Thursday 14 December 2017

Damian Lawlor: Rebel pace and tradition to win the day

Cork supporters show their support for Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy
Cork supporters show their support for Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy

Damian Lawlor

REASONS WHY Clare are favourites for this All-Ireland final: They are hitting 27 points a game and only conceding 20 while Cork are not as prolific, only managing 0-21 per championship outing and conceding just a point less than the Banner.

Throughout the year Clare have played with seven defenders, with their nimble forwards breaking like river tributaries from midfield to attack, creating extra space. Pat Donnellan is their spare man, their sweeper, and few teams have coped with him. Such tactical nous has given Davy Fitzgerald’s men another edge in all of their games, bar one – the Munster championship opener against Cork.

They are also buzzing from the exhilarating displays of the U21s, 18 of whom are on the senior panel. Cork, too, have a number of U21s in their ranks, but at underage they have had nothing to sing about any time lately.

Thus, if there is to be any pomp of youth on view here, it will surely be within the Clare ranks. They have a serious winning mentality and if they don’t win an All-Ireland in 2013 they will win one soon - and could easily add to that over the next decade.

By the way, after they took Tipp apart in the Munster U21 final, every one of the senior panelists involved in that game boarded a bus organised by Davy Fitzgerald and went to Dundrum House for a recovery session. There was no beer or celebrations – these guys are winners and they have the taste for it now.

The other variables?

Well, the battle of the free-takers looks even enough; Colin Ryan has been pretty much faultless all year, while Pat Horgan is just as accurate from the placed ball.

Likewise, both goalkeepers are pretty sound, albeit that Anthony Nash has looked to the manor born with his shot-stopping, play-making and long range free-taking and another good display in the final should edge him closer to a second successive All Star.

Physically, there won’t be too many hits, aerial duels or thunderous exchanges. Instead, we’ll see the ball dart from stick to stick, on occasion float directly into the respective full forward line and we’ll see plenty of forwards reverting back to midfield and breaking en masse to support their attack.

And now for the reasons we think Cork will actually win:  They won the tactical battle last time out by placing Brian Murphy on Tony Kelly and taking the hurler of the year in waiting out of the game. Since then, Clare have also decided to drop Podge Collins from his corner forward role into the open space around midfield and the half-forward lines. Essentially, he has a free role. We expect Cork to counteract that by placing Conor O’Sullivan on Collins to track him.

 And if Murphy, fit again after a serious injury, can handle Kelly once more, Cork are on their way to powering home to another All-Ireland, possibly the least expected title in their grand and glorious history.

The fact that Clare obliterated Limerick will present them as favourites in many people’s eyes but Limerick didn’t show up that day. In contrast, Cork dug out an entirely epic win over Dublin which possibly swung on a controversial second yellow card handed to Ryan O’Dwyer which left them with 14 men.

That game was physically demanding, as was the Kilkenny game before it, and in those two games they will be mentally strong and resilient.

While Davy Fitzgerald will see this as a huge challenge, to win the tactics battle, the truth is that their wins haven’t been against teams of the quality of Dublin or Kilkenny. Therefore, Cork are more battle hardened.

Yes, Clare have scored eight goals this year while Cork have only managed one and while you get the sense that Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s men will need one today, they also won in 1999 by only scoring one all year. Word from the camp suggests they’ll continue to take their points.

So although Clare have the artillery, the underage success, the fiercely determined manager and two strong candidates for hurler of the year (Kelly) and young hurler of the year (Collins), Cork have the intangible managerial prowess of JBM and the deep analytical insights of Ger Cunningham to guide them.

They have pace all over the team, enough to match Clare. They’ve beaten better teams to get this far and for what it’s worth they have the tradition. We go for them to win.

Verdict: Cork

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