In the NFL, the quarterback is always looking at the match-ups. He scans the backfield for a mismatch. Tom Brady, who drove the Patriots to another Super Bowl win this year, is renowned for it. The New England win back in early February was greatly influenced by two mismatches on coverage on Rob Gronkowski.
Two passes to the big tight end, in crucial fourth-quarter plays, turned that game in favour of the Patriots.
In modern day hurling, the goalkeeper is the quarterback. Puckouts are no longer mere restarts to put the ball back in play. They are now the first delivery of an attack. Goalkeepers look to provide direct possession for ‘free’ colleagues or to deliver the ball into space for a teammate to run onto in a preplanned move.
Winning your own puckout not only gives the team a platform, winning four or five in succession provides a tremendous boost to morale.
Of course, a netminder’s view of the field is different from that of spectators in the stand. It is difficult for a keeper to spot openings down the field at times because of outfield players creatingoptical obstacles in his line of vision.
When I was a manager, back in the day, I had a plan to have a hurley carrier with a small step ladder near the goal. The extra height would allow the ‘maor camán’ to communicate information to the keeper at puckout time.
However, all personnel were banned from around the goal and this scuppered that plan. However, because retaining possession is so vital in the modern game, I can see a time when a keeper will be wired up to a coach in the stand to communicate the best options available.
Most managers focus on their own team for 80%-90% of their preparation time. No manager will publicly admit to hatching plans to blunt an opposition’s attacking prowess or exploit perceived weaknesses in defence. However, all managements look at the opposition and for match-ups that provide them with an advantage.
Kilkenny’s management team are particularly astute in these areas. Tomorrow they will feel that there are advantageous mismatches available to their quarterback Eoghan Murphy.
Cork don’t have the type of tall, physicaldefender like those in the Wexford rearguard who match up brilliantly with Kilkenny’s dangermen.
TJ Reid is tall, strong in the air, and quick. He holds the hurley in his left hand and generally catches the sliotar with his right hand. When Reid is standing in the left-half forward position, 45m out from the Cork goal and 10 metres in from the touchline, Murphy can deliver puckouts to Reid’s outside, favouring his right hand and giving the Kilkenny sharpshooter adecided advantage.
The best way to counteract this would be for the defender to play on Reid’s right-hand side and concentrate on his catching hand to break the ball. However if Reid flicked the ball on with his stick or gained possession in the air, the defender would be outside him in no man’s land and the flying Reid would be free and heading for goal.
Galway didn’t get their matchup against Reid right in the Leinster round-robin and it cost them two goals.
The at 6’5” Walter Walsh, if fit, would ideally replicate this role for Kilkenny on theopposite side. But Adrian Mullen, if he drifts out there at puckouts, is also good in the air, and bigger than either Mark Coleman or Niall O’Leary. Even Richie Hogan, named on the right, might be small but is well able to win his own ball.
Cork’s Mark Ellis could go wide to pick up TJ at puckouts, but this would drag the Rebels’ centre-back from hisdefensive zone in the middle where he provides a buffer for his full-back. Plus if Richie Leahy swaps with TJ at puckouts and occupies a central position on the Cork 65m line, it would drag Coleman out from his normal covering position.
The Cats midfielders would position themselves in ‘inside right’ and ‘inside left’ positions on their own 65 and move forward in support of Mullen or Reid once Murphy had struck the ball.
The midfielders, or Cillian Buckley who loves to get forward, would then act as support players for the half-forwards.
Quick ‘one-two’ passes between Reid or Mullen and the midfield runners and the ball over the top would release Reid or Mullen to run diagonally or through the heart of Cork’s defence.
Leahy or Richie Hogan would ghost in from behind the play by making late runs. This would put him in position to intercept hurried clearances or receive reverse passes to take point opportunities if there was heavy traffic around the goal area.
If Murphy’s deliveries are on the money, this puckout strategy will be difficult to curtail.
One tactic Cork could use to counteract it would see midfielder Bill Cooper drop into the half-back line in a central position at Kilkenny puckouts. The Rebel defenders on the wings would mark Reid or Mullen on the outside. Mark Coleman and Cooper would act as the inside markers to stop Kilkenny runs or to pick up the breaks and launch attacks. Cork would also need drop to the half-forward line into midfield to clog up the middle third and to police the spare centre-forward.
However, this would leave the Kilkenny full-back line free to receive short puckouts and the Kilkenny defenders are a lot more comfortable now at running the ball out of defence and playing through the lines. Cork will need plans in place to obstruct these runs from defence at a certain line and force the Kilkenny defenders to strike their forward deliveries under severe pressure.
For Cork puckouts, I’m expecting the Kilkenny forwards to push up on the Corkdefenders. This will force Cork keeper Anthony Nash to strike the majority of his restarts long to the attack. Timely movement by the half-forwards will be key for Nash as he attempts to deliver intopre-planned landing zones.
Seamus Harnedy likes to come out of the left corner to receive ball. A simple tactic to get Harnedy free on theleft-hand side would see the Cork left-half forward and centre-forward vacate their zones and move over to the right side of the field. Space would then be available in front of the athletic Harnedy and create straight one-on-one contests between him and his marker.
A simple back pass toDarragh Fitzgibbon or Mark Coleman on the charge would see either player breaking the Cats’ half-back line with the chance of a point or settingup Patrick Horgan withpossession nearer goal.
Kilkenny would have to drop a midfielder or forward deep for Nash’s puckouts to negate this tactic. In this scenario they would allow one free defender in Cork’s defence. Nash would have to go short to this player and then the ball would have to be played short through the lines.
Overall, looking at the puckout battle on an individual basis, Cork may not be able to identify influential mismatches. But by approaching restarts as a collective, they can build an importantplatform for success.