I’ve often wondered about GAA teams’ approach to big games when compared to the marquee rugby sides. The GAA boys tear out of tunnels like they’ve just broken out of prison after being locked up for 20 years. The rugby boys walk out, often holding the hands of mascots, appearing like they’re heading for a tea-party before turning into savages.
I got that feel about Cork yesterday when they came out under the Kinnane Stand. They walked out. They just casually sat on the bench for the team photograph before going about their warm-up. There seemed to be an edge about them. ‘Hi, hold on a minute,’ I said to myself, ‘These boys look like Munster in they heyday. They must be ready to hit anything that moves.’
How wrong I was.
All that was different about Cork was their spikiness off the ball. I have no issue with that. They had to try and disrupt Tipp’s rhythm. Nobody was more fond of messing and shenanigans than myself when I played but you have to keep your head.
Focus on the ball. Get your first touch right. Know where your man is.
Cork seemed to forget all that stuff. They might have looked like assassins but they wouldn’t have executed a fly yesterday.
It was terrible stuff from Cork. They didn’t seem to know who they were or what they were about. They tried to play a sweeper like Waterford did in last year’s Munster final in front of Seamus Callanan but Waterford are on a different level with that game. William Egan sat so deep in the role that John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and John McGrath were effectively able to do whatever they wanted.
I met Frank Flannery briefly afterwards. He is a quality coach. He was devastated. “Back to basics now anyway, Dalo,” he said. I’m not certain what Frank meant by basics but Cork probably need to return to what they know, and do best — just try and shoot it out with the opposition as opposed to trying to curtail them.
There has always been something missing in this Cork team but at least they delivered some big performances. Those days are gone. They have been since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final hammering to Tipperary, which appears to have irreparably damaged the confidence of this team. Apart from a comeback against Dublin in the 2015 league semi-final, and a decent display against Clare last July, that’s all Cork have delivered in effectively two years.
It’s still the same faces delivering the same disappointing results. There are no new names, no new young fella adding any freshness to the team. In contrast, Tipp arrived yesterday with four debutantes. Tipp’s starting team didn’t look nearly as formidable on paper as other Tipp teams have in recent years but they are a well-oiled unit going in the right direction.
Michael Ryan showed really good management last week. He made a statement from the moment he announced the team. Nobody was entitled to the jersey. The guys going well in training were worthy of their chance. They got it and their performances franked the faith Mick had in them.
This is a new team really led by the three Mahers. Pádraic and Brendan were excellent while Ronan was outstanding. He’s not a big man but he is a real man. I really like his style. He is combative and assertive but Ronan has that Tipp class and savvy about him too which marks him apart.
Everybody is right to be critical of Cork but Tipp bossed the game from the first minute. They wanted to transmit a new message. These players have been hugely maligned in the last few years because they haven’t won an All-Ireland since 2010 but it’s easy to forget how close they have been. HawkEye denied them an All-Ireland in 2014. They were Munster champions last year. Tipp lost the game of the year to Galway. They haven’t got it done but if they don’t get it done this year, the team which beats them will.
It was another disappointing contest. The goalkeepers were redundant. Seamus Callanan had one half chance late on but there was never a threat of a goal. Much of that is down to the effect and impact of the sweeper but I think the GAA really need to look at this now. Tipp got some great scores but there was no joy in the game yesterday. There was no entertainment value. Teams and managers aren’t there to entertain but it was the same on Saturday night in Dublin’s win against Wexford at Croke Park and I think people are going to start voting with their feet.
I know nothing is going to change this year from a rules perspective but is it time to force goalkeepers to puck the ball beyond the ’45? At the moment it is just too easy to give it to a corner-back and for everyone to funnel back behind the ball. The build up play is frustrating the hell out of supporters. High fielding is gone. I only heard the Kinnane Stand really rattling twice yesterday; one was when a schemozzle started between Cathal Barrett and Bill Cooper when the ball was there to be won just between them. The second was when Tipp looked to be through for a goal and Barry Kelly whistled it back. That little sniff of a goal was like putting smelling salts under the nostrils of a crowd that was beginning to doze off.
The Munster championship has to be about more than what we saw yesterday. I know the conditions were a big factor but looking at James Mcgrath as the linesman nearly encapsulated the day for me. He was freezing cold. His shoulders were hunched. He looked like he was at a Munster league match in mid January, only interested in getting the hell out of there. Forget about the weather — there was no energy or heat coming from the pitch to warm him up.
If you had that rule change, it’s unlikely keeper’s would chance hitting the ball 46 or 47 yards. They would have to go longer. It would force your own forwards to be under the ball. It would move the play higher up the field. Lookit, I don’t want to sound like I’m being anti-Derek McGrath or Davy Fitz here. I love tactics. The modern game fascinates me. But something has to be done to alter what, to me, is a worrying trend. Teams need to be more gung-ho. I know Kilkenny have dictated much of the modern agenda but have the All-Ireland champions that good of a side now where other teams can’t just say, ‘Right, let’s take these boys on’.
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