DONAL O'GRADY: Rebels must avoid early Kilkenny sucker punches

If Cork win this game, they will have to take a tactical approach into it and set themselves up to keep scoring down.

Since 2006, Kilkenny have repeated the same trick against Cork buy hitting them with early goals so that, above all, must be their first concern tomorrow.

The Rebels’ defence need to stay in their positions, with the full-back line across the 20m line and the half- backs across the 45. They will need to stick there and not follow their men out the field, particularly at puck-out time, delegating the marking duties to forward colleagues.

Three men should occupy midfield across their 65 and consider it the main line of defence. But for this tactic to be effective, Cork’s half-forwards will have to funnel back quickly, providing five and six men across midfield once the Cats gain possession. If used effectively, Kilkenny would have to compete in a condensed space forcing them to strike under pressure, and that is always a bonus for a defence.

Cork’s half-forwards haven’t always shown the required resilience to harass opponents with discipline as forcing turnovers is an important psychological advantage in any game. But they must tomorrow.

For the first part of the plan to work, the team must play with a general controlled aggression, conceding no soft frees.

The third part requires the use of possession. Aimless Hail Marys must be banned for the day.

Patience and composure are vital requirements, Playing precise, measured ball, linked through the half-forward line is ultra important in helping to set up runs at the defence by Daniel Kearney, Pa Cronin and Seamus Harnedy in search of goals.

Scoring goals begins with the awareness that an opportunity exists and the offload to a supporting player at the correct time makes a crucial difference. The selection of Jamie Coughlan should help in this regard.

A full-on 15-man performance from the start is JBM’s greatest need. What he doesn’t need is a traditional 15 on 15. Kilkenny’s management always seek to play their defensive sextet in their positions as a unit, with every player covering each other. Even Paul Murphy, almost unbeatable when playing as a traditional corner-back, looked very uncomfortable at times against Offaly and Tipp when he was dragged from his position. The Cats will want to avoid playing defensively as individuals, as they did against Dublin. Manager Brian Cody will insist the unit stays intact in their positions as collectively they’re very difficult to break down.

He will gamble that Cork’s midfield/half-backs, if pressurised, will strike high, allowing easy-to-read deliveries fall into the hands of experienced defenders. Cody knows if his defenders maintain their positions, they retain their impressive covering ability. A defensive workrate from his attack allows this unity and it will be his first objective.

Richie Power, Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly are coming into form, and getting this trio on the ball as often as possible is Cody’s next objective. Power likes to drop off into midfield and come from deep on to passes at full pace. He has always reserved some of his best performances for Cork, as have Fennelly and Hogan. These are similar in that they like to take on defenders and are patient when in possession.

Space is the great requirement for this trio. It allows them to utilise their pace and they have the necessary skills to score or provide killer passes. What Cody needs is a conventional 15 on 15, influential performances from the above trio as well as Eoin Larkin and Michael Fennelly.

What he doesn’t need is a crowded midfield with players running from deep at the heart of his defence.

The Clare-Galway game should be an interesting duel. No one is quite sure how Clare’s appetite and enthusiasm will hold up as they have a relatively small panel and quite a few of their stars were on U21 duty last week. Tomorrow will also tell if Galway are going through their regular second-season syndrome after last year’s massive progress or whether they can bounce back from their poor Leinster final outing.

Clare’s strength lies in their system, moving the ball through the lines with pace and precision. Paudge Collins’ pace and work-rate caused Cork no end of problems with his roaming role from left corner- forward and Clare need more of the same tomorrow. He created many scoring opportunities, spurned on the day as Clare went with a two-man full-forward line with the half- forwards dropping deep to create space.

The weakness in this system is that the half-forward line have to work very hard at creating space, tackling defenders and then covering a lot of ground to get into supporting positions for those inside. Supplying their inside line accurately is a vital component of this system. Having worked well in the first half against Cork in all places but the scoreboard, it malfunctioned in the second half with Darach Honan largely redundant at the edge of the square.

Galway should have a simple five-point plan. 1. A specific plan for Clare’s Paudge Collins. 2. To have a defensive formation that will suffocate Clare by dropping half-forwards back quickly to crowd midfield. 3. Play Joe Canning at the fringe of the square and crucially to furnish him with a decent supply. 4. Be highly disciplined. 5. Be up for the game — largely absent against Dublin.


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