Tuesday 20 February 2018

John Mullane: Cork can still turn it around if they implement these five key changes

Patrick Horgan found the going tough in the full-forward line against Noel Connors of Waterford but he could be a very different proposition at centre half-forward STEPHEN McCARTHY/SPORTSFILE
Patrick Horgan found the going tough in the full-forward line against Noel Connors of Waterford but he could be a very different proposition at centre half-forward STEPHEN McCARTHY/SPORTSFILE
Tipp boss Eamon O'Shea

John Mullane

Cork suffered a demoralising Munster semi-final defeat against Waterford but their season is far from over.

Massive changes are required, however, if the Rebels want to emerge as a genuine force through the back door.

I still believe they can have a big say and here are five ways to do it ...

1. Move Patrick Horgan out to centre-forward

Patrick Horgan needs a new challenge. He was completely blotted out by Tipperary's Cathal Barrett in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and in their last two big games, Horgan was nullifed by Waterford corner-back Noel Connors.

When Davy Fitzgerald was in charge, I benefited from a move to centre-forward. I was viewed as a natural corner-forward but switching to number 11 provided me with a new lease of life.

Horgan struggles against fast corner-backs but is tailor-made for a central position in the half-forward line, where he can become the fulcrum of the Cork attack.

Picking up loose ball, he's a great long-range striker and could fulfil a role similar to Noel McGrath in Tipperary.

2. Show more tactical nous

Cork have to move with the times.

We've seen that the traditional 15-on-15 approach just doesn't work in the modern game any more.

It failed them in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, again last year against Tipperary and twice already in 2015, in the league final against Waterford and the Munster semi-final.

Cork need more tactical nous about them and it's curious to note that their senior team appears to be the only one that lacks it.

Their minors are very well-organised and play to a system, as do their U-21s, who will present formidable opposition for Waterford this week.

We also saw the Cork camogie team getting the job done last year by playing to a system.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy is set in traditional ways but that approach died a long time ago.

Cork have played six big finals since 2010, including Munster, league and All-Ireland deciders, and won just one (last year's Munster final).

If you've had a series of setbacks like that, the only answer is to go with new personnel, on and off the pitch.

Cork need somebody like Dónal Óg Cusack in their backroom team.

There may be some history there but we've seen how good Dónal Óg is on 'The Sunday Game' and he would bring a huge degree of tactical awareness to a stale Cork set-up.

3. Blood new players

I've heard a tired, lazy argument trotted out that Cork don't have new players to come in.

From watching their underage teams, I can name eight - goalkeeper Patrick Collins, David Noonan, Kieran Histon, Richard Cahalane, Anthony Spillane, Dwayne Lee, Niall Cashman and minor sensation Shane Kingston, unfortunately ruled out for the season through injury.

These are players who can change the dynamic of Cork hurling into the future, and some of them are ready to make an impact now.

4. Get back key players from injury and shuffle the pack

The return of Seamus Harnedy and Lorcán McLoughlin will strengthen Cork but they need to rework the forward line.

I've already mentioned Patrick Horgan to centre-forward and I would deploy Harnedy and a revitalised Pa Cronin as a two-man full-forward line.

Bring Eoin Cadogan out as a roving third midfielder, picking up breaking ball and feeding it inside.

I'd have Horgan, Bill Cooper and Dwayne Lee in the half-forward line, with Richard Cahalane providing a badly-needed injection of power into midfield.

5. Get them fitter in order to match their rivals

Do Cork possess the same fitness levels as Waterford, who are now the benchmark in this regard? The answer is no.

What I want to see from Cork players are high levels of pace, power, aggression and staying power but they don't seem to have a bench to call upon either.

That doesn't enable them to go the Waterford route, with players ready to come in the final 20 minutes to finish the job.

If Cork are to push on and challenge for All-Ireland honours, they have to get up to the levels required.

Tipperary to smash Limerick hoodoo at the Gaelic Grounds

At the start of the summer, I picked Tipperary to win Munster and go on to claim the All-Ireland title.

I'm sticking by that claim and if any team does manage to beat them along the way, they'll be the ones lifting the provincial title and Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The return of Noel McGrath, albeit it in a limited capacity, is a major boost to the Tipp camp.

And complacency will not be their enemy against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds next Sunday.

Tipp will be tuned in, they'll relish the opportunity of going into the lion's den but they'll meet a Limerick team with a massive following.

You could see as many as 30,000 fans cheering on the home team.

But Tipp should still have enough to get the job done with two or three points to spare and if they do, it will send out one hell of a statement.

Huge question marks will emerge if they don't and as we've seen over the past two seasons, Limerick have absolutely no fear of their neighbours.

The fact that Limerick have beaten Clare is a huge plus for them and the overwhelming trend is for Munster quarter-final winners to clear the next fence.

That, in its own right, is an indication of a huge task facing Tipperary and it's incredible to think that their manager Eamon O'Shea has not won a Munster Championship game yet.

Tipp have more to lose than Limerick. They won't want to go through the back door again, even though it brought them to September last year.

The key battle will take place on the edge of the Limerick square, with full-back Richie McCarthy against Seamus Callanan.

There's a perception out there that McCarthy is there for the taking but nobody's cleaned him out yet and that shows you how good a full-back Richie is.

At the other end of the pitch, James Barry against Limerick full-forward Shane Dowling is another key match-up.

Tipp should be buoyed by the expected return of corner-backs Cathal Barrett and Michael Cahill, if both men are fit.

Even though he lost his starting place at the end of last year, if Cahill is fit I'd have him in the team every day of the week.

That leaves Tipp with the option of moving Paddy Stapleton to wing-back but both teams have very good options.

Seanie O'Brien and Cian Lynch have brought a new freshness to Limerick, who I expect to play with more freedom this time, having been forced down a tactical route against Clare.

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