Pettitts SHC Final 2017 Preview – Oulart-The Ballagh v St Martins

This weekend sees the most hotly contested county final in recent memory. Oulart, the dominant, stylish force that has dominated Wexford hurling for an age, face the rising tide of St Martins. This has been a battle marked in most peoples calendar since the turn of the year and was made even more mouth-watering after the opening day battle in Bellefield.

Possible Line Ups

Above is my guess at how both teams will set up. Two very different styles of teams, two serious line-ups.

Oulart’s Defence v Martin’s Attack

Watching Oulart play the Rapparees in the semi-final was like watching Oulart any time under Frank Flannery. They possess a consistent, smart game plan that has annihilated dozens of teams over the past number of seasons. Flannery works on the basis of a strong, solid defence. Like a boa constrictor they tighten slowly as the game goes on, making space to attack like gold dust.

Q1 – How will Oulart deal with St Martins movement and maintain their tight defensive shape?

Oulart will look to try and hold a tight back eight on Sunday but they face a Martin’s attack that is based on pace and movement. The Rapparees offered a similar level of pace in attack in the semi-final but their movement was nothing like St Martins. Joe O Connor at full forward won’t stand still to be marked and will try and drag the Oulart backs out causing confusion, this caused Benny Travers, a quality full-back, and Gorey a serious headache.

St Martins have serious movement work done under Charlie Carter, they cluster and then explode out to confuse backs. Their natural movement is out the field, leaving few inside the full back area, somewhere Keith Rossiter is most comfortable. Can Oulart follow and allow inside space?  Will the young legs of St Martins be punishing?

Q2 – How will St Martins cope if Rory O Connor doesn’t score?

Above shows the scoring from play of the Martins team in 2017. Clearly Rory O Connor is their star performer. Joe O Connor has had a quietly impressive year but Tomas Codd has been scratching his head over his best forward line. St Martins are generating but not converting a large number of shots. What’s most telling is the distance from goal of these shots – St Martins do not possess an inside line that gets goals. With 6 goals from 7 games St Martins are a 3-point shooting team in NBA terms.

Jack O Connor has been airlifted into attack to try offer a better inside threat but despite trying many various players (all with huge potential), St Martins do not have a forward line that scores freely. I would nearly argue that St Martins forwards are more comfortable tackling and pressing, where they excel. If Rory O Connor was to be shut-down by Oulart then this question will need to be answered. Frank Flannery will have one key defensive plan – Stop Rory!

Martins Defence V Oulart Attack

In attack Oulart have the one-man-force that is Garrett Sinnott, the best club hurler in Wexford for quite a while. Paddy O Connor was red-carded for dragging him down in the first game and Oulart will sure look to test out the Martins full back line. Sinnott catches high ball for fun and has quick hands to involve Kirwan.

Q3 – Will Oulart get quality ball into Sinnott?

Where I see a major deciding factor is in how Oulart get the ball into Sinnott. St Martins forwards and midfield are extremely hard working. Led by Jake Firman and Mark Maloney they show incredible energy in shutting down quality clearances. The Oulart half back line and midfield (including Rory Jacob) will be put under immense pressure. In the semi final Conor McDonald was starved of quality ball as St Martins found the best way to stop a threat is at source.

Oulart are no rabbits in the headlights, they are smart, skilfull and experienced. St Martin’s pressing should be something they are capable of handling. This will be an intriguing part of the final.

Q4 – How hard will Dessie Mythen’s rumoured absence affect Oulart?

With Sinnott inside causing havoc many centre backs have been, understandably, sucked back into helping the full back. This has given Oulart their second threat – Dessie Mythen. One of the smartest hurlers at finding space and exploiting it, Mythen has scored heavily this year (see below).

After apparently picking up a knee injury in the semi final there are many reports saying he will miss the final. How Oulart adapt will be crucial. Oulart will need to exploit any space allowed by St Martins covering Sinnott. David Redmond and Tommy Storey are capable of scoring from range but Dessie Mythen’s movement will be largely missed.

