Cork had to think their way to Munster glory

Cork manager Kieran Kingston must be very pleased with this Munster Championship win. The final was a different game to the earlier wins by the Rebels.

Cork had to think their way to Munster glory

There was a tension in the first half that ensured the free-flowing movement — which was the hallmark of their previous outings — didn’t materialise until 10 minutes before half time.

Cork had to think their way through the game and they chiselled out the victory in a tense finish. It will have pleased Cork’s management that fitness-wise they dominated the final minutes of the game, as they had done in their previous encounters.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with Clare. I was expecting them to hit Cork with huge intensity, especially when they won the toss and elected to play against the wind. This never really materialised.

I wrote last Saturday that “whoever minimises their mistakes and maximises their matchwinners’ time in possession should win the day”. The Banner management gambled on the ability of Oisín O’Brien, a noted man-marker, to shut down Alan Cadogan.

O’Brien had been out injured for a considerable time.

These gambles rarely succeed and it backfired badly. The Clonlara defender made an elementary error, allowing the impressive Douglas attacker in for an early goal.

Confidence levels rise or fall on the rates of personal possession. Cadogan’s early scores were a big personal boost.

He went on to give a tremendous performance while his scores also provided confidence to his colleagues in Cork’s attack.

Cork supplied the front line of their attack with advantageous ball, something Clare struggled to achieve.

Shane O’Donnell has impressive acceleration and a great stepping ability. I was expecting the Clare wing-forwards, once they had found space around Cork’s half backs, to send short, sharp angled deliveries into O’Donnell or Conor McGrath, particularly in the first half against the wind.

However, the Banner went for points from the wing and from midfield. They hit seven wides in the first half, which gave Anthony Nash opportunities to set up attacks with clever puckouts, which hurt the Clare defence. Clare’s inside attack returned 1-2 from play while Cork’s full line struck 1-9.

John Conlon made a significant linebreak in the second half to set up Conor McGrath for his goal. Clare didn’t do this enough, and I was surprised that Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly didn’t attempt more direct runs at Cork’s half-back line, to link up with the inside attack. Of course, the point must be made that Bill Cooper provides a strong physical defensive presence in this central area for the Rebels.

Clare allowed Damien Cahalane to take short puckouts throughout the second half. This tactic worked well for Cork. Clare had Cathal Malone retreating to bolster their defence but Cork bypassed Clare’s half back line, playing the ball deep into the corners and keeping the play open.

After the second or third short puckout, Clare should have ‘pushed up’ on Cahalane. They failed to do so and this handed easy possession to the Rebels.

Cork are playing to their strengths, using pace to cover defensively and pace to get into space to enable them deliver quality ball to their inside attack. Mark Coleman does this well but the Cork coaches deserve great praise.

This doesn’t happen by accident, but is the result of constant practice at pace on the training ground. Damien Cahalane’s inspiring breakout from defence near the finish illustrates this work neatly.

He made a run of 80m. The temptation could have been to go for a long-range score. Instead, he calmly offloaded with a short pass and moments later another short pass resulted in an easy score for Pat Horgan.

Once a game is over managers focus on the next challenge. This is a big one for Cork. A big gap to the middle of August, with U21 intercounty and club activity in between. Injuries can derail a good campaign while the prospect of having to beat Tipp, easy winners over Dublin, or Waterford again, is less than ideal.

Last Saturday, in Thurles, Kilkenny lacked cohesion and generally their sharpness and first touch was well below their usual high standards.

The Cats have two top class scorers, Richie Hogan and TJ Reid. However, Hogan’s loss of form meant Reid ploughed a lone furrow up front. Michael Fennelly was the third side of this pyramid.

He gave a great display the weekend before against Limerick but having missed a lot of training and game time, a week’s recovery was never going to be enough.

Freshness and enthusiasm can get the top players through their first game, as they return from injury, but missed time catches up.

While they looked way off their best level, you would have to admire Kilkenny’s team spirit and their will to win. The Cats hung in there.

They changed to a possession type game, fought back, holding the Déise scoreless in the final 15 minutes, to draw level. Kilkenny deserve huge plaudits for this effort, particularly as they were up against a vastly superior team.

I didn’t understand Kilkenny’s tactics at the back. Waterford’s Shane Bennett, was ‘one on one’ inside and troubling Paul Murphy.

This was the biggest defensive headache that Kilkenny had. I would have placed Robert Lennon directly behind Bennett with Murphy operating just in front. Cillian Buckley was the spare man, marking space and I would have had him operating on Austin Gleeson. Buckley is not a man marker per se.

However, he is very good at driving forward and he could have added to the Kilkenny offensive effort, which stuttered under the pressure of the Déise’s defensive set-up.

Waterford cruised to victory in the 20 minutes of additional time. Their speedy substitutes injected pace and they unhinged the Cats’ defence by moving the ball through the lines.

Kilkenny struck in ‘hit and hopes’ which were easily dealt with by the Waterford defence, in which sweeper Tadhg De Búrca, dominated proceedings, as they reverted to their tried and tested defensive system.

I was speaking recently to Donie Mac Murchú in Rinn. Donie works with Nemeton, the media company that produces GAA sport and rugby for TG4. He is involved in Waterford’s set-up.

He is a stats consultant providing ‘game data’ to the hurling management.

Donie wouldn’t be drawn into any discussion regarding Waterford’s plan, or absence of a plan in their game with the Rebels. However, he confidently proclaimed that there would still be a long summer of hurling for the Déise.

Yesterday’s draw pits them against Wexford and they will be favourites to march into the semi-final, where they will be very dangerous opponents for either Cork or Galway.

Many pundits make the point that their system prevents them from scoring enough to win games. However, they scored 2-15 in normal time. They threw away another half dozen easy point chances and scored 2-8 in the 20 minutes of extra-time, while denying Kilkenny any real goal chances.

McGrath will see the Wexford game as another real opportunity to perfect their movement up front and their transfer of the sliotar from defence to attack.

Their first goal resulted from a series of good crisp short interplays which moved the ball from the back with De Búrca involved much further forward than usual.

This is a tactic that Waterford can build on and with Jamie Barron, again in superb form, breaking forward regularly from midfield their scoring rate is bound to increase.

There should be certainty about the position of Austin Gleeson from now on. A free central role suits him best and five points from play is a huge return.

Backdoor runs can give a team huge momentum and the weekend’s win and scoring rate in extra-time will really boost the confidence levels in the Déise.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

  • 9
  • 13
  • 15
  • 18
  • 21
  • 27
  • 11

Full Lotto draw results »