Thursday 19 September 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Cody's failure to adjust puck-out strategy after red card plays into Premier hands'

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody during the match. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody during the match. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

When teeing up the All-Ireland final I noted how strong Kilkenny would be under their long puck-outs, but it's a lot harder to execute a system once you're shocked to the core.

Their inability to adjust their style meant that from the moment Richie Hogan walked, this game was only going one way. But here's the thing: people looked at the before-and-after of that red and assumed it was the only reason for Tipp running riot. They outscored Kilkenny 2-17 to 0-10 after Hogan was dismissed but the truth is the tide had turned before that. Without the red card, I think Tipp would have won by seven or eight. With it, that became 14.

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For much of the first half, it was all going to plan for the Cats. Their half-forwards were tracking back, they were winning one-on-one battles and Tipp looked a bit jumpy. Brian Hogan was exceptional on Tipperary's short puck-outs but they were failing to work it out from there and often got turned over.

But when Niall O'Mara hit that goal after 25 minutes, everything changed. Tipperary got into their stride and suddenly the ball was whizzing around the pitch shoulder-high. When that happens, there's only going to be one result - as we saw all summer.

Shortly before the sending-off Tommy Dunne went in and gave an instruction for Séamus Kennedy to switch with Paudie Maher, with Maher put on Walter Walsh who, until then, was hugely effective. But Maher caught the first puck-out after that switch and set up a point. It was the start of the death knell for Kilkenny. Liam Sheedy put the right strategy in place to fix the issue and it shut them down. From there, it was a matter of time before Tipp got across the line.

As for the sending-off, there's no getting around it: Richie Hogan elbowed him and while that's not his style, he got caught in the heat of the moment and it was a definite red - no question.

But Kilkenny's big mistake was an inability or unwillingness to change once they were down to 14. They hit two short puck-outs after and won both, and went long 23 times, winning just five. That meant they retained just 28 per cent of subsequent puck-outs.

Tipp went short eight times and won all of them, and went long four times, winning three - retaining 92 per cent after the red card. Kilkenny allowed Tipperary the fuel to play by letting them go short and that was the effect of the spare man.

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But a puck-out strategy isn't a one-man show and while Brian Hogan made all the right decisions, everyone out the field also knew what to do. They spoke about avoiding what Wexford did with the spare man (by not using him on puck-outs). Cathal Barrett stayed wide on puck-outs, Noel McGrath took two or three short and Ronan Maher took it a few times at full-back. As I mentioned before, he's the ideal man to get it there because he can hit it 100 yards with accuracy. As a result, Tipp's best strikers were getting it and that was the launch pad for their attack.

In contrast, Kilkenny decided to go long and hope to God someone would catch a high ball on the edge of the square which, in truth, was never going to happen. When you're a man down you have to run the ball through your own 45 but as we know from the past, Kilkenny don't run the ball like Wexford.

The problem is, it's tough to completely change your style in the middle of an All-Ireland final. They stuck to what they know, but Cathal Barrett gave an absolute exhibition playing sweeper. He never got caught under the high ball and was always there to pick up the breaks, letting everybody do their job out front with Ronan Maher, Séamus Kennedy and Barry Heffernan able to attack the puck-outs.

It was an exhibition of high fielding and they knew Cathal was behind them if they went long - the back line was in total sync and Kilkenny played right into their hands.

All those lads have an unbelievable skill set in the air and when they come down they have the pace and power to march up the field.

Once they had that their hurling ability absolutely took over. Tipperary gave a master class of how to play the sport in the second half - what every youngster imagines when they're dreaming at night. Heffernan, the Maher brothers and Kennedy were all catching balls out of the clouds. It was the perfect performance.

They showed why they are the best team in the country. They hammered every team in Munster and, while the Munster final was a dip, it was a game that ultimately meant nothing. That might sound harsh on Limerick, but I guarantee none of their players would think twice about swapping it for an All-Ireland medal.

For Tipp, that beating proved a blessing in disguise, showing up frailties they could iron out before the games that mattered most. The turnaround this year has been down to various people: there's the sponsor, Declan Kelly, the county board, the support staff and everybody else working away at so many levels, getting it right for Tipperary hurling.

But the man at the top of the whole chain is Liam Sheedy, a guy the players believe in 100pc. He sets the culture, he set the tone and that, above all, is the reason they have another All-Ireland.

Irish Independent

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