Playing cat and mouse
DUBS boss Daly says tactics are all well and good against might of Kilkenny but believes reading game on day can be key to success
A wing-back of no small repute during his heady 1990s heyday, Anthony Daly remains a studious observer and scrupulous commentator on the arts and crafts of his former position.
Predictably then, he has viewed the careers of Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney with a mixture of awe and admiration.
“I’d say they’re the best,” he insisted in conversation with the Herald in the run-up to Saturday’s Leinster showdown with Walsh, Delaney et al in Portlaoise (5.0).
“I’d say Brian Whelahan was lucky he got the stamp when he did! And I thought Brian was the best wing-back I ever saw up until that.
“They’re great readers of the game, they have fantastic touch and then they have bravery to burn. There is no doubt that they have the package.
“The big thing is, can you do it on big days? And they have consistently done it on big days. They’re a joy to watch ... except when they’re against you.”
Along with Brian Hogan, the trio have long since become a centre of Kilkenny’s strength, the impregnable line which devours puck-outs and opposition half-forwards alike in super-sized portions.
Their individual and collective splendour is already legendary, but as the game has moved on, so have Kilkenny.
Brian Cody might have been stoic and honest in his pre-All-Ireland assessment that the Cats would not play with a sweeper against Tipperary, but they did and do operate with a deep-dropping midfield and a pair of defence-invading wing-forwards.
Daly, quite clearly, isn’t swayed by the ‘tactics? what tactics?!’ analysis of Kilkenny.
“You wouldn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that (Brian) Hogan won’t come out too far. The wing forwards are going very deep as well.”
“The centre-forward probably stays up. Fellas would be telling you they don’t do tactics! But when you have (Colin) Fennelly, (Eoin) Larkin, Hogan, (Richie) Power, Matthew Ruth or whoever will be there – they’re good players and they’ll fight for their own ball.”
Indeed, Daly attended the Kilkenny/Waterford All-Ireland semi-final last year with selector Richie Stakelum and noted how deep the Cats half-forwards dropped on Clinton Hennessey’s puck-outs.
“Shefflin went back under JJ’s nose almost,” he recalls. “So in that respect, that’s giving ferocious cover to your backs and allowing your midfield and wing-forwards to nearly make a line of seven there.
“But there is no doubt, Brian Hogan does like to sit and keep it compact there. And Tommy and JJ won’t like to be dragged all over the place so you need cover to do that. It’s a constant battle of wits.”
Doubtless though, Dublin stand in much better stead to take on Kilkenny’s/hurling’s strongest ever line with the emergence of a raft of much-needed ball-winners, players like Conal Keaney, Ryan O’Dwyer, Ross O’Carroll, Conor McCormack, Liam Rushe, David Treacy and Danny Sutcliffe, the shape, size and skill set of whom Dublin were chronically lacking until recently.
“O’Dwyer came in and what was he?” asks Daly rhetorically, “a robust wing-forward that we’ve managed to use at full (forward) at times. The size of Rushie alone ... and then Danny, we started off the year playing him at wing-back. We haven’t specifically gone out to do that. But you’re conscious that your half-forward line are the ones who are going to be under puck-outs so you do your best there.”
As yet, the exact make-up of the Kilkenny line-up is unknown pending the resolution of a number of injury doubts, but Daly acknowledges: “If I was manager of Kilkenny, I would like Michael Rice and I would like Michael Fennelly,” both of whom are likely to miss Saturday.
“They have been top-class players for quite a while. Especially Michael Fennelly. He has been a tour de force there for some time. I presume that presents its own headaches for Brian.
“But he’s after getting a chance to test players in league semi-finals and league finals and they have come up trumps so it kind of eases your mind a bit.”
Just as Fennelly and Rice represented the strong, vibrant hub of Kilkenny’s 2011 All-Ireland winning effort, Daly’s hand has been recently strengthened by the returns of his own powerhouses, Keaney, Tomás Brady and Stephen Hiney.
“They’re a serious help,” he admits. “The physique alone is a help. They still have to go to the ball, though. They’re good lads.
“They might not be back to their very best yet but I suppose the same question marks are over Henry (Shefflin) and them. There are a few question marks on both sides.”
Tactics, personnel, puck-outs ... Daly can’t help diving in and out of each subject randomly but on Saturday, he accepts: “I’m always saying to the boys, there is a bit of ducks and drakes involved. You have to be able to play cat and mouse a bit and read it on the day.
“Like, for instance,” he says, “if your own half-back and midfield are clever enough to give you short ball and you can take your point, their half-backs are going to have to come out a small bit.
“It’s not rocket science,” Daly concludes, “but they are good at it.”