Donal O'Grady: Cork can't allow Noel McGrath to dictate the game

In order to end Tipperary’s All-Ireland defence, Cork midfielder Bill Cooper will need to keep close tabs on his direct opponent
Donal O'Grady: Cork can't allow Noel McGrath to dictate the game

TIPP TOP TALENT: Tipperary’s Noel McGrath brings experience, coolness, and calmness to his midfield role. In order to end Tipperary’s All-Ireland defence, Cork midfielder Bill Cooper will need to keep close tabs on his direct opponent. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

This is a quote attributed to Derek Jeter, the Hall of Fame shortstop of the New York Yankees.

Similar messages would have been given by managers Liam Sheedy and Kieran Kingston to their respective squads during this past week. Cork v Tipp on Saturday is a do-or-die affair, a high-wire act with no safety net. It should be an uncompromising battle where the outcome will be decided by superior work-rate.

Even though hurling is always a contest of the collective, the result is often influenced or even decided by the outcome of a few individual battles. The first of these involves the goalkeepers.

Saving stoppable shots and performing the simple tasks well is the bread and butter of a goalkeeper. Making spectacular saves is a bonus. Confidence is important for all players but it must be very high for ‘keepers. Anthony Nash made a very good save just after half-time against Dublin and is in good form, while Brian Hogan has built a fine reputation since his senior debut in 2018.

Hogan and Nash will be expected to be neat and tidy around the goal but a spectacular save or two by either will be significant. However, it will be the distribution battle between these two that could decide this game.

They will have over 30 attacking possessions each at restart time and protecting possession is vital. Accuracy is far more important in modern times than length.

Winning possession from puckouts, directly or by picking up the breaking ball, is one of the most important aspects of the game.

A successful puckout win ratio is of major benefit in building momentum, particularly if they are won consecutively. Opposing attackers set up to restrict the possession channel. Finding a colleague will be a major pressure area for both Hogan and Nash and although this is often dependent on the timely movement of outfield players, mistakes are always attributed to the netminder.

They are at opposite ends of the pitch and unmarked. Nonetheless, this is a major contest between two players whose overall performances will be crucial.

Tipp’s Noel McGrath, one of their most creative players, operates in midfield. McGrath brings experience, coolness and calmness to his role. He makes himself available as an outlet for passes from his defence, picks up a lot of loose ball around the middle, and can score from long range.

If he is afforded time and space he will orchestrate the game for Tipp. He has the armoury to unlock defences with clever passes and when he goes forward he is a huge threat. He joins the attack, almost unseen, by timing his runs from behind the play at the optimum moment.

Cork’s Bill Cooper will be his direct opponent. Cooper is not really a man-marker. He is more of a forager and worker who loves to run against defences. He breaks up the play and wins contested ground ‘ruck’ ball. Because of this, Cooper may not always be close to McGrath but Cork will have to be organised in such a way that the Tipp man is never unmarked.

Noel McGrath’s forte is his excellent reading of a game and his support movement in the middle third. He drifts back to the ‘six and a half’ position on his half-backline and begins attacks from there.

Cooper will have to keep a close eye on the Loughmore man no matter where he goes. This is one of the big battles on Saturday. Each will hope to improve on recent displays and whoever comes out on top in this sector will be favoured for victory.

The outcomes of battles in front of the ‘square’ between Seamus Callanan and Damien Cahalane and Ronan Maher and Deccie Dalton will likewise be hugely important. However, these outcomes are usually dependant on the quality of the supply to the attack or forced errors on the defence. Invariably, a quality supply comes from a strong platform in the middle third. This platform is based on work-rate as are the forced errors — which brings things back to Derek Jeter.

In the other contest, Wexford’s main focus will be on Tony Kelly. Reducing his influence will be top of the list for Davy Fitzgerald. Matthew O’Hanlon is a very experienced man-marker and has been detailed to police Kilkenny’s top attacker, TJ Reid, in past games, accomplishing that task with considerable success.

O’Hanlon didn’t hit top form against the Tribesmen but is best equipped for this man-marking role. Keeping Kelly quiet in general play and reducing the scoreable free count will go a long way towards a Wexford victory.

Brian Lohan is short some key players and also needs a man-marker. Wexford’s Rory O’Connor is an important cog in their system. He is very effective in unhinging defences. Selected inside, he plays a free role, supplementing the efforts of his colleagues in the middle third by collecting breaking ball and interpassing with them as they transition from defence to attack.

A player with pace and stamina must stick with O’Connor no matter where he goes and keeping the ball out of his hand is a must. Séadna Morey is best placed to perform this role. Morey has pace and is capable of putting scores on the board if his marking duties draw him upfield. Disrupting Wexford’s system by stopping their interplay from midfield is a must. Limiting O’Connor’s involvement would be a valuable starting point.

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