DONAL O'GRADY: Cork’s extra body can’t quench the Limerick spirit

A sending off in hurling affects a game in various ways, writes Donal O’Grady.

The 14 man unit ‘up’ their work-rate and determination, as Limerick did on Saturday, while the opposition are sometimes lulled into a false sense of security and think they will win the game automatically because of the extra man.

Focus sometimes drops, allowing the 14 men to get a grip on the game. The referee, whose decisions are always crucial in tight games, can be a little more sympathetic to the numerically disadvantaged side and they get scoreable frees more easily than the opposition.

Limerick have developed a well-organised system of play based on ‘support positioning’and ‘support running’. The half-forward-line regularly drops deep as far as their own half-back-line in general play and for opposition puckouts. This provides defensive cover and opportunities to act as receivers for ‘outball’. Then can then run through midfield and set up attacks with ‘one-two’ hand-passes or short accurate deliveries from the stick.

When their way is blocked on the sideline, they transfer the ball quickly to a supporting half-back or midfielder moving forward down the centre who are then in a perfect shooting position. Dan Morrissey’s point from midfield, the Treaty’s 25th, was a perfect example of this tactic.

By mixing up the play, Limerick seek to provide quick ball to their inside attack. They work possession to a free man at half-back/midfield in space. who has time to deliver a direct ball into the right corner.

Time and accuracy is key. Just before the delivery, the corner is vacated and a forward from the other corner or from a central position moves into this space at speed.

This tactic worked well for Limerick in the first 20 minutes on Saturday. However, Cork worked it out by the half hour, just as Limerick were reduced to 14. Cork’s management can take a bow, as it is difficult to prepare to counteract a system with a six-day turnaround.

Putting pressure on the player delivering into the corners is vital. The Cork half-forwards and midfielders exerted the necessary pressure in the middle third, impacting on the accuracy of the deliveries. The Rebel inside defenders had also worked out the direction of the attacking runs, forcing turnovers. Cork then transitioned the ball smartly from defence and made inroads down the left flank of their attack, running at the Treaty defence. They created overlaps for direct scores and set up chances with good diagonal cross-field deliveries.

Limerick began to lose their way and didn’t register a score for 10 minutes as Cork moved into a three-point lead. However, Cork didn’t take advantage of their extra man in the lead up to half-time. The 15-man team must play the percentages, do the basics well, try and keep possession and be very disciplined, giving no advantage to their opponents. (Some backchat to the referee was costly too near full-time).

On puck-outs, shorter deliveries to full-backs guarantee possession which is everything in the modern game. These could have been worked to Darragh Fitzgibbon or Mark Coleman, who are both excellent point-takers from long range.

Instead Anthony Nash hit some long puck-outs which were turned over. (It could be argued that Daniel Kearney was fouled for one of these with Tom Morrissey striking over a great point). Mark Ellis made a basic mistake when dealing with a hopping ball and Cork conceded two points from frees. Instead of going in at half-time leading by four or five points, the Rebels’ lead was cut to two.

Limerick showed great heart and fighting spirit in the second half, epitomised by Graeme Mulcahy and Sean Flanagan.

The two-man full-forward line took the game to Cork, offering themselves constantly as targets for angled ball into the corners and setting the tone for Limerick’s ultra-committed display. Cork failed to apply the necessary pressure on deliveries as they did at the end of the first half and Cork’s ‘extra man’ Mark Coleman, standing in the middle of the full-back line, was redundant defensively as a result.

Cork’s free defender needed to double-mark the intended Limerick inside receiver.

On Cork’s puck-outs, Mulcahy made many runs to the corners blocking defenders as they attempted to work the ball out of defence. This put Cork under pressure and further inspired Limerick’s self-belief.

The simple tactic for Cork should have been to strike the ball back to Nash as Limerick attackers made runs to the sidelines to block the corner-backs. This would have opened the middle and Nash could have advanced with the ball or found Mark Coleman, who is expert at linking up with his midfield or half-forwards.

Withdrawing Sean O’Donoghue, who was on a yellow card, was a sensible tactic by Cork manager John Meyler. 

However, the defence was reconfigured with Tim O’Mahoney coming in at centre-half-back and Ellis going to the wing. 

Cork might have been better off to make a ‘like for like’ substitution in the full-back-line. 

Ellis could then have done a man-marking job on the roving Kyle Hayes, secure in the knowledge that Damien Cahalane was free behind.

Both sides could have won this contest. All of Limerick’s players from number 7 to 15 had points from play. 

Tom Morrissey (4) and Flanagan (5) were highly impressive and Pat Ryan missed a matchwinning goal opportunity. 

Cork responded well near the finish but poor shot selection was costly on a night when the simple plan should have been to get the ball to Pat Horgan.

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