Donal O'Grady's tactics board: Luke Meade and Robbie O'Flynn provide platform for Cork

In the space of seven days there was a complete transformation. Cork went from a ‘non performance’ against the Déise to a controlled victory over Dublin. 
Donal O'Grady's tactics board: Luke Meade and Robbie O'Flynn provide platform for Cork

Luke Meade of Cork in action against Daire Gray of Dublin. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister, famously told us that “a week is a long time in politics”. We can attribute much the same sentiment to Cork hurling. 

In the space of seven days there was a complete transformation. Cork went from a ‘non performance’ against the Déise to a controlled victory over Dublin. 

Manager Kieran Kingston altered the playing tactics. Their use of the ball was far better. They sought out colleagues in better positions and they moved the sliotar short with purpose. 

Kingston made five changes in personnel and they all made valuable contributions. The greatest change, however, was in the Rebels' attitude and application. Cork’s tackling speed, combination play, and option taking in the first half, particularly, was admirable. There was no comparison between the immense workrate against Dublin and the poor return in this department against Waterford. 

Last week the Rebels looked tentative and lethargic. This week they played as a unit and were full of vim and vigour. The introduction of Luke Meade to midfield and Robbie O’Flynn to the half-forward line made a huge difference. 

When a team needs to show a response, setting down early markers is vital.

Meade set the tone with a good run and point in the first minute. Under severe pressure at times, he constantly retained the ball and offloaded at the opportune time. O’Flynn’s direct running and work-rate set a terrific example and was an enormous psychological boost for the Leesders.

A platform for success

From the outset, this lively duo were a rising tide that lifted all Cork boats.

Cork built a platform for success in the first half by controlling the middle third which limited any supply to Dublin’s full forwards. Operating as a unit, the Rebels' half-backs and full-backs dominated Dublin. 

Goalkeeper Anthony Nash gave an assured display. His puckouts found Rebel receivers regularly in all areas of the middle third. Nash found his man on nine consecutive occasions in the first period. Winning successive restarts allows a team to build a strong platform for victory. The Rebels also won 50% of Dublin’s puckouts. As a result, Cork had plenty of 'puckout possession' and they transitioned from defence to attack very effectively through clever passing. 

Harnedy was back to his best, on and off the ball. Shane Kingston’s pace and positioning made him an ideal target for quality outlet ball from ‘middle eight’ colleagues. 

Kieran Kingston cleverly positioned Patrick Horgan at centre-forward. He played very deep and dragged Eoghan O'Donnell, Dublin's top defender out with him. Inside, Jack O'Connor’s pace and running troubled his marker Paddy Smyth while Declan Dalton was very competitive.

Both combined for Cork’s goal inside ten minutes. Mark Coleman sent in a quality delivery in front of O’Connor. His pace took him away from his marker to set up Dalton’s ground strike. This score had a huge bearing on the game and it gave Cork great confidence.

Probably fearing a repetition of last weekend’s first-half collapse against Kilkenny, Dublin manager Mattie Kenny reverted to a sweeper system immediately. Conor Burke became the sweeper, as he had done against the Cats.

This switch prevented more goals, but ultimately it helped Cork. 

Mark Coleman

Mark Coleman settled in to play a free role in the centre of Cork’s defence. Both Burke and Coleman had much the same number of possessions in the first half. However, Coleman was far more influential.

He intercepted many of Dublin’s attacks, he set up quick counterattacks while also ‘backing up’ his inside defence whenever danger threatened.

The UCC student had 30 possessions overall. (Tadhg Dé Búrca had 22 against Cork) Coleman gave a masterclass in support play, distribution and reading the play which contributed greatly to the victory.

Much was expected of the Metropolitans in this game but apart from the first five minutes they were always treading water. This was their third game in as many weekends. Mental fatigue may have been a factor while Semple Stadium has often been their graveyard. A win always looked beyond them but a goal or a few extra points after the second-half water break would have intensified the pressure on Cork. 

Liam Rushe, Chris Crummey and Conal Keaney made up their full-forward line near the finish. A goal was needed. However, seven poor wides were struck in the last 20 minutes.

High, wide balls are a wonderful sight for any full-back line. Dropping deliveries on top of this big Dublin trio would have been a much better tactic.

As they face into next weekend’s clash, Cork still have concerns. They dominated the second half, yet they only scored 12 points, the same as Dublin, and they still conceded too many scoreable frees.

There were a few goal opportunities that weren’t explored by the Rebel attack and they should have squeezed a little harder when they had their foot on Dublin’s throat.

But prior to the game, Cork’s management would have taken any type of victory. They would have enjoyed this performance. The knack, of course, will be to replicate it this coming weekend.

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