Bench strength could prove a game-breaker

If Clare get into a rhythm they are difficult to contain, as Laois found last Saturday in Cusack Park

Bench strength could prove a game-breaker

Limerick, I believe, go into tomorrow’s Munster final as favourites based on their performance against Tipperary while home advantage is an extra bonus.

John Allen has selected the same team which started that victory and he will be hoping for a similar performance. The tactics tomorrow will be similar to the semi-final. Declan Hannon won’t play a traditional full-forward role. He’ll operate as a ‘double’ centre-forward, tasked with collecting loose ball around the half-forward line and then using his ability from short and long range to pick off opportunist points. Cover will also be provided for the defence by having three across midfield. With the full-forward in a withdrawn role, the two speedy corner-forwards, Graeme Mulcahy and Seán Tobin, have extra space in which to operate. They move across the full-forward line alternating positions, more or less as Dotsie O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan do for Dublin, looking for the vital metre of space to gain possession and to turn their markers.

It’s a difficult tactic to unravel if the full-back is given a man-marking role, as two on two inside always favours the attackers. Cork’s game plan will have to include marking Hannon as his scoring potential requires specific attention and matching Limerick’s work rate. The plan will also have to include Cork’s half forward line supplementing their midfield and half-back efforts at closing down their opponents by supporting their defence with quick and effective tackling. If Cork condense the play in the middle section of the pitch it might provide some much needed space nearer to Limerick’s goal for Cork’s full-forward line.

I have remarked before about Cork’s lack of goal chance creation. Solving this problem is imperative for them to have a good day.

It’s traditional Munster final weather and 75 or so warm minutes negotiating a victory can take its toll on players. The bench takes on an added importance in such conditions. Time was when players were only replaced because of injury or perceived poor performance, which still holds true in some situations today. But the bench is now used as a component of a planned strategy.

In last week’s Leinster final Dublin used their bench to give some added momentum and energy in the final quarter, ensuring no slackening off in their overall efforts. All those replaced had given fine performances and those who came on played important roles driving them on, sharing in the victory an important ingredient for future team morale. Managers may like the situation where the first 15 complete the job in hand without resorting to substitutions but they know this is a rare occurrence. A timely introduction from the bench may prove critical as a game enters the critical last 15 minutes. Limerick and Cork have similar benches to call on.

The replacements up front are more experienced than the defensive cover on both teams. Limerick introduced Shane Dowling, Niall Moran, Conor Alliss and Kevin Downes to their attack in the second half against Tipperary and these men are in reserve again. Dowling and Moran contributed three points between them that afternoon. Limerick supporters will be hoping for a similar return when, rather than if, they’re introduced. Cork have Cathal Naughton, Jamie Coughlan, Steven Moylan and Michael Cussen to spring when required. The odds are high that a player from either bench will prove a game-breaker.

If Wexford are to have a chance in today’s All-Ireland qualifier then manager Liam Dunne must have a plan to shut Clare down.The Banner employ a system where they transfer the ball from the back to their scorers with precise passes. This system is based on space, support and high speed decision-making. If Clare get into a rhythm they are difficult to contain, as Laois found last Saturday in Cusack Park. Wexford will have to disrupt this system as a first principle and hope they have enough in the scoring department to swing things their way.

Waterford manager Michael Ryan was in Nowlan Park watching Kilkenny and Tipp last Saturday night and will have noted that Kilkenny’s forwards are not posting high scoring returns from play. Ryan has a strong defence but the Déise are not as strong up front as he would wish. The stat from that game that offers him most hope is Eoin Larkin’s ten points from placed balls. But Waterford need to concede frees only as a last resort in the gravest of situations, making it a low scoring game. Getting Kevin Moran and Richie Foley to drive forward from midfield could prove profitable.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody will obviously want to win and use the occasion for game time for Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly. Just like Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald, Cody won’t be too concerned about the display. Competent performances without hitting the heights will do both nicely as they know it’s the next game that really matters.

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