Cork’s only hope is to make it a battle

Underdogs must adopt a radical approach to have any chance of victory.

It was the spring of hope it was the winter of despair” wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. It’s a quote that could be applied to Clare and Cork in the present circumstances.

Clare approach tomorrow’s game on the back of a solid league campaign and a satisfactory win over Waterford in the championship. With a young, athletic, skilful team they are hungry to build on their recent U21 All-Ireland success. Opponents Cork have lost three times to the Banner this season, were relegated from the league top flight and are minus the services of captain Patrick Cronin, Lorcán McLoughlin and Paudie O’Sullivan.

One of the key factors in deciding those three clashes was Clare’s endurance. They grew stronger as games wore on while Cork fell away towards the end of contests, indicating some deficiency in their match fitness.

They have had ample time to work on this area since the relegation play-off, with only one round of club activity, and a huge improvement in this vital area would be expected tomorrow. Clare are hot favourites and on paper they should win.

But favouritism carries its own burden of anticipation. Favourites can struggle to fire on all cylinders, particularly in the first half when perhaps a side’s focus has been blunted by all the pre-match hype and expectation.

Cork are being written off and this is their only advantage. Being underdogs normally provokes a positive response but for Cork to have any chance it will have to last from start to finish.

Clare showed good battling qualities in their contests this season and answered any questions regarding their resolve, with many players engaging in leadership roles throughout the pitch, particularly in their half-back line.

On the other hand it is Cork’s shortage of “battling qualities” that is of most concern to fans. At no time in the regular league game or in the relegation play-off were Clare subjected to any physical “heat” where Cork players individually or collectively imposed themselves on their opponents, forcing regular turnovers with determined challenges.

When the relegation game was there to be won Clare supported each other in the tussles for control, with two or three getting involved on each occasion winning the vital possessions. They will be primed for this again tomorrow. If the Rebels are to have any hope of victory they must make this game into a battle. Every ball has to be contested fiercely from the throw-in. Cork look a little lightweight for an intensive clash. But it’s a day when it’s not about the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog that is all important. Clare have a pedigree in this department but major leadership is now required of Cork, particularly up front. Cork don’t have a balance between ball winners and ball players. Patrick Horgan, Luke O’Farrell and Steven Moylan are ball players more than scrappers.The forwards as a collective will have to turn into the latter for this game, leading the battle from the front, making the necessary tackles and taking on the Clare defenders.

One major area of concern for Clare manager Davy Fitzerald is Patrick Kelly’s first-half puckouts. Normally teams win an average of between 35% to 40% of their own puckouts. But if three or four are lost in succession it sets up a strong platform for opponents. Against Waterford, Clare lost most of their own puckouts in the first half, which enabled the Déise to gain control in the half-back line. Davy Fitzgerald will be acutely aware that improvement is needed in the puckout area and that setting up individual contests with Cork’s half-back line can pay dividends.

Clare’s system is based on moving the ball accurately through the lines and putting runners like Kelly, Ryan and Conlon in possession at half-forward where they can drive on at their direct opponents. Cork’s centre-back, Christopher Joyce, and William Egan at left half have looked uncomfortable facing this Clare running tactic in the previous encounters.

Cork have problems in the puckout area also. Anthony Nash, a fine shot stopper and free-taker, is nowhere at the same level of his predecessor at puckout time. There will have to be a more scientific approach with shorter deliveries to half-backs in the absence of ball winner Pa Cronin and the first rule tomorrow should be to avoid landing deliveries on top of Clare’s best half-back Brendan Bugler. Clare like quick movement and open spaces and their system requires this. So does Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy. But this type of game will suit the Banner rather than the Rebels. Pragmatism wins matches. It demands a radical approach from Cork.

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