Sideline tactical battle is an intriguing subplot to duel of the Déise and Cunningham's Blues
IN late August of 2013, when asked to preview the looming All-Ireland SHC final between Clare and Cork, John Gardiner noted how "the tactical battle will be good to watch between Davy Fitzgerald and probably Ger Cunningham".
His statement probably reflected two things.
Firstly, Gardiner's then annoyance with Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the Cork manager he had deliberately left out of the tactical head-to-head and who then had, only recently, dropped him from inter-county hurling.
And secondly, the acceptance that Cunningham was largely responsible for the systematic approach of that Cork team. Indeed one of the central pillars of Cunningham's candidacy for the Dublin job, it was widely felt, was his status of one of hurling's foremost tacticians.
Waterford haven't reinvented the wheel but they have found a style of play difficult to score against and tempting to push up on, yet designed to unhinge and destabalise the opposition's defence, through which they, in turn, will gladly plunder.
As it happened, Tipperary became the first team to conquer it but not to the extent that Derek McGrath will be wasting too much chalk redrawing his team's style.
"In advance of the game, most people were saying that if we cut out the space for Bubbles (O'Dwyer) and Seamus Callanan, you'd have some chance," McGrath told The Herald.
"But I suppose just trying to marry that with more of an attacking base is where we fell down."
Tipp refused to budge.
But Callanan scored nothing from play and O'Dywer got three but most of the critique of Waterford's system was how often it allowed Paudie Maher free and how freely it awarded him possession as a non-marking centre-back/sweeper.
"A closer analysis of it would probably point to the fact that a fella can hit an amount of ball and not a huge amount comes off the ball he hits," McGrath says now.
So Dublin's choice is whether to push up on Tadhg de Burca and play most often with five backs or sit Liam Rushe deep in front of his full-back line and follow suit.
It's something they've done before, most notably under Anthony Daly in the aforementioned 2013 semi-final, as he recently explained.
"Danny Sutcliffe came to midfield with the same licence to get forward," the Clareman outlined.
"Johnny McCaffrey was to sit beside Liam Rushe (inset, left) to allow him to surge forward on occasion but most of all shore up the middle third. The lazy pundits called him 'a sweeper'.
Yet this Waterford outfit aren't so rigid as many have made out since the start of the season.
"We actually have changed in some games and maybe people didn't pick up on it," said McGrath.
"We have played differently in a number of games. There is a plan B.
"It's imposing those plans without hamstringing fellas so that there is no fluidity in your play or that you are almost robotic.
"A lot of it is decisions made by the boys on the pitch."