Cork’s shapeshifters can find another dimension

If last year’s All-Ireland qualifier against Sligo was the day Cork footballers tore up the script and started again, was the hurlers’ backdoor game with Wexford last Saturday the day they changed tack?

Cork’s shapeshifters can find another dimension

It certainly seemed that way. Cork hardly looked like themselves. By that, we mean they were not conventional, not orthodox, not rigged.

Previously, the extent of Cork’s positional tactics might have been Patrick Horgan’s drift from the full-forward line or a subtle tweak here and there. But all of a sudden, Cork looked multi-dimensional.

In several ways, they shaped up like Waterford in Wexford Park. But exactly how? Here we look at five characteristics from their play last weekend that we might see again in Thurles tomorrow.

1 Mark Ellis on the “D”

It was noticeable just how much the centre-back protected the “D” in front of Stephen McDonnell in Wexford Park. Of course, when in possession or offering himself as an outlet, he strayed from the area but when Wexford had the ball he was virtually tied to the semi-circle. Emulating Tadhg de Burca’s sweeper role for Waterford, Ellis afforded Cork another layer of defence and most importantly a sense of security, something which this heavily-criticised full-back line has been given little of this past while.

Ellis is also another launchpad, as shown when he initiated the move for Seamus Harnedy’s goal, and a decent stick-passer. To paraphrase what this newspaper’s Enda McEvoy coined about de Burca earlier this summer, the Millstreet man can be Cork’s “fireman and firestarter”.

2 Trust and the short game

When Cork’s line-up was revealed last week, there were more than a few moans and groans around the county as the management chose to go with the vast majority of the side that lost to Waterford second time around.

Harnedy’s addition was a no-brainer after his hamstring recovery. Injured Shane O’Neill had to be replaced but Brian Lawton’s inclusion meant a re-shuffle in the backs.

That virtual retention of the status quo might have frustrated those who remain on the bench but Jimmy Barry-Murphy clearly trusts his starters. Thee players themselves also seem to be placing more faith in a short stick-pass game like Waterford’s. There has to be some variety thrown in for good measure but the calculated ball to a team-mate makes sense when Cork are now operating with so many players between their goal and the opponents’ 45 metre-line.

3 Shooting from distance

Even against the wind in the second half, Cork had no trouble taking shots from distance. It’s something they are quite expert at and clearly Jimmy Barry-Murphy realises this strength complements the shape of the team.

Conor Lehane’s a crackshot, Pa Cronin’s in a rich vein of form at the moment and is finding the posts while Harnedy’s point-taking ability is unquestionable.

Cork might not be the best goal-getters around but their ability to take points was enough to see off several teams in 2013 and again in last year’s Munster championship.

Working the ball in closer to goal isn’t the percentage play if you know there are men there who can take their points.

4 Turning things inside out

As much as they had the wind in the first half against Wexford, there were several occasions when Alan Cadogan was Cork’s only inside forward.

With so much space afforded, if a ball is put in front of him there are few defenders who will match him for pace. Should Cork prefer a target man in the shape of Maurice Shanahan, there is Horgan although he appears to be enjoying himself more around and in front of the half-forward line.

Lehane was Cadogan’s full-forward line partner in Wexford Park but played off-centre, similar to what Stephen Bennett has done with Waterford.

5 Upping the tempo

Think of the games under Barry-Murphy where Cork have been more tigerish than their opponents and a few will come to mind: last year’s Munster final, the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, their 2013 league opener against Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn. We won’t count this year’s league semi-final with Dublin because it was only in the second half that they turned it on. A fall-away after going so far ahead of Wexford was anticipated but Cork found themselves in that position because they wanted it more than their opponents.

You often hear Waterford management and players suggesting that what some regard as defensiveness is actually accelerated work-rate. Cork’s graft ethic has often been questioned but not on their latest showing.

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