Sunday 18 August 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'To avoid playing into Kilkenny's hands, Premier must be brave with puck-outs'


Brian Hogan of Tipperary
Brian Hogan of Tipperary
Tipperary hurling goalkeeper Brian Hogan. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Your first All-Ireland final can be a daunting engagement and, as I know only too well, against Kilkenny, restarts are always key. Brian Hogan, at only 23, has shown an ability to vary his striking this season and for Tipperary, this could be the key to unlocking their opponents on Sunday.

With a dad like his - Ken was in goals when Tipp beat Kilkenny in the '91 final - Brian will be primed for this.

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The game could well hinge on his decision-making because to beat Kilkenny, you have to avoid the style of play that suits them. On Tipperary puck-outs, I'd be willing to bet the Cats will dare Tipp to go to numbers five and seven.

For Tipp to give their forward line space in which to work, they need to ensure Kilkenny's 10 and 12 stay as close to their five and seven as possible. Fortune favours the brave on puck-outs and, if I was Hogan, I'd play a few to five and seven in order to keep Walter Walsh, John Donnelly and TJ Reid honest - not allowing them to drop too far back.

Against Kilkenny, I'd much rather five and seven got it than the two and four. You only have to remember what Kilkenny did to Limerick for an explanation. If you take the puck-out on your own 21, you've more than 40 yards to get to your own 65 and against Kilkenny that's too far - they're too big and strong and they'll suffocate you.

The first 15 minutes of the Limerick match was like the beach landing in 'Saving Private Ryan' with bodies falling all over the place.

An arm-wrestle is exactly what Kilkenny want. Tipp, though, want a free-flowing game and the key to that will be a fast start. If they get it, they can open Kilkenny up.

Tipp want a repeat of the final they drew against Kilkenny in 2014. It was an open game with lots of goal chances, one-on-ones all over the pitch and plenty of loose ball falling in front of the full-forward line.

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Kilkenny would prefer to run along similar lines to the replay with most players in the middle of the pitch and the whole thing locked down.

If Tipp can look up on their own 65 and ping long, accurate passes, getting one-on-one the way Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan did, that would spell disaster for Brian Cody.

But if Hogan can find five or seven wide on his puck-outs at least 40 yards from goal, it's only a short run to their own 65 which is the golden zone to put the ball in.

The dilemma will be the same for Eoin Murphy, but he has an easier choice. The Tipp half-forwards will be sitting on Kilkenny puck-outs and the Cats will be more comfortable going long to Reid, Walsh and Adrian Mullen than Tipp will be in finding Dan McCormack, Niall O'Meara and whoever is on the other wing.

Tipp don't have the same ball-winners, so they'll try manoeuvre the ball to ground with the hurley, get runners on to it for Noel McGrath and Michael Breen to break on and start punching holes through Kilkenny's half-back line.

The middle third is the winning and losing of most games - win that and you have the platform to get possession to your shooters. If your 10, 11 and 12 can work harder and win more battles than the opposition's half-forward line, it earns the right for your half-backs to sit five or six yards closer to their own goals, which gives protection to your inside line.

But if you're losing that battle, then five, six and seven have to stay out the pitch to engage runners coming down the middle. That kills you because if Colin Fennelly or Séamus Callanan get one-on-one then it's a pull-down, a yellow card and things suddenly get very nervy at the back for either team.

Tipp have a big question mark over who plays full-back and it's a tricky one to solve because Kilkenny will try to exploit that position with high diagonal balls to Fennelly.

Liam Sheedy will commit bodies to the middle third, like Kilkenny, but you have to do it in a sensible manner - the centre-back must sit but he can only do so if duels are being won up the pitch. If you're not, it could be a turkey shoot inside.

In this game, if any forward gets the ball in a central position within 30 yards of goal, they're going for the jugular. We knew it in 2009 and 2010 and both teams will know it on Sunday - an All-Ireland medal can only be won by taking the hard option inside the final third.

The managers, of course, know each other inside out, and Sheedy's approach will have been to prepare every player individually. He's not one-size-fits-all. He'll have identified who's the best person to talk to each player before they go out on Sunday - some need an arm around their shoulder while others, like me, just need to be left alone.

But for all the Tipp players, Patrick 'Bonner' Maher will prove a huge presence in that dressing room. If I'm nervous as the minutes tick away to throw-in, I'm looking at him and remembering how privileged I am to be there, reminding myself that sport is harsh and this chance might never come again. All that matters is now.

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