DONAL O'GRADY: Waterford will look to steer Cork into heavy traffic

Cork need to bring this game down to individual one-on-one battles up front and attempt to undermine the Déise defensive system through long-range scores and by direct running at the heart of the defence, writes Donal O’Grady.

If Waterford manager Derek McGrath, in a quiet moment, was to sit down and mentally survey the current hurling landscape he might feel this year presents a great opportunity for ultimate success. However, to sweep or not to sweep, that is the still the question.

Of course, Waterford’s lineout and tactics may be determined by where they play Austin Gleeson. If they line out without a sweeper, they have the option of playing Gleeson at centre-back or centre-forward. Midfielder Jamie Barron, in a well-practised role, would then act as cover for the defence. However, they have played the sweeper system to good effect in many big games over the last two years and McGrath may be reluctant to alter this, having had no competitive game for 10 weeks.

Many fans would like to see Gleeson up front but I think he is better facing the ball and driving forward. He has the capacity to score four or five points from long range and can influence the play more from this position.

If I was McGrath, I would tweak the system. I would play a conventional six-man defence with Gleeson operating just in front of the centre-half-back, with no marking duties. Jamie Barron would play further forward on Gleeson’s right with Kevin Moran operating on the left, more or less as a triangle, (Diagram 1) with a fluid five up front.

Waterford will look to steer Cork into heavy traffic

Cork will line out as they did against Tipp, using a similar gameplan, if Conor Lehane is declared fit. That performance will have been well analysed by the Déise management and Waterford will have no problem in changing their system midstream, if the need arises. Cork have the advantage of a championship game under their belt but will not know what formation they will face until the throw-in. This may draw Cork’s focus away from themselves and onto the opposition which would hand a significant advantage to Waterford.

Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash had an impressive outing the last day. His general ‘keeping duties were of the highest order while his puckout success was exceptional. Dismantling Cork’s puckout strategy, so influential in the success against Tipp, will be a priority for the Déise.

Cork rotated their forwards leaving space for Nash to pinpoint his deliveries into vacated areas. Many of these were gathered by the Rebel half-forwards, particularly Lehane who drifted into midfield for some and to the wings for others.

Waterford will drop their half-forwards and midfielders Barron and Moran back, cutting off any low driven ball to the pacy Cork half-forwards. This will give a high degree of support to their half-back line. Gleeson or Barron will mark Lehane, affording their centre-back the opportunity to sit a little deeper, providing excellent cover for the full-back line.

The full-forwards will drop back, allowing the Cork full-back line to receive short puckouts. Forcing the Cork defenders then to hit long high deliveries would deny Cork the opportunity to link the play through the lines, as they did against Tipp. (Diagram 2)That would condense the play and Waterford will be favoured to win the subsequent battles, as Cork aren’t renowned for their aerial prowess.

Waterford will look to steer Cork into heavy traffic

Waterford will seek to test Cork’s corner-backs. Winning their defensive battles will allow the Déise to set up effective counter- attacks from deep and supply quality ball to the Bennetts and Patrick Curran up front. In turn, it would force the Cork attack to expend much needed attacking energy on defence. These tactics would also prevent Cork getting into the rhythm that propelled them to victory against the Premier. If these tactics work, Waterford will have a solid platform for success.

The Rebels will have to be very disciplined to win this game. The first requirement will be to avoid striking long deliveries into the zone occupied by Waterford’s centre back or sweeper. (Diagram 3) It isn’t always possible to avoid this, when defenders are clearing under pressure. However, it’s a different matter entirely when defenders are free and setting up attacks.

Waterford will look to steer Cork into heavy traffic

Cork will have to keep the game as open as possible by playing the ball to the wings from half-back and midfield. Cork need to deliver snappy advantageous ball to their wing forwards, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston.

Running at the defence in ‘one-on-one’ battles with their markers, hoping to draw fouls or link up with inside forwards, Cadogan and Harnedy, through accurate deliveries, would be the next step.

Waterford players funnel back quickly in these scenarios. It will be important Cork midfielders and attackers run good support lines or drop back behind the play, into the ‘pocket’, taking up a good position for a long-range shot at goal.

Waterford’s style of play suits them best when they are defending a lead. The Rebels will have to work hard to ensure they keep the game close. They must be prepared to take risks and this begins with goalkeeper Anthony Nash. A good short puckout tactic is to pass to a nearby defender, taking the return as he moves to the 20m line and then delivering forward. The temptation in these situations is to go as long as possible.

However, Nash will have to resist this and vary these deliveries. Going short to his half-back line, midfielders or half forwards may be the better option, while hitting the odd one long, but with a flatter trajectory which can be challenging to a defence.

Hitting puckouts to his wing-half backs will be risky and there may be the odd interception but Cork will need to persist, to draw Waterford attackers forward, in an effort to create space in midfield. This space will be like oxygen for the Rebels, who will need to set up their attack with direct possession rather than hitting 50/50 balls into the defence. The springboard for these tactics is the half-back line and both Marks, Ellis and Coleman, will need to be accurate, smart and efficient with their deliveries.


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