Thursday 24 October 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Cork have taught Limerick important lesson that they will need to take on board'


Kiely: Won’t have to do much to motivate his team for Waterford game. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kiely: Won’t have to do much to motivate his team for Waterford game. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

It's the disaster waiting to happen: first day out, in front of a home crowd, with expectation through the roof - you're on a hiding to nothing.

Even still, it was surprising how Limerick's All-Ireland-winning system was so surgically taken apart by Cork. There were good reasons, of course - some staring straight at you, others that were harder to see.

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The most obvious was that Limerick just weren't battle-hardened. They hammered Waterford in the league final seven weeks earlier and, as much as you convince yourself about 15-on-15 games in training, there's no way to recreate the storm they walked into at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.

But credit Cork: they learned from the previous weekend. Cork's 10, 11 and 12 were way too far up the pitch against Tipperary and they knew if they did the same against Limerick they'd be killed.

They played three up front - Aidan Walsh on the edge of the D, two inside the penalty area - and everybody else went behind the ball. When Limerick had possession, Cork had at least nine bodies between their 45 and 65 and Limerick could not break them down: they didn't know what to do.

They didn't want to go long over the top because when they tried it, it bounced out wide and you could see the frustration growing - Cian Lynch eventually trying to break tackles, wading into a red sea.

Limerick's typical approach is for Declan Hannon to sit but on Sunday he was forced to move up the pitch to try influence the game because of Cork's dominance in the middle third.

When he did he left acres of space and it was three-on-three inside - the Cork full-forward line went to town on that. For periods of the game Patrick Horgan stood as a centre-forward and Limerick didn't know what to do with him: they were pulled all over the place.

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In a strange way Conor Lehane going off actually helped Cork because when Alan Cadogan came in and they had Aidan Walsh as an anchor, they became a better team.

Walsh's athleticism and ability to win possession was pivotal.

There were other little things - they all added up. Limerick didn't push up on the Cork puck-outs as much as Tipperary did so when Cork were in trouble, they always had that platform to play off by going short.

Limerick's ball delivery also wasn't up to scratch. They usually play it in at an angle to an area in line with the edge of the netting behind the goals: Aaron Gillane starts inside and runs out, but he couldn't get on ball like that on Sunday.

They used too many straight balls, trying to play down the middle when they should have tried to play more on the flanks.

Tom Morrissey and Gearóid Hegarty also struggled when the Cork half-forward line came back and crowded their space and, in the end, that was how Limerick were taken down: they got swamped between the 45 and 65 on the Cork half of the pitch.

But the champions have no need to panic. I still think they'll get out of Munster. John Kiely won't have to do a lot of talking because whatever is inside this team will come out on Sunday week. They'll take the door off the hinges coming out in Walsh Park, playing with the anger that was missing on Sunday.

It's hard to see them faltering again given the disarray in Waterford, a team with a lot of soul-searching to do.

The one plus for Paraic Fanning is he can line his players up with their backs to the wall this week and say: 'Right lads, the only place to go from here is forward.'

Tactically, Waterford need to decide whether they're going with a sweeper or not and they need more clearly-defined roles around the pitch.

The loss of form by the Bennetts, especially Stephen, is a concern, though that's not only down to him.

Tipp hammered Waterford because Noel McGrath, Padraic Maher and Ronan Maher put the ball in at an angle in front of the forward.

In contrast, Kevin Moran, Tadhg de Búrca, Tommy Ryan and Jamie Barron put the ball in straight and not to the side of the forward. That made Waterford a worse team by seven or eight points, but they'll be better overnight if they can fix it.

They're not a bad team, just lacking confidence, and they have a chance of beating Limerick if they set clearly-defined roles. If not, they're looking at more of the same.

In Leinster, Davy Fitz will have mixed emotions this week. He'll be relieved Wexford put themselves in a position to beat Dublin with that 2-4 to 0-1 scoring run in the second half, but the late goal will gnaw away at him.

You'd expect Wexford to beat Carlow and if they lose to Galway and Kilkenny, the key could be to make sure they're not beaten by much.

Score difference could prove vital, a reminder as we look ahead that, at this level, success and failure hinges on the finest of margins.

Irish Independent

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