DONAL O'GRADY: Given freedom, Cillian Buckley can bolster misfiring Kilkenny’s scoring power

Kilkenny have had little time to recover and re-energise since last Sunday. Fatigue will be a factor this weekend and it will be easier to defend a lead rather than chase a deficit in the finishing stretch.  

Kilkenny have had little time to recover and re-energise since last Sunday. Fatigue will be a factor this weekend and it will be easier to defend a lead rather than chase a deficit in the finishing stretch. 

The lack of time to prepare properly to deal with Limerick’s system of long diagonal ball, allied to their offloading support play, is less than ideal. The week gone by was about rest and recovery for the Cats with very light training sessions. So there will have been no opportunity to road-test their planning at match pace.

The biggest challenge facing Brian Cody is the organisation of the defence. 

Limerick deploy their attackers in a similar way to Galway. Last Sunday Kilkenny’s half-back line was taken out of the game by a simple tactic. Galway’s half-forward line and corner-forward Cathal Mannion played very deep, 70m-80m out from their opponents’ goal. 

Their ‘markers’ followed them out but they did not mark them tightly. This conceded possession and created acres of space in front of the Galway full-forward line. The inside defenders were then faced with individual ‘one-on-one’ battles with little or no cover from retreating half-backs.

Limerick use a similar game-plan to Galway. Wing-forwards Tom Morrissey and Gearóid Hegarty drop deep to their own half-back line in general play and for opposition puckouts. Defenders seldom follow, allowing them opportunities to pick up a lot of breaking ball. 

This tactic ticks two important boxes. It provides extra defensive cover when needed and it makes players available as outlets for balls from defence.

They then have space to run at the opposing half-backs, link up with midfielder Cian Lynch, who makes runs off the shoulder runs, pops over-the-top passes to other runners or sends diagonal balls into the corners in front of their pacy full-forwards.

If Kilkenny hope to prosper they will have to shut down this tactic and prevent Limerick from building a lead, as they are difficult to claw back if they get in front.

Moving James Maher, who is very competitive, from midfield to the left wing of attack would provide more cover for the Cats defence by pressurising wing-back Diarmuid Byrnes, who hits many effective diagonal balls to the forwards.

If outside players have the time and space to deliver ball to the inside attack there is little a defender can do to arrest the situation. A full-back is only as good as the pressure being applied on the man delivering the ball to the full-forward.

Kilkenny need to get their forwards to close quickly on Limerick’s half-backs and to funnel back effectively into midfield. 

They will have to prevent easy offloads and force Limerick to hit long deliveries under pressure to their attack. Treaty centre-forward, Kyle Hayes, drifts out regularly and is central to their tactics. 

He needs to be man-marked. Cillian Buckley operates at centre back in direct opposition to Hayes. However, he is a zonal defender reading and intercepting attacking deliveries rather than a man-marker.

Padraig Walsh is one of Kilkenny’s best players and he has a great attitude. He plays well at full-back but I don’t think it’s his best position. 

He is one of the best half-backs in Ireland and Kilkenny need their best players in their best positions if they are to make further progress. Walsh can influence a game more from half-back by preventing good deliveries to the inside attackers at source rather than firefighting at full-back.

If I was Brian Cody I would hand Padraig Walsh a man-marking role on Hayes and play Buckley on the left wing or in a free role in the centre.

Much like he was in the league, Buckley needs to be Kilkenny’s first line of attack, taking passes from his full-back line and driving forward.

Limerick struggle too when facing an extra defender while Buckley would be free to advance and use his undoubted ability to take points from long range, supplementing what has been a meagre points return from the Cats attack.

Walsh would be tasked with following Hayes and marking him tightly. However, once in possession himself, Walsh would have the freedom to drive forward at every opportunity to set up attacks or score points from long range.

Psychologically, if Walsh could subdue Hayes it would be a big boost for the Cats.

Joey Holden had a very difficult day in the 2016 final on Seamus Callanan. However, any full-back would have had difficulty that day because of the quality of the deliveries to Tipp’s full-forward. However, he is experienced in the position and can be very effective with the right support.

There was no unity in Kilkenny’s defensive system last weekend. They were forced to play as individuals. In their halcyon days they played as a unit. Defenders stuck to their specific positions while midfielders and forwards funnelled back to compress the play and prevent goal opportunities. 

They do not ‘funnel back’ as effectively these days. However, they need to get as near to that defensive system as possible with effective work-rate being the key.

Up front it is simple enough. Play Walter Walsh (if fit) at full-forward to contest long deliveries at the edge of the square where his height may cause problems for the defence— and supply TJ Reid in the centre-forward position and the wing-forwards with short accurate deliveries. 

Then, have them run at the Limerick half-backs at every opportunity to draw frees or create scores.



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