How I See it Going

I think this will be a tight match of a very high standard. I don’t think the bookies odds are fair, Oulart are currently strong favourites but I think this game is hard to call. On one side Oulart have been there and done it  – and probably have a mindset of shutting up the voices that say they are old and fading. On the other side St Martins bring an energy and physicality that Oulart haven’t faced in Wexford too often.

I think for St Martins to win they’ll need to penetrate the Oulart defence with goals. Only driving daggers into the Oulart stronghold will be enough. But I haven’t seen enough of this from St Martins this year, they win with jabs from distance, not power punches. This makes me sway for Oulart to shade it, but only just. Wexford club hurling is clearly rising in standard, this game should show it at it’s very best. Lets hope it’s a classic.

Next Man Up : Senior Hurling 2015-16

Do you think your county is in a period of transition? Do you think your manager has stuck to the same players year-in year-out?

Over a two season period how many individual players do you think have lined out for you county’s senior hurlers in the Championship?

Looking at the numbers of different players used over the past 2 championships we can see if a county team has been settled or whether it is has seen a major overhaul.

Two measures of change/transition would be:

  1. See how many different hurlers a county has used over the previous 2 Championships
  2. See how many of the same hurlers started the first game 2015 championship and also started in their team’s final game of 2016.

Hurlers Used Over Two Seasons

The table below shows the number of different hurlers that each county has used over the previous two Championships:

hurlers-used

We can see that the highest number used was 35, by Dublin,  whereas Waterford only used 24 despite playing one game more than Dublin over the same period. An interesting statistic taken from the table is that the four Provincial Finalists & All Ireland Semi Finalists for both seasons (Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford & Galway) used an average number of 27 hurlers, whereas the other eight teams used an average of nearly 32 hurlers. Could it be said that success brings less change? Or does cohesion lead to success (as per Ben Darwin of The Gain Line)?

New Season..New First Fifteen?

This table shows the number of hurlers who started their counties first championship match of 2015 and also started their counties last match of 2016:end-16-start-15

From this we can see that Laois had a huge overhaul in the space of 14 months with only 6 players from the team that started against Offaly in 2015 picked to start against Clare in 2016. That’s a 60% change in personnel, showing how difficult a year it was for Cheddar Plunkett.

Dublin In Transition

Taking those two tables as a measure of transition we can see that Dublin, under Ger Cunningham, have had a dramatic change to their panel. 35 different players used in 2 seasons, and only 7 players from his first game against Galway in Croke Park in 2015 survived to play in Pairc Ui Rinn in their loss to Cork. Cunningham used 29 hurlers in his first season alone, more than 4 counties have used in the two season.

Although Wexford used 34 players over the 2 seasons they still had 10 players starting against Westmeath in 2015 that were again named by Liam Dunne to start against Waterford in 2016. Wexford would appear to have kept a core group of players together but have had to try various hurlers to mix with this core, their 2016 injury crisis must be taken as a factor for their high number of hurlers used. .

Waterford Keeping It Tight

Waterford have kept an extremely tight panel in the past two years. Only using 24 hurlers along with keeping with the 12 starters from their win against Cork in 2015 up to their replay defeat to Kilkenny this August. Waterford have picked a very cohesive structure with only Conor Gleeson made the breakthrough into the Waterford defence/midfield in the past 12 months. Derek McGrath used only 21 hurlers in 2016, the lowest of any team in either season despite playing 5 games, including back to back weeks against Kilkenny.

New Manager, New Team?

Some panels may expect huge changes when a new manager arrives in. A clear-out is sometimes expected or a new set of eyes at the talent in the county. Is this reflected in the panel turnover of the team changes from 2015/2016?

Well in a word…..No. Teams with new managers in 2016 kept 9 of the team that had played the first game of the previous season in their team. Teams that kept their managers had almost an identical average of 9.1 players used from the start of one season to the end of the next season.

Counties who kept the same manager for the two season used an average of 30.3 players throughout the two campaigns, while counties with two different managers in the two seasons used an average of 30 players. Michael Donoghue in Galway used 22 of the 26 players his predecessor Anthony Cunningham had played in 2015.