A WIDE gulf separates the achievements of Cork and Antrim in hurling terms over the years and only one winner, Cork, is expected. But this is a tricky tie. Antrim are in bonus country having disposed of Dublin last weekend. They have nothing to lose. They come in with the same settled team and they can play with the abandonment and relaxed determination that a lack of expectation bestows on a team.
Jerry Wallace who was Cork’s trainer for a number of years is now in charge of Antrim’s physical conditioning. He is well aware of Cork’s strengths and Antrim will have planned accordingly. They were well prepared for the Carlow and Dublin games, playing defenders deep to clog up the forward attacking channels. Their game plan for tomorrow will be similar and they will hope to keep it a low-scoring game by harrying the Cork attack who are not playing well as a unit.
Cork will be tired mentally and physically after the exertions of the past weekends but it’s the former that will be most worrying. The ideal scenario for Cork is to blow Antrim away in the early stages to deny them any hope in the second half. But enthusiasm, which may be in short supply is needed for this. Cork will have to be positive and economical in possession. They need to enhance their play with more effective use of the ball by looking for the free supporting player rather than belting it long. Attacks begin in defence but only Cork’s excellent defender Brian Murphy is moving the ball out of defence to unmarked colleagues. Tomorrow is a chance to begin the improvement.
TOMORROW’S game defines the year for Galway and Tipp. The early season promise that wrapped itself around both teams like a golden cloak becomes a funeral shroud for one at the quarter-final stage. Both teams have had a reality check recently and they are not without their problems. From Tipp’s point of view they had two games which got them back on track but they have made selections based on displays against inferior opposition which is always a risk. They now go with a new half-forward line untried at this level. Liam Sheedy is hoping that Shane McGrath, a natural midfielder, along with the inexperienced Gearóid Ryan and Patrick Maher, are a success. But it’s a gamble and Tipp’s long-term half-forward problems are still not resolved. John McIntyre, Galway’s manager, had a number of weeks to solve the problems apparent against Kilkenny, namely poor option-taking and poor ball distribution and retention. Their overall display lacked cohesion and their body language in the second half indicated that they were resigned to defeat well before the end. Surely they will be well up for this game. It’s a straight battle between scorers Eoin Kelly, Noel McGrath and Lar Corbett on the Tipp side and Ger Farragher, Damien Hayes and Joe Canning for Galway. On paper the two half-back lines would seem to have it over their direct opponents. If this “paper superiority” translates into possession, then the team that uses it more effectively will carry the day.
If I was an inter-county coach at present, I would be seeking clarification on the interpretation of the rule on the frontal tackle. Any contact in the chest area is being penalised.
Last Saturday night in Thurles, Shane Walsh careered through from the corner towards the Cork goal in the eighth minute. Walsh jumped into the stationery Cadogan who had braced himself for the contact near the small “square”. The referee indicated a chest-high tackle, giving Walsh a free. Walsh could have been penalised for charging but I felt that no foul was committed by either player. Clarification around this frontal contact is needed immediately as the interpretation now favours the player in possession even if the would-be tackler is stationery and doesn’t advance towards the player in possession. How can a stationery player commit a foul by merely blocking an opponent? Are defenders not entitled to stand their ground or do they simply stand aside and allow the player in possession to waltz through? I have no problem with dangerous tackles being penalised with yellow or red cards. But a definitive interpretation of the frontal tackle is needed, similar to basketball where a stationery player is entitled to block an opponent legitimately and where players understand what is a foul. It would be no harm if the top grade referees sat down together, clarified the rule and communicated the interpretation as it a grey area at present.
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