It is three weeks since Cork’s impressive performance against Limerick. A three-week break is a week too long and much of the momentum from that victory is lost. So the Rebels must begin again.
After the non-performance against Tipp, the stimulus for the excellent response against Limerick was personal pride, to ‘right the wrong’ so to speak. This factor is absent from tonight’s encounter with Waterford and a different stimulus is needed.
The players don’t live in a vacuum. The general consensus is that Cork should win easily, especially after the Déise’s disappointing displays. In this scenario, some players in the favourites camp can lose focus, leading to a sub par team performance.
Motivation-wise, a rewatch of the DVD of last year’s Cork/Waterford contest would be a good starting point for John Meyler’s men. The Rebels were poor on that occasion. There was no intensity in their play. Their first-touch was off. Decision-making and option-taking was sloppy, leading to a number of poor wides.
A great block down by Bill Cooper on Tommy Ryan near the finish finally swung the momentum Cork’s way. Last year’s game will have highlighted areas that demand a response from the players. Players respond when they are challenged and the video of Cork’s poor performance that day offers many challenges which helps with motivation.
Last weekend, RTÉ pundit, Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell, expressed the view, indirectly, that Cork wouldn’t qualify from Munster. That should be another help. Negative media comments always act as a spur and trigger a positive response.
In this must-win game for the Rebels, they need to be well motivated because Waterford fans have no expectations and the team has nothing to lose. They can approach the game totally relaxed and with the freedom to ‘have a cut’, as they did last year. Any team in this situation is dangerous.
Waterford manager Páraic Fanning has the bulk of the 2017 All-Ireland final panel still available. If I was him I’d have spent the past week organising those proven players into a team that is fit for purpose.
Watching the Cricket World Cup this week, I heard one of the pundits point out that a bowler in a bit of a trough should go back to his stock ball. And the same applies to a batsman who’s struggling. Revert to his favourite shot.
I’d have gone with what Waterford know. Start Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh at wing forward to help gain control of the middle third. Make it his main task to recycle possession positively, which he does very well, and to slot into the space vacated by any midfielder driving forward. Perhaps he could be replaced after 20/25 minutes in a pre-planned move.
I would have Kevin Moran, out of touch in a wing back role so far, back into midfield with Jamie Barron. Austin Gleeson would augment this duo in a free role in front of the centre-back, Tadhg De Búrca. Gleeson would occupy the area so beloved by the opposing ‘false 11’ and this would make life more difficult for the Cork centre-forward.
The Mount Sion man would have licence to go forward to support attacks but carry the responsibility of funneling back quickly to Waterford’s 20m line if Cork attack down the wings.
The stipulation would be that Gleeson returns to his ‘launch area’ once the ball is dead or there’s a turnover. I would place the pacy Tommy Ryan at centre-forward with instructions to drop off his marker and use his pace for ‘off the shoulder’ support runs.
Waterford would have a ‘diamond’ of attackers in the middle third. Barron, Moran, Gleeson and Ryan would run at Cork’s defence at every opportunity. Effectively, Waterford would play with a ‘front 8’ from midfield forward and then move backwards with the play as the occasion demanded.
Fanning has left out several of those players and may look to change things up in terms of style of play too. Whatever way they play, retaining possession has become ‘ten-tenths of the law’ in modern hurling.
Waterford were effective against Tipp when they linked the play through the lines with accuracy. But too often Déise netminder Stephen O’Keeffe positioned himself too near the sideline for backpasses and had to belt long balls upfield, when shorter
deliveries are required to retain possession. His replacement Billy Nolan will have to do better in this regard.
Last year John Keenan was the man in charge for this fixture. There were many occasions when he allowed Waterford to pull and drag illegally with the free arm. Limerick used this tactic with impunity last weekend. One such incident led to the dismissal of a frustrated Pauric Mahony for a wild pull. The Wicklow man officiates again tonight. If I was John Meyler, I would look for clarification from Keenan, pre-game, of his attitude to free arm illegal tackling.
With an overall scoring average of 17 points and having shipped 2-24 and 2-30 in successive games, Waterford’s attackers will probably clog the centre of midfield to create a defensive buffer, to make the game into a low-scoring affair.
Points from long range always force a rethink of a defensive strategy and compels players to mark their own men, forcing them to reoccupy wing positions, making it a battle between individuals and opening up space.
Cork half-backs, Mark Coleman, Mark Ellis, and Robert Downey, have the ability to strike long-range points. They should be encouraged to move upfield into scoring positions as often as possible. By properly timing their support runs through central or wide channels, they become available to receive forward or backpasses in space with time to steady themselves and shoot.
Doing the basics well is a requirement for victory. In last year’s fixture, Cork handed six handy points to the Déise through poor option-taking and weak support play as some lateral passes in defence were intercepted.
Precision and accuracy have to be the hallmarks of Cork’s defence as they transition to attack. Making yourself available for the correct outcoming ball is important, so that a quality delivery can be made to the inside attack, allowing Harnedy and co. to run at their defenders.
Keeping the Déise defence under pressure is a must for Cork. They must avoid all ‘hit and hopes’ in favour of clever support running and constant probing for goal openings. Cork’s forwards must harass their opponents as they attempt to move the ball from defence. This was accomplished to a high degree against the Treaty but it was absent in the main against Tipp.
The best approach for Cork to this game is to control the tempo by serving up a ‘high-octane, all-action’ first 35 minutes, denying Waterford time and space, hitting them hard on the scoreboard and finishing the game early by extinguishing any Déise hope.