Getting back to business
By Donal O’Grady
Three factors that could decide tomorrow’s Allianz Hurling League final
1 I was clearing out some old newspapers this week and came across a copy of the Kilkenny People from 2003.
The Cats, had bounced back to beat Cork in a league game, a week after their defeat to Tipperary. The banner headline screamed: “Back in Business”. I thought how the exact same headline could now be used for Cork in 2012. A huge wave of optimism swept the county with the appointment of Jimmy Barry-Murphy as Cork manager for a three-year term last autumn, but even the most optimistic of supporters could hardly have expected such progress in such a quick time. This is a testament to JBM and his management team, as Darren Sweetnam is the only new player in this year’s squad. Cork have built their progress on good physical preparation, good coaching and good man management. A good base of physical conditioning and game organisation was built up for the first game against Waterford and this preparation has stood Cork in good stead as they finished strongly in all their games — with the exception of their defeat to Galway. This year there is a very positive atmosphere in the camp which is vital for progress. Most players who were withdrawn during games were picked again, and this type of player management builds confidence. There was little experimentation with positions, resulting in a settled combination. Cork now play to particular plans, maximising possession and defending from the full forward line. It’s clear they have bought in to Ger Cunningham’s coaching and their confidence, enthusiasm and application is on an upward curve.
2 In the 2007 league final Kilkenny were narrowly defeated by Waterford. Watching Brian Cody that day I got the feeling that he’d like to have won but that he wasn’t prepared to sacrifice too much for a league victory. When I looked at the programme for last month’s semi-final against Clare I was struck by the inexperience of numbers 16 to 26 in the squad (with the exception of John Tennyson).
They were without Noel Hickey but there doesn’t seem to be the calibre of defender available on the bench that can come in and do a similar defensive job to their regular starters, with the exception of the aforementioned Tennyson at centre back. Since Kilkenny’s reign of dominance began in 2006, Cody had a number of players available who, when sprung from the bench, added an impetus to their performance. Martin Comerford in the 2009 All-Ireland final is a perfect example. One marvelled at Cody’s ability to get the personnel and the timing right for the introduction of such game changers. However Kilkenny are now approaching a period when the vital experience necessary and the range of such options are dwindling due to injury and recent retirements. Since beating Cork in 2006 Cody was well aware of his resources on the field and on the bench when dealing with a full injury-free panel. He is also aware now of the lack of the necessary experience on the bench to win everything. As in 2007, he may settle for victory in September.
3 Brian Cody will hope that the absence of Richie Power will lead to others delivering leadership in attack. TJ Reid is a talented player but delivers performances which range from the sublime to mediocre. He drifts in and out of games at wing forward but if played at centre forward his height, pace and ability to drift onto loose ball may bring a lot more Kilkenny’s cause.
Writing of causes... Cork’s cause will be to ‘win for Cusack’. He is the most influential player on the Cork panel and his experience, will to win and drive will not easily be replaced. His accurate puck outs begin many attacks and his organisation of the defence and shot stopping ability is of the highest order. Martin Coleman has waited patiently for his chance and Cork are lucky to have such an accomplished replacement, but questions remain. It will be interesting to see if Cork’s new captain Pat Horgan can bring the required leadership to the role. Can Cork’s wing backs/midfield feed quality ball under pressure to their forwards, allowing them to isolate and run at Kilkenny’s defenders, preventing them playing as a tight covering unit? Cork have failed in this regard in recent seasons and that is the key question that needs to be answered tomorrow.
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