Ger Cunningham looks at five-weekend watch-outs.
Cork will be hurt and it’s in the first 20 minutes of tomorrow’s game that a marker will be set and the mindset of Cork will be seen. Tipperary came to play last Sunday and Cork let them dictate matters. Only for Pat Horgan’s amazing accuracy, Cork’s score difference column would have read far worse.
Cork must secure momentum early in the Gaelic grounds, try to catch Limerick cold, and build their own confidence.
Last Sunday, Cork were unable to build up the kind of head of steam that happens when a team is free-flowing and scores come naturally. Cork scores were coming from frees and while welcome that rhythm they desired was missing. Cork must pose some questions that Limerick need time to answer. Perhaps using Darragh Fitzgibbon in a roving role could create confusion - Shane Kingston has also done this with his club.
Limerick will be ready. They have built on their All-Ireland success by winning the league and will enter this game full of confidence, believing in their team-mates and the collective.
If they can defeat Cork they will be putting one of the main contenders for their throne in a serious battle to stay in the competition.
Watch out for the early indicators!
When you achieve a team performance like Tipperary last Sunday the challenge will always be to back it up. The ingredients are work-rate, intensity and total belief in the game-plan devised by Sheedy to maximise Tipp’s strengths and minimise the opponents’ threats.
Nash has the ability to hit the area that the Cork midfielders and half-forwards run into often with the help of dummy runs. Tipperary closed down this option, firstly by pushing up on all the Cork backs forcing Nash to go long and create 50/50 contests for possession.
The second requirement here is to play a ‘zone’ defence, stay in your position and pick up whoever comes into your space. The all-Mahers half-back-line was in complete control as all three are very comfortable in the air and won this battle.
Tipp are playing for Liam Sheedy. The criticism received after the league quarter-final defeat would have persuaded Sheedy to play the ‘emotion’ card, as victory was crucial to build belief again among the supporters. It’s a nice card to have in your pocket but you can’t rely on it every time. The challenge for Sheedy is to build consistency and back up last week’s performance at home.
It’s a must-win for Dublin in Parnell Park. We all think we know what’s coming from Wexford when they travel to that fortress. Seven Wexford defenders will try and curtail Dublin forwards, which will probably result in Dublin doing similar to Wexford, which is what Davy will want. Would Mattie Kenny consider playing seven forwards and stifle Davy’s plans? It would be a brave call as there is so much riding on this game.
Wexford have worked hard at perfecting this system and unless you have practised playing against it in training it is very hard to adjust your mindset to counteract it. Davy makes tweaks and this season the extra defender is encouraged to go forward in support when the opportunity presents itself as against sitting on the ‘D’ all the time.
Kenny, in his time with Cuala, liked to use a similar system which will ensure extra protection for his defenders but it may struggle to get the required scores for success at this level.
Dublin’s Maor Foirne may also be more inclined to stay closer to the dugout on Sunday as Greg Kennedy’s involvement backfired just as Dublin’s plans were going nicely last Saturday.
Their objective would have been to silence the Kilkenny support early on, as the introduction of five debutants left Brian Cody’s men uneasy and unsure. The ‘catch’ changed everything. The mood changed. The noise levels rose along with Cody’s voice along the sideline but also, I would imagine, in the dressing room. His half-time speech was written for him.
Last weekend saw contrasting roles and results for players playing in the centre-forward position and this weekend may see different players playing in this role.
John ’Bubbles’ O’Dwyer played this new roving role to deadly effect. We expect Bubbles to sit in at 13 but Tipperary obviously knew that if they could get him right (and sometimes this has been a task) they had a potentially lethal weapon on their hands. Bubbles proceeded to take the Cork centre-back on tour, but also had the ability to finish when he got on the ball. Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea had him right physically and mentally. The vision to see the pass and deliver a pinpoint crossfield pass to John McGrath was one of the highlights of an outstanding individual performance.
TK, as he is known in Clare, delivered a similar role in Walsh Park but this time there was no surprise. Kelly has been the instigator in changing the position over the last five or six years. Teams have to choose whether to man-mark or let the centre-back sit back and protect the ‘D’. It had been anticipated that the returning Conor Gleeson would pick up Tony Kelly but Waterford did not want to move their first-choice No 6 Tadgh de Búrca from his best position. But it wasn’t until Waterford man-marked Kelly that they were able to reduce his influence.
It will be fascinating to watch tomorrow what both centre-backs do in Thurles when are faced with this problem.
Cork and Limerick employ different tactics with their No 11s. Kyle Hayes’ work-rate around all areas of the pitch resulted in him picking up the Young Hurler of the Year award for his performances. Cork have looked at Harnedy and Lehane at 11 but I think both would be better used on the wings with either Shane Kingston or Darragh Fitzgibbon at 11.
Both can be be lethal in possession and the blistering pace needed to attack the goal when the chance occurs.
Kilkenny have their own style of 11 in TJ Reid, whose vision and finishing mark him as a player apart. Did he realise the impact his ‘pass’ to Kennedy would have such a key influence in the outcome?
What will Paraic Fanning do on Sunday with his free-taker?
Does he stick with Stephen Bennett who he introduced to the role during the Munster League and persisted with through the Allianz Hurling League in the absence of Pauric Mahony who was on duty with Ballygunner? Or does he return the responsibility to Mahony.
You could understand what Fanning was trying to achieve by giving the opportunity to Bennett, to build his confidence. It also applies Fanning’s own stamp on life after Derek McGrath. But the warning signs were there in the league final when Bennett missed a few frees resulting in Mahony taking over the duties before that game finished.
The gambled backfired last Sunday as Bennett missed three frees in a one-point game. Mahony has been an outstanding free-taker since taking over the frees and seems to thrive on the responsibility that it brings. Derek McGrath has testified that the Gunners sharpshooter “missed only three frees of significance in my term”, one of which Eoin Murphy caught over the crossbar. The greater good of the team should sway Fanning’s decision.
Peter Duggan, TJ Reid, Jason Forde and Patrick Horgan also produced outstanding free-taking performances last weekend. Indeed Horgan’s free from his own 45m-line was an incredible feat from an outstanding free-taker.
Waterford and Dublin, with David Treacy, need to get to 90% accuracy.