Shutting down Hogan key to Tipp victory

Richie Hogan, Kilkenny’s top player this season, has an impressive compliment of skills — strength, pace, bravery and has a tendency to save some of his best displays against Tipperary.

If you were handed the brief of stopping Kilkenny then a major part of your plan would involve shutting Hogan down and there is no doubt Eamon O’Shea has spent many hours contemplating the intricacies of this assignment.

In this year’s league final, Hogan lined out at centre forward. Tipperary employed a zonal marking scheme with centre-back Brendan Maher holding his position. That meant Hogan had the freedom to wander without close man-to-man marking, picking off six points. Tipperary cannot afford the same mistake tomorrow. A specialised man marker, whose only interest in the game would be to nullify Hogan, would be the best choice for O’Shea. But none are available. The Tipperary half backs must also be wary when Hogan is in possession and racing towards them as he is outstanding at taking the ball into contact and offloading to a runner in space.

Hogan is not a distributor of the ball in the classic midfield sense and Tipperary have to ensure they put enough pressure on his striking by tackling from behind and reduce his lay-off accuracy.

The industry of midfielders Shane McGrath and James Woodlock will be important in this regard but the defensive work rate of all their forwards, particularly wing forward Gearóid Ryan and Noel McGrath will be crucial to the success of this plan. Both will have to play deep and tackle back into midfield and even half backs, denying Hogan time on the ball.

Noel McGrath scored five points in the league final but has been quiet since. Tipp need a big game from him and this extra responsibility might provide the motivation he needs to get back to his highest levels.

But if Tipperary are focusing on Richie Hogan, his namesake Brian, man marking Noel McGrath, will get opportunities to drive forward for scores. Lar Corbett and John ‘Bubbles’ O Dwyer will have to be vigilant to cut out the off-loads. Richie Hogan is versatile and he could see service at centre or full-forward as Kilkenny probe the perceived weakest link .Where ever he plays the onus is on Tipp’s midfield and forwards to limit his supply.

Eamon O’Shea has persisted with Seamus Callanan at the edge of the square since their early June defeat and the ploy has paid dividends. Tipp fans now expect goals from their number 14 every time he takes to the field. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has always sought to match up his top forward on the perceived weakest defender while allowing the chips to lie as they fall in defence. His best full back JJ Delaney, who knows when to go for the ball and when to tie up his man, will be handed the task of shackling Callanan as Kilkenny plot to limit his effectiveness. Over the last decade Kilkenny have concentrated their defensive efforts on defending the ‘D’ — preventing goal chances. They funnel midfielders back quickly and cut down space in front of the opposing full forward line by flooding the sector with extra bodies.

Eoin Larkin, top of the left for the Leinster champions, drops out frequently to the midfield area to provide help with their ball winning and crucially, to provide cover for the defence.

Their half forwards also drop deep supplementing the defensive efforts, as Colin Fennelly did in the semi-final, preventing a certain goal while Michael Fennelly is also expert in this tactic.

Tipperary defenders hit a lot of aimless ball to their full forward line against Cork in the first-half particularly. Kilkenny will hope to pressurise Tipp defenders into hitting hurried long clearances to their inside forward line as this normally favours a defence. Angled deliveries from the wing forwards to Callanan and runs from ‘Bonner’ Maher are the most likely routes to goals for the Premier men. Cutting down on these will be a great support for full back JJ Delaney and will be part of the Kilkenny defensive plan.

Limiting Callanan to points only will be a big psychological boost to Cody’s team and supporters. I’m expecting Delaney to shepherd Callanan away from goal, keeping him outside, conceding points if necessary but not allowing him in for goals. Since Brian Hogan returned to centre back duty he has adopted man marking duties on his opponent while Conor Fogarty plays as a defensive midfielder.

Tipp’s Noel McGrath, likely to start at centre-forward, prefers to move about into space rather than play an orthodox centre forward role. If the centre half back follows a roaming opponent it leaves a gap in front of the full-forward. Tipp will hope to execute a plan to leave space in front of the Kilkenny goal that can be exploited by Callanan who has height and pace.

Hogan and corner back Paul Murphy, who has excellent anticipation in the corner, may stay in their positions early on to ensure that this space isn’t available in front of ‘keeper David Herrity. Cody is well aware Delaney can’t be expected to do the job himself and that an individual battle in space between Callanan and Delaney will be to Tipperary’s advantage. The Cats will avoid this as much as possible. Their defence against goals and the potent threat of Callanan will begin as usual, wherever possession is lost.

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