Donal O’Grady assesses how Cork can counter the All-Ireland champions’ gameplan
Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid is very assured on puckouts, whether knocking balls short to defenders or striking long. For opposition restarts, Limerick forwards set up to regain possession.They allow a short puckout to the full-back-line but close quickly on the man in possession, forcing him to deliver downfield under pressure, a 50/50 ball at best.
If they see that the opposition goalkeeper is ‘going long’ they retreat quickly, overloading the landing zone to win the breaks.
The first battle to win tomorrow is on restarts. If I were John Meyler, I would take my chances and force the Limerick netminder to go long. Cork half-backs would have to ensure that they allow few clean catches by Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey or Kyle Hayes.
Impede the catching hand and use the hurley to bring the ball to ground, then transfer it away quickly to avoid the Limerick swarm and illegal free-arm tackling that they use effectively. Anthony Nash must look for Cork targets at half-back and vary the length of his longer deliveries.
The All-Ireland champions base their game plan on work-rate and off-loading short passes to a supporting colleague.
Each player is comfortable holding the ball for an extra few seconds, secure in the knowledge that support will arrive. The key is the support player moving into the optimum position to take the offload at the correct time. Once two opposition players zone in on the ball carrier, an opportunity is taken for an easy offload to a free Limerick player.
Tracking and policing each man tightly and not allowing oneself to be drawn towards the ball is essential. Cork must force Limerick to strike under pressure. Cork forwards must funnel back and clog the middle third at the least sign of danger.
Once a Limerick half-back or midfielder gets space in the middle third they launch the ball to the right or left-corner-forward positions for their speedy forwards, Graeme Mulcahy, Peter Casey or Aaron Gillane, to motor onto. Forcing the delivery to be struck under pressure will be a major help to the Cork defence.
Diarmaid Byrnes is particularly adept at finding the runners on the 13m line, with right-sided deliveries from a standing position. Forcing him to strike from his left side on the run will give Cork corner-backs Sean O’Donoghue and Niall O‘Leary some chance of success.
Kyle Hayes presents a major problem for Cork. Theoretically a centre-half-forward, in practice he has a free role that he uses to great effect, dropping back regularly as an extra defender and out to the wings to create space.
His height, pace, skill and direct running cause major headaches for opposing defences. Usually, an opposition wing-forward drops in to midfield, a corner-forward goes to the half-line and the centre-half-back retreats in front of his full-back-line to counteract the extra midfield player.
This demands huge work-rate. Managers are happy enough these days to concede a few points to a centre-forward once he doesn’t set up goals as John O’Dwyer did last weekend.
Hayes drops back into his midfield for opposition puckouts, protecting his defence, along with the other half-forwards. Cork’s game plan must factor this into the equation.
The best way to ask questions is for Cork to sling over a few lon- range points. Mark Coleman and Daragh Fitzgibbon are capable of executing these. So setting them up in the middle third in space for long-range efforts must be part of Cork’s game-plan. If fit, Bill Cooper’s physicality will help in this regard.
Last weekend, Cork’s numbers 5 to 12, the middle third occupants, played second fiddle to Tipp. A big improvement, particularly at half-back, is required.
The selection of Mark Ellis and debutant Robert Downey is a gamble as neither have played much at this level this season. Last weekend the Rebels scored one goal, but passed up on a number of chances by not carrying the ball a little further and by not running at defenders when on-on-one.
This needs to change tomorrow.
Pride and determination are abstract nouns. You can’t see or feel them. However you can on the sports field. Tribal pride has a unique way of motivating that feeds determination.
Cork fans will have to see this determination and the Limerick players ,who like to dictate the terms of engagement, will have to feel its pressure for 75 manic minutes for Cork to have any chance.