh’s main strengths – his marvellous engine, fielding ability and ability to make things happen – are not best used in this position. With Dan Shanahan gone and Seamus Prendergast in decline, Waterford’s ability to win ball in the half forward line is a growing concern which Walsh could resolve.
The other side of this equation is the possible availability of a ready-made alternative to Walsh at No. 6. It is something of a mystery that Kevin Moran has appeared in virtually every position for Waterford except the position which many would regard as his best. Moran’s return to centre back has been one of the key ingredients in De La Salle’s successful club championship campaign in Waterford this year. He is much more comfortable facing the ball, and both reads the game and uses the ball well.
A second key factor in De La Salle’s success has been the showing of Stephen Daniels at left half back, in which position he won man of the match in the recent county final. Unfortunately, he too seems to have his problems with Davy Fitzgerald, which apparently caused him to drop off the county panel earlier this year. The current player in possession, Declan Prendergast, has good skills and mobility, but his lack of physicality (for a big man) and ability in the air have always left him short of the level of performance required at the very top level.
On the other wing, the legendary Tony Browne has continued to defy the years with a consistent level of performance. However, in the coming year we expect him to come under pressure from Philip Mahony, who starred for both the county minors and under 21s in 2009 and has been putting in some good performances for his club (Ballygunner) in 2010. Another possible contender could be Darragh Fives (Shane’s younger brother) who was absolutely brilliant at wing back for the county minors when they won the Munster title in 2009 and who continued to impress at centre back for this year’s team. Another current county minor, John Prendergast, made a big impression at wing back for Lismore in this year’s club championship and according to reports has received a call up from Davy. One should also mention Jamie Nagle, a skillful hurler who made some appearances at wing back for the county seniors in 2010.
We, could, therefore, see a completely new half back line of Mahony, Moran and Daniels taking the field for next year’s championship, with Browne, Prendergast, Nagle and possibly Fives and Prendergast providing more than adequate cover.
The one line where we envisage no change is midfield, where both Shane O’Sullivan and Richie Foley had excellent championship campaigns in 2010. O’Sullivan averaged 15 plays and 37 quality points (2.4 points per play) in his four championship games, both of which are well above average. Foley actually averaged 20 plays per game but his plays were of lower quality (1.9 points per play) which still earned him an average of 38 quality points per game.
One of the big disappointments for Waterford this year was Maurice Shanahan’s failure to make a championship impact, especially in the light of his contributions for Lismore in the county championship. Again we hear of differences between him and Davy and it is to be hoped that these will be resolved, given the younger Shanahan’s enormous potential as a ball winner, a free earner and a scoring machine. A half forward line of Shanahan, Brick Walsh and Stephen Molumphy would give Waterford an excellent ball winning platform, with Molumphy’s wondrous ability to turn up where the action is providing extra manpower all over the midfield area.
This leaves us with John Mullane at right corner forward, Eoin Kelly at the edge of the square and, we expect, Brian O’Halloran in the left corner. Davy Fitzgerald’s selection of O’Halloran for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary bordered on the irresponsible, especially when his half-baked game plan fell apart virtually from the throw-in. However, with a full year’s training under his belt, O’Halloran should certainly be ready for the fray in 2011, with his combination of pace, skill, ball-winning and scoring ability offering enormous possibilities. Indeed, assuming Stephen Molumphy spends much of this time operating as a third midfielder, O’Halloran’s ability to work up and down the left wing could be a particular asset.
If he continues on, Ken McGrath would still have something to offer, mainly as an alternative full forward. Unfortunately, Seamus Prendergast’s career appears to be in terminal decline while we do not see Eoin McGrath as having much further to offer either and Shane Walsh’s lack of pace is a major weakness at this level. Pace is not a problem for Tomás Ryan but his size is, and we would regard Shane Casey as a better long-term option. Meanwhile, a number of young forwards have been making an impression at club and under-age county level and we could see some of these being involved, including Brian and David O’Sullivan, Shane Walsh (Ballygunner) and the two Paudies, Mahony and Prendergast.
Obviously the proposed line-out envisaged here depends on form, fitness and, perhaps above all, availability. Should a significant number of the players identified here opt out due to differences with Davy Fitzgerald, this could raise major questions about the County Board’s priorities, which should be to ensure that the strongest possible team representing the best talent in the county takes the field in the 2011 championship. And, from what we have seen here, such a team would be a formidable outfit with genuine championship aspirations.