How Tipperary smashed the sweeper
By John Harrington
Tipperary’s approach to neutralising Waterford’s famed sweeper system in Sunday’s Munster Hurling Final was simple, but brilliant.
Tadhg de Búrca’s ability to sweep onto breaking ball between the Waterford half-back and full-back line has made him one of the rising stars of the game.
But Tipperary knocked him out of his comfort zone by using the novel approach of hitting the ball straight down on top of him.
That meant de Búrca could no longer wait for the ball to break and be an auxiliary defender. Because he was the primary defender he had to win it cleanly himself.
Tipperary had changed the terms of engagement to suit their approach, and the Waterford defence was knocked totally out of kilter by this unexpected but hugely effective tactical ploy.
“That’s something we worked on the last few weeks, we said nobody had tried it yet so we said why not lump in the ball,” explained Tipperary captain Brendan Maher.
“I know myself when playing as a sweeper the last thing you want is ball coming down right on top of you, a sweeper is used to moving left and right onto ball so we said we would go the direct route.
“The boys had to be selfless with those runs and thankfully, you saw Mikey Breen making a 50 yard run, he made a few more but nothing came out of them, that’s the chance you have to take and the selfless run you have to make. We are happy with the performance but we have to draw a line under it and move on.”
It was a highly impressive Tipperary win and Munster titles still mean a lot to this group, but it was very apparent after the match too that all the players had immediately refocused for the All-Ireland series.
“Absolutely,” said Maher. “Look, it's great, a Munster Championship win is brilliant, it's a medal that you'll cherish. But as I said we really need to draw a line under it now. We'll enjoy tonight and enjoy the celebrations of this, but, we have five weeks to get ourselves right and we really need to up the levels for the semi-final.
“We were in this position already. As I said a Munster Final win is brilliant, it's a great medal to have. Some of those lads out there, it was their first medal, and they're really going to cherish it, as will I. But at the end of the day, like, it's no good us winning a Munster Championship if we can't go on and perform in the All-Ireland series. That's our aim now. We have to really get ourselves back down to earth.”
Last year’s disappointing All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway should certainly concentrate Tipperary minds ahead of this year’s. They seemed lethargic that day after a five-week break, and Maher admits that’s something they need to get right this time around.
“Definitely from talking to lads we were saying if we were faced with it again that we would do a few things differently to last year. Maybe we trained too hard last year early after the Munster final, we were find of burnt out by the time we got to Galway. Hopefully we’ll have club fixtures to focus on for the next couple of weeks, lads will be able to recharge the batteries. We just want to peak in five weeks time, that’s our sole focus now.
“We have never used it as an excuse. It’s the performance on the day that is the problem, whether it is five weeks, two weeks or three weeks, it’s up to us to get ourselves right, we have failed to do so. I don’t think five weeks is the actual problem, it’s just the preparation as a whole is wrong. We’ll try and do things a bit differently this year but our focus is on five weeks time.
“This is my fifth Munster title I have won so it is the fifth time we are faced with it. We haven’t gotten it right too many times, in 2011 we beat Dublin in a semi-final but performed poorly that day. The last four times we have been faced with it we haven’t performed well at the semi-final stage so it’s time to do something different and get it right.”
There has been a harder edge to Tipperary’s hurling this year. They’re playing with massive work-rate and aggression, and seem like a different animal than the side that has consistently underachieved since 2010.
“Fellas have matured,” said Maher. “We've learned from previous experiences. We've brought in new players which has added a great freshness to it. Mick has challenged us, but, to be honest, he hands a lot of it over to us.
“We're the ones that cross the white line so we have to make the decisions and he facilitates us to make those decisions. Thankfully it's been going well so far. We've been showing good grit and character. As I said, though, we need to draw a line now under the Munster Championship and move on and concentrate on the All-Ireland series.”