Galway and Cork offering a sloppy case for the defence
Published 02/04/2016 | 02:30
The difficulties that Galway and Cork were likely to encounter in the Allianz Hurling League were evident from the scoreline from their opening-round game: Galway 1-27 Cork 1-21.
Cork were under new management but it was sloppy business as usual - scoring high and conceding higher.
Galway were also under new management and while they beat Cork even more comfortably than the scoreline suggested, their giveaway rate was still too generous. Little changed for either side over the following weeks. Cork's average concession over their next four games was 29 points, six more than Galway.
By the end of Round 5, Cork had been hit for a total of 145 points and Galway for 114 while the others read: Tipperary 102, Dublin 99, Kilkenny 94, Waterford 90.
On the scoring front, only Tipperary (122) had scored more than Cork (113) and Galway (109). Kilkenny topped the group with a 106; Waterford were second after yielding 93 points while third-placed Dublin hit 101.
Waterford are an interesting case. Their 93-90 (for and against) yielded seven out of a possible 10 League points, proving that sound defensive fundamentals will take a team a long way.
From a Cork and Galway perspective, that requires a change of philosophy, however distasteful they might regard it.
They were often high-yield, high-leak operations under Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Anthony Cunningham respectively and have continued in similar fashion under Kieran Kingston and Micheál Donoghue.
Clearly, that raises questions about the efficiency of defenders in both counties.
Cork's underage teams have not done well for a long time so it's hardly surprising that the quality of player advancing towards the senior squad is not what it used to be.
Why Cork aren't more productive at minor and U-21 is a different question, one that should be occupying the thoughts of the county's administrators, who can't expect senior managers to build All-Ireland winning teams with moderate talent.
Kingston, no more than JBM before him, has to work with what's available. That now demands devising a plan to minimise the impact of individual shortcomings.
So far, there has been little sign of a system that clogs more of the defensive channels, which is absolutely necessary in the modern game, where man-for-man no longer applies.
Galway are an even more interesting case. They have won five minor and three U-21 All-Irelands over the last 12 years, a sizeable haul which, when combined, outstrips all other counties, including Kilkenny.
Yet, they lined up against Waterford two weeks ago with two defenders who made their senior championship debut in 2004, a situation not replicated in any other county.
Full marks to Fergal Moore and David Collins for sustaining their inter-county careers into a 13th season but it's an indictment of the younger generation that they can't force their way past two long-serving players who weren't first choices last year.
Granted, Galway have had injury problems, which restricted the selection options, but obviously the new management aren't overly-impressed with the younger, back-up forces.
Whatever the background, Galway and Cork have been unable to repair the leaks this year, leaving them facing a relegation play-off which, on previous evidence, certainly promises to be high-scoring.
That's unless both make tactical adjustments which, so far at least, they have largely ignored.
Still, with the relegation trap-door ready to slam shut on tomorrow's losers, it's not a time for either side to rely totally on their snipers out-gunning their rivals.
In the fraught circumstances, tighter defensive security has to be given top priority. If that involves playing with a sweeper, dropping midfielders and half-forwards further back, so be it.
It may not be the Cork or Galway way but their League positions show that the alternative is completely malfunctioning.
Cork are trying to avoid the drop for the second time in four seasons while the Galway players will be desperate to avoid relegation in their first campaign since forcing a change of management in very controversial circumstances.
It should make for quite a showdown in Salthill.