Room for improvement if resurgent Rebels are to challenge for an All-Ireland crown
By Tony Considine
I took two things from Thurles on Saturday.
Firstly, I didn’t see any All-Ireland winner and secondly, I saw no man-marking whatsoever.
The league was very slack in this respect and I was hoping it would tighten up in the championship. What did we see scored on Saturday between the two games, 9-79? That’s an average of over 2-20 per team — where was the marking? God forbid, but is hurling becoming more and more like football?
The first game in Semple Stadium on Saturday was an All-Ireland football qualifier between Tipperary and Wexford. Tipperary won, but the way they won it — 12, 13, 14 men behind the ball, only one or two attackers left up front.
Then we had the hurling and while it wasn’t as bad — hurling is so much faster that you’re never going to be able to do what they’re now all doing in football — it was still very loose with no structure evident anywhere.
Positions don’t matter anymore, especially in places where they should matter, up around the opposition goals.
Surely if you have any faith in your full-forward line, you’ll want them where they can do most damage, up front?
Let’s get specific, and I’ll start with Cork and Wexford. A perfect example of what I’m talking about is Luke O’Farrell at full-forward for Cork. What did he score, 2-1 in 15 minutes? And he was then taken down for the penalty for Cork’s third goal. All of this was as a result of direct Cork hurling, long ball down to a full-forward on fire. When you have that, you drive it home, keep pumping that ball down on that same player. Even if another player doesn’t touch it, it doesn’t matter, use that player while he’s still on fire. But why didn’t Wexford move Matthew O’Hanlon off O’Farrell? They did the same with Shane Dooley when they lost to Offaly; it cost them dearly then and cost them again in this game.
Cork didn’t have to be at their best to beat Wexford and you could see they weren’t at full belt, but it was good to see Niall McCarthy back to full throttle. He looked in great shape, great work-rate, a threat as a scorer now too.
Another old-stager I was impressed with for Cork was my man-of-the-match, Brian Murphy. He too was back to his best, looked really fit, and showed the form that made him one of the best corner-backs in the game a few years ago.
Full back Damien Cahalane looked a bit raw on Saturday and out of his depth. While it was good to give him the experience, especially with Murphy and Shane O’Neill looking out for him, Cork will need to change here if they have any ambitions for this year.
It begs the question, has Stephen McDonnell gone off the radar altogether? One bad performance, in the league final against Kilkenny, seems to have proved very costly for him. But how many Cork lads played well that day?
While Cork weren’t at their best, Wexford were awful. They’re playing as individuals. You’re not going to beat Cork playing like that and that’s the first challenge facing Liam Dunne.
To Clare and Limerick and more perfect illustrations of how effective direct play can still be — the goals. Seanie Tobin’s forehand smash that Roger Federer would have been proud of, the long ball broken down by Niall Moran to Declan Hannon and then buried to the net.
Two critical players for Limerick, each at opposite ends of the field. Nicky Quaid in goals reminded everyone of his late and great father Tommy who defended the gap so often for Limerick. Then you had Niall Moran at full-forward, a man who’s had far more than his fair share of criticism in Limerick over the years. He landed some outstanding points and all at critical stages of the game.
Limerick’s midfield too, Paudie O’Brien especially, and most especially in the second half, had a big bearing on the win. There’s been talk of the vulnerability of the Limerick full-back line — they got an easy ride on Saturday, Stephen Walsh especially on Conor McGrath, who didn’t see nearly enough ball.
The reason Limerick won though was the complete lack of structure in the Clare team. Only for guys like Domhnall O’Donovan, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan and Colm Galvin, Clare would have been in real trouble. These lads really played their positions, O’Donovan at corner-back, Donnellan at centre-back, Bugler on the wing, Colm Galvin in midfield.
But bringing your full-forward line out almost to midfield when you’re losing the game, with no-one left inside to threaten the opposition goal was a recipe for disaster. Darach Honan, whose lack of game-time was very obvious,
Limerick won’t meet a team as generous or as naive from here on in.
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