"Wexford lost the game because they went traditional... not because of a sweeper"
Let the shackles off.
There’s probably never been analysis as basic as that, boiling success down to whether or not shackles are on.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got it there last season with Manchester United. They went on a mad run of winning games and the only thing he was said to have done was removed those infamous shackles. There wasn’t a word about them when things went belly up and United couldn’t stop losing by the end of the campaign, even without the shackles.
The Sunday Game might be an institution but its analysis has been too lazy too often in the past.
After over a decade of it, puke analysis is what the football fans of Ireland have been served many a weekend and, recently, the hurling fraternity allowed themselved to fall into a trap of actually believing that the winning and losing of every game was down to a team playing a sweeper or not playing a sweeper.
On The GAA Hour this week, Cheddar Plunkett took all the perpetrators to task and offered very simple examples of how all major team sports evolve and, for over a century, coaches have been looking at ways to get the most out of the tools they have.
“In soccer, back in the 1900s, there was no combination play or any of that. There were two people up the field and you took the ball as far as you could to the next man,” Plunkett explained.
“The English team changed that in the 30s, they looked at a more structured setup and brought centre halves into the game.
“In the 50s, the Hungarian team had a different way of playing, not dissimilar to the way coaches are going at the minute with the striker dropping deeper as a playmaker. The idea was to find space to put the ball into. That was their way of getting attackers into space to receive the ball there rather than just passing it man to man.
“And, again, it moved on. We all know about the period of Dutch football where it was described as any player in any position could turn up anywhere and be able to play that position. Total football.
“Barcelona, tiki-taka. It moved on to the gegenpress.”
Plunkett continued and pointed to the introduction of the three-point line in basketball and how the best coaches used that to their advantage, devising ways to score more three-pointers on a consistent basis than the other teams.
Traditional basketball folk might not have liked any break away from the norm, but success moved the game on.
“In basketball, there was a time when coaches used to hold on to the ball to try and get the right players into position to take the right shot, that moved on.
“If you compare the Golden State Warriors – three NBA titles in four years and phenomenal three-point shooters – not different to a sweeper system where you have to shoot from distance and you need good shooters from distance.
“There are parallels in innovative ways of playing the game that coaches have brought in that were successful in other sports and would be successful in hurling.”
But the thing that got him the most was the idea that Wexford playing a sweeper system lost them the game – against the favourites, no less.
To Plunkett, that system had Wexford five points up with time running out and, as a matter of fact, they lost the game when they abandoned that system. They lost when they went traditional.
“What was the key part of Wexford losing the game? Whether it was panic, pressure, in the last 15 minutes – even though they had the man up – Wexford actually went traditional at a time when they really should’ve stayed doing what they were doing,” he said.
“They had an extra man and what did they do? Played high ball up the field. This is going back traditional – pump the ball high into Tony Doran and we’ll play off the breaks.
“They should’ve done the exact opposite. Work the ball up the sides, work across the field, wreck Tipperary players in terms of conditioning by moving them around the place and they didn’t do it.
“There’s nothing to say that playing traditional will win you the game which I think there’s a sort of sense of that in terms of what’s coming out of the argument in some quarters, that playing traditional will win you things.”
Listen to his full thought here from 22:00: