A change of style as Cork go ultra defensive

Sylvester Hennessy crunches the numbers from the weekend’s big Allianz League games in Ballyshannon and Killarney.

On the weekend of GAA Congress, perhaps it would have been appropriate for delegates to finish the ‘Think Tank’ with a trip to Ballyshannon.

After two days of debate concerning the quality of Gaelic football, what would the great and the good of the GAA have made of a game where there was 441 hand passes in total?

Would they have been impressed with a traditional county like Cork kick-passing the ball just 33 times in 257 possessions?

The league encounter between Cork and Donegal was the GAA’s version of ‘Lanigan’s Ball’ – Cork stepped in and Donegal stepped out again, Donegal stepped out and Cork stepped in again. Both sides deployed the tactic of mass defence and non-engagement in midfield, with Cork content to allow Donegal monopolise possession in the centre of the field. Donegal responded with the type of display that we are well used to seeing.

They just simply moved the ball back and forth across the field with their management team emphasising patience.

The patience in this instance should have directed at the neutral observers on TG4 who had to witness this dire display of football.

Donegal had six players who had 30 possessions or more. Hugh McFadden had possession of the ball 32 times in the first half – 28 hand-passes and four foot-passes. He was then taken off. His midfield partner, Neil Gallagher, had 46 possessions, way above the norm. But when you break it down again, the All Star handpassed the ball 35 times.

Neither of the Donegal midfielders had a shot at goal. This is the type of football we have come to expect from Donegal, but not Cork.

Brian Cuthbert and his management team will point to the end justifying the means and they will also point to the fact that they have beaten Dublin at home, Monaghan away and lost to Donegal by a point on the road. These are commendable results but the Cork game plan has to include more attacking play.

Colm O’Neill, the league’s leading scorer, was forced to plough a lonely furrow up front with only four possessions in 70 minutes. Perhaps the delegates of the GAA at Congress would care to expand on the qualities of a game where the most skilful footballers are being frozen completely out of the match.

The fare in Killarney on Sunday was of a much more traditional nature and highly entertaining. Kerry and Dublin, the clash of champions, produced a high-octane game with plenty to admire from both sides. The key factor to this Kerry win centred on two areas.

Firstly, there was the complete dominance of Kerry’s midfield duo, David Moran and Anthony Maher, and Kerry’s destruction of Dublin’s kick-out strategy. While the stats say that the sides broke even from kick outs, Kerry won 9/20 of Dublin’s kick-outs which really unsettled the Dublin side. In Moran, Kerry have the in-form midfielder in the country at the moment.

In a complete contrast to the Donegal style of play, Moran had 34 possessions, the most in the game, 17 of those were hand passess. Anthony Maher, who remains the underrated heartbeat of this Kerry team, had 30 possessions with an even split of 14 hand passess and 14 kicks.

The second key factor to Kerry’s success was returning captain Kieran Donaghy. While he did not score, Donaghy had seven assists in total.

Once Kerry went more direct in the second half, Dublin struggled to cope. It all sets up a fascinating summer ahead and while Martin McHugh bizarrely installed Kerry as All-Ireland favourites, one suspects that a Dublin side including Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, James McCarthy and Michael Darragh MacAuley will be a much more potent force.


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