Saturday 7 December 2019

Three questions facing Cork this weekend ahead of Mayo clash

Aidan Walsh will be a key figure in the midfield battle against Mayo in Sunday's All-Ireland football quarter-final
Aidan Walsh will be a key figure in the midfield battle against Mayo in Sunday's All-Ireland football quarter-final

Declan Whooley

Cork take on Mayo for a place in an All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday and Brain Cuthbert has plenty to ponder on what has been a topsy-turvy season thus far.

Who will partner Aidan Walsh in the midfield battle?

So often an area of strength for the Rebels, midfield has quickly become a problem area for Cuthbert’s team. The value of Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor has been highlighted by their absences this year, while aside from the late cameo against Tipperary, Aidan Walsh has been in better form for the hurlers.

Ruairi Deane has succumbed to two knee injury problems this year while Andrew O’Sullivan struggled badly against Kerry and has subsequently left the panel, "on his own call" according to Cuthbert. Fintan Goold has been moved from his more customary position in the half-forward line to add to the options in the middle of the park.

Ian Maguire was surprisingly given his first championship start against Sligo after not appearing during the league and was busy throughout, including one fine score in the first half. Can Cork rely on a teenager against one of the most formidable partnerships in the O’Shea brothers?

Stephen Cluxton has changed not only the goalkeeping landscape, but also for those around the middle, but failure to claim primary possession is still as important as ever. Goold and Walsh are the likely starting pair but whatever duo line up for Cork, a steady improvement is needed if the Munster finalists are to have any chance of progressing.

How defensive can Cork afford to play?

After early season form full of attacking football, the nature of the defeats to Dublin in the National League semi-final and the Kingdom in the Munster Final has had a huge impact on the Cork game plan.

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Mark Collins and Colm O’Driscoll retreated from their half-forward line and dropped into defence when Sligo were in possession, while Brian Hurley was as far away from goals as he has ever been in a red jersey. The question is whether Cork can afford to be so defensive minded against Mayo?

Hurley is one of the most lethal finishers in the game, and along with Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan have the firepower that can cause serious damage. It could be argued that the Cork forward division contains more scoring threats than their opposition on Sunday, but Cuthbert may feel inclined to withdraw a number of his players to protect their rear guard. If O’Driscoll retreats deep again on Sunday, will this invite even more trouble with wing-back Lee Keegan in such a rich vein of form?

Such a game plan worked fine against Sligo, it may be a tall order against the All-Ireland finalists of 2013 and 2014.

Can defensive frailties be reduced?

The defence has been tinkered with considerably, little surprise given the ease at which Dublin, Tipperary and Kerry glided through for scores this year.

Sligo offered less cutting thrust up front, but it is a worry for Rebel supporters that the number three and six jerseys have both been handed to a number of different players, while the wing-backs have been chopped and changed continuously also.

Michael Shields and Eoin Cadogan have not been at their best and they too have been switched around in front of Ken O’Halloran, while Noel Galvin may be given the unenviable task of picking up the prolific Cillian O’Connor.

Brian O’Driscoll acquitted himself well on his first championship start against Mayo, but the defensive strategy that is expected to be employed against James Horan side is as a result of a defence that has looked porous at times.

The half-forward line will most likely drop deeper and Walsh’s midfield partner will be more disciplined than the marauding Kanturk man.


Log on to tomorrow as we bring you three questions Mayo must answer in their bid to make the semi-final

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