Going into tomorrow’s game, there is one question above all others about Tipp’s full back: Are they a stronger outfit with Padraic Maher at half-back and James Barry at the edge of the square?
James Barry acquitted himself well on each occasion he switched, beginning against Galway on the dangerous Johnny Glynn who scored two quick goals on Maher from high ball possessions. Maher himself played a starring role in the last 20 minutes that night, hurling all before him from half-back. He was very visible again man-marking Conal Keaney out the field against Dublin.
It has left Eamon O’Shea with a placement rather than a selection dilemma. Maher had good outings at full-back this year apart from an unforced error that led to Limerick’s first goal. However he gets caught in front at times when he should be behind under high balls.
Players, not experienced in the position, don’t mind switching into full-back during games as they don’t have much time to think about the situation. Playing James Barry at full back from the start is a bit of a gamble. Starting Maher there makes more sense to me to oppose the tall Pa Cronin.
Cork’s Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy have been impressive. Lehane is a wing forward but Harnedy can play in a variety of positions, is strong under the ball, with a naturally cool head under pressure. He takes the right option, runs directly towards goal or pulls away, leaving space for Alan Cadogan.
That’s why Lehane can learn from Harnedy. When he’s running towards goal he needs to fix his eyes on the black mark on the crossbar and head for it.
That brings up the next salient point. Cork need to get those two on the ball as often as possible. Tipp need to shut them down.
James Barry, Tipp’s wing back, is a UCC colleague of Harnedy and Lehane. He will know their strengths and weaknesses. If he is confident of handling one or both, I would place him on them. The problem is that if a forward knows his marker well and feels he has an advantage in height, pace or stick work, his confidence soars.
A simple conversation would determine this.
Cork centre-forward Bill Cooper’s movement and work rate upset all who opposed him this year. The centre-half back, once the most important position on the pitch, is now vulnerable to a short ball tactic. The old Clash number “Should I go or should I stay?” neatly sums up the dilemma. If I was Eamonn O’Shea, I would instruct my centre half-back to go with Cooper, to man mark him, particularly early on, forcing the Youghal man to make decisions under pressure. A sticky defender with pace is the requirement here rather than a traditional centre half-back. Keeping the ball out of the hands of the Cork trio will be the main job for Tipp’s defence. Finding their inside colleagues with quality ball is the requirement for Cork.
For Tipperary, a lot of responsibility rests with Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher. When he goes well, Tipp go well. He is deceptively quick and difficult to dispossess.
Cork defenders will have to ensure they win the ground tussles and deny him at source because once he gets going, he is difficult to stop. He can turn sows’ ears into silk purses and Cork half- backs will have to adapt to unspectacular defensive duties preventing direct runs at goal. John ‘Bubbles’ Dwyer had the freedom of the park against Cork in their league quarter final, with 1-7 that day. Lorcan McLaughlin and Christopher Joyce need to mark him tightly as he moves from wing to wing, alternating with Gearoid Ryan.
The Cork defensive system will have to cope with these two by either man marking or picking them up when they enter a certain defensive zone. The highly skilful Dwyer likes to drop deep or take up a position near the sideline away from the play. He then ghosts in to strike positions from behind his marker nearer goal or remains near the side unmarked as an outlet for ball from midfield.
The third outlet for Tipperary is Noel McGrath. He operates at times at right corner forward but drops out to centre-forward or midfield, leaving space to the right of the goal for Seamus Callanan. He has a free role and likes to pop up at half-forward for short passes from midfield or one twos with the strong running James Woodlock.
Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy has decisions to make on his match-ups. Stephen McDonnell would be the ideal candidate for McGrath but his presence near goal has been invaluable.
Cork’s defenders can’t let Tipp run at them. This type of defence begins at 15. Disciplined preventative closing down by the opposing half-forwards, limiting quality forward supply may decide the issue in what may be a high scoring shoot-out.