MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Hit-men spaced out by Kilkenny tactics

We were originally minded to write about Henry Shefflin’s contribution here.

As they used to say about Charles De Gaulle, the original man from the day before yesterday — and from the day after tomorrow.

It’s axiomatic now that Kilkenny dispassionately select the opposition defender they feel he can exploit and move him into that man’s company accordingly.

When Shefflin trotted in to join Conor O’Brien, Tipperary’s smallest defender, we thought we’d made the right choice. What could be more significant?

Then we looked down the field and clocked Lar Corbett, Jackie Tyrrell, Pa Bourke and Tommy Walsh trying to replicate one of those old how-many-students-can-fit-in-a-phonebox stunts. (You don’t know what a phone box is? Try Google.) Clearly Tipp wanted Lar on Tommy, as their manager Declan Ryan confirmed afterwards, and just as clearly Kilkenny were keener on a Tyrrell-Corbett match-up, as evidenced by Jackie’s interest in accompanying Lar everywhere he went.

For a good 20 minutes Tyrrell, Corbett, Bourke and Walsh were trotting around together in a tight group. Then they broke apart but got back together soon again. The group were stationed at one point, halfway through the second half, within touching distance of a corner flag at the Canal End. The ball was about 80 yards away at the time. Extraordinary.

That suited Kilkenny early on. When Corbett and Tyrrell clashed off the ball on four minutes, for instance, Corbett had to get treatment for a blood injury, and it was ten minutes later before he got the ball into his hand (he found his clubmate, Pa Bourke, but the attack eventually fizzled out into a wide).

On 20 minutes Corbett intervened again, winning possession and playing Bourke through; Tipp worked a 21-metre free from the attack – saved by Tommy Walsh – but Bourke pointed the eventual 65. Kilkenny were in the ascendancy at this point, and this was reflected in the fact that it was 26 minutes before Corbett had a shot (from out on the sideline, which went wide). Three minutes later Tyrrell burst outfield with the ball to underline his superiority.

Yet Corbett rallied – he was crucial to the Tipperary goal, using his pace to close down David Herity, and his challenge on the Kilkenny ‘keeper led to Bourke burying the ball in an empty net.

The second half followed a similar pattern, with neither Tyrrell nor Corbett seeing much possession.

However, on 44 minutes the Kilkenny man stormed outfield and delivered a long ball to Aidan Fogarty, who seared through for a goal. From then on the game was on life support, with the Cats adding two more goals, and the edge to the game getting more and more blunt as the day went on. With seven minutes left Corbett pulled out a neat backhand handpass near the Kilkenny goal, but when Tipp managed a shot it went harmlessly wide.

“They came with a game plan, so did we,” said Corbett afterwards.

“It worked up until half-time but they got the goals . . . as regards who was right and who was wrong, when you win then you’d have to say their system was a bit better than ours. That was the system they went with and we just had to deal with what they threw at us. It was up to us to see what we had to say about that, but our system brought us a long way in the first half.

“We got chances out of it – we believed the system was good for us – but they got the goals, and in the four games between the teams, goals win games. End of.”

Corbett was right, up to a point. Chances materialised for Tipperary, but when the ball came back off the Kilkenny post early in the second half, for instance, it was Patrick Bonner Maher, not Corbett or Bourke, that the chance fell to.

For all his virtues Maher isn’t a natural predator, and Kilkenny smuggled the sliotar out of danger. It was hardly an accident that Tipp’s one nailed-on goal chance was created when Corbett marauded near goal, and it was finished by Bourke; they couldn’t get those two near goal in space again, and they didn’t score any more goals either.

If speed is king in the modern game, then space is scarcely less royal. Cramming two of your forwards into a small area may create room for other attackers, but that doesn’t mean the right men are left holding the sniper’s rifle.

There’ll be criticism of the Tipperary backroom team this week for not getting Corbett into space. Those hurlers on the ditch would do well to read – or re-read – Nicky English’s autobiography, which has a description of what happens when players don’t mark who they’re supposed to from his own playing days which should open their eyes.

Come to think of it, maybe they’ll be contacting Nicky himself before too long?


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