DONAL O'GRADY: Cork must shut down Limerick’s space creation

Limerick's Kyle Hayes and Cork's David Griffin.

The seats in the middle of the stand at a nice height are generally regarded as the best in which to view a game.

However, it can be far more informative analytically to go behind the goal.

If you want to look at a defensive or forward set up, the view from a position two-thirds of the way up the steps and to the side of the posts is ideal. Viewing Limerick’s attack from behind either goal gives a good idea of their system.

Their half-forwards play very deep, with Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey, particularly, dropping back regularly into their defence, even to their own 20m line at times.

When the Limerick half- forwards drop deep, their markers have a decision to make: Follow them in a man-marking role contesting possession or drop back to cut off the avenues into the corners, which the Treaty like to play.

Very often, defenders fall between the two choices. They stay in their positions 50m out or follow them only part of the way.

As a result, they concede possession and they are easily bypassed, offering nothing defensively to their cause.

At the least sign of danger, both Limerick midfielders Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan, supplemented by their half-forwards, funnel back to cut down on the space and time afforded to attackers in front of goal.

Once they turn over possession in their defence, they counter-attack by offloading the ball to support players in well-practised routines until there is time and space to strike a productive delivery forward.

More often than not, only their full-forward line of Aaron Gillane, Graeme Mulcahy and Seamus Flanagan will be inside the opposing 45m line, or even the 65m line, when the counter-attack is launched.

The positions they occupy, prior to the launch of attacking deliveries, make it extremely difficult for defenders.

Flanagan positions himself centrally between the square and the 13m line. Mulcahy stays outside him on the 20m line.

Gillane occupies the space outside Mulcahy, with all three players in front of the posts almost in a line. This means there are vast areas to their left and right and they break off at pace into this space, stealing a march on their markers.

The value of this tactic is that it encourages the defenders to mark from behind rather than in front, which opponents could do if Limerick lined up in the conventional formation.

I was watching the analysis on one of England’s earlier games in the recent World Cup. Speaking about their early success, Didi Hamann made the point that in previous tournaments England may have had the best players on the pitch, but did not necessarily have the best team.

Currently, Limerick are a real team. Each player understands his role and has a good idea what will happen wherever possession is seized.

Opponents need time and practice to operate productively against a team with a particular system. There are many tactics to be considered when opposing Limerick.

Offloading to a spare supporting player is an integral part of their play when they are being tackled.

The optimum option for a Limerick defender, who is being tackled as he is moving forward with the ball, is to draw in a second tackler, allowing an easy offload to the free man, who then has the time and freedom to pick out an attacker with an accurate delivery.

Cork will have to remain disciplined in this aspect of the game. During their recent game with Limerick, Kilkenny at times made the error of going to help a colleague who was tackling an opponent, creating a 2 v 1 scenario.

This allowed the tackled player to offload to the free man, which was what the Limerick player desired above all in that situation.

Cork will have to ensure that any Limerick player in possession is forced to strike the ball long under pressure by ensuring that the obvious supporting players nearby are covered.

Keeping the pressure on the player delivering the ball is key. The quality of the ball into any attack is determined by the accuracy of the delivery.

Pressure on the player delivering the ball can compromise this accuracy, giving the defence a greater chance of an interception.

Cork will have to flood the middle third, breaking fast on turnovers and moving the ball quickly.

The Cork full- forward and half-forward lines must work back to midfield to cut down space and prevent Limerick finding loose players in the middle of the field from the wings.

Tom Morrissey is Limerick’s top scorer from play and many of his points come at big moments in games. Shutting him down is essential.

The Rebels will also have to shut down quick Treaty puckouts. Against Kilkenny,
referee James McGrath blew his whistle for restarts very quickly.

Limerick goalkeeper Nicky Quaid took advantage and smartly found unmarked players in their own half. Kilkenny weren’t fully attuned to this ploy, as all that’s needed is a lack of focus by one player.

Cork attackers need to mark the nearest opponent tightly and force the opposing goalkeeper to hit long puckouts.

Of course, shutting down the opposition will only get a team part of the way. Focussing on and playing to one’s strengths is essential.

We know from this championship that Cork defenders Colm Spillane and Mark Coleman can score from well out the field. Midfielder Darragh Fitzgibbon is another capable of long-range scores.

The Rebels need to set up this trio as often as possible in good protected positions so they can shoot for points from long range by reversing the play when Limerick retreat with numbers into their own half. Cork have pace up front and they need to bring this to bear on proceedings.

Transitioning the play from defence to the wing-forwards with short accurate stick passes can undo a defensive unity.

It fixes the wing-backs out near the sideline preventing them from moving into the middle to protect the goal. It also holds the “funnelling back” midfielders on the half-back line, which in turn preserves corridors of opportunity to the inside attack.

Cork must shut down Limerick’s space creation

Getting quality ball to top scorers Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan, as well as Shane Kingston, preferably by creating ‘one-on-ones’ inside near goal, is of paramount importance.

In the first half of the round-robin game, Cork sent good quality diagonal balls from the left half forward position across into the right corner of the attack pulling the inside defenders towards the ball.

These were pounced on for some good points by Kingston and Horgan. This tactic could be further enhanced by having the speedy Fitzgibbon making blindside runs into the space vacated in front of the goal.

Of course, striking long, high, diagonal deliveries from behind midfield across a defence must be avoided.

These interceptions are the staple diet of the covering wing back and Dan Morrissey, Limerick’s left half-back, is particularly good at this.

This will be a tight affair. A bit of luck, but most of all composure under pressure, will make the difference.

The free arm tackle has been around for many years.

Recently RTÉ co-commentator Michael Duignan referred to the free arm tackle as a blight on the game. No doubt it is, but it was in evidence again, without any penalty, over the course of the recent quarter-finals.

There are regular refereeing get-togethers in Croke Park, with one convened as late as Thursday night.

I wonder if this illegal tackle is even being discussed. We will see over the course of the games this weekend.

Hopefully, it will be penalised and followed up with more action on All-Ireland Sunday.


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