Saturday 25 November 2017

John Mullane: JBM has big tactical call to make ahead of Galway clash

Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Galway counterpart Anthony Cunningham will pit their wits against each other on Sunday
Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Galway counterpart Anthony Cunningham will pit their wits against each other on Sunday

John Mullane

Stick or twist? That's the dilemma facing Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy ahead of next Sunday's All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-final against Galway.

We've heard so much talk about sweeper systems over the last week but not every team wants to adopt this tactic.

The problem is that managers are left with no choice if they come up against a team that's using a sweeper or bringing out a corner forward to play as an auxiliary midfielder.

If you go man to man, you risk leaving space in your full-back line, thereby asking for trouble?

That's exactly what the opposition wants you to do so the answer is to bring out a corner forward and mirror your opponents' tactics.

Waterford experienced this dilemma last Wednesday night in the Munster U21 semi-final.

People in Waterford were wondering why we played a sweeper, but because of the way Clare set-up, we were left with no option.

We didn't want to leave the likes of Shane O'Donnell with space to exploit in our full-back line.

It's taken Cork almost two years to realise that they had to change but now that they have, they appear more than happy with how they are set up.

Their new tactics have given the Rebels real hope that they can push on, beat Galway and reach another All-Ireland semi-final.

At the same time, JBM will wonder if Cork need to play a sweeper against Galway, who tend to opt more for a conventional 15 on 15 approach.

So, do Cork stay with their new system or revert to type?

I suspect they'll stay with the gameplan that served them well in their victories over Wexford and Clare.

Mark Ellis is playing the sweeper role well and Brian Murphy has brought a huge amount of experience to the back line.

Further forward, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy are playing very well as a two-man inside line and Patrick Horgan has found more freedom around the half-forward line.


Aidan Walsh and Bill Cooper are two players who have also benefited from the tweaks, hurling up a storm at wing-back and midfield respectively.

JBM will also have a potential semi-final with Tipperary in the back of his mind.

He knows that if Cork want to take Tipp on, they'll have to play a sweeper.

But Jimmy remains a traditionalist at heart and it wouldn't surprise me either if he goes back to a man on man approach to tackle Galway.

On the flipside, Galway boss Anthony Cunningham will be thinking about adjusting his own formation.

If Cork do play with a sweeper and bring Alan Cadogan out from corner forward around the middle third, perhaps Joe Canning will drift out from the Galway attack.

Anthony will know that Cork are likely to play Ellis in a sweeper role that will also screen any deliveries coming Joe's way.

And with Horgan operating around the 'forty', I'd expect Daithi Burke to pick him up, similar to his role on Kilkenny's Richie Hogan in the Leinster final.

In recent years, Galway have a good record against Cork but they will need big performances from Joe, Cathal Mannion and Cyril Donnellan, who's been in very good form.

Galway need to improve on their Leinster final display because Cork are hitting form at the right time. For me, it's a tentative vote for Cork to advance.

The other quarter-final pits Waterford against Dublin and if a week's a long time in politics, that adage also applies to hurling.

Waterford have lost big provincial games at senior and U21 levels and this is now a massive game for the county.

Dublin represent a potential banana skin for Derek McGrath and his players. It's a challenge they must not take lightly.

They're entering new territory now, starting as favourites in a game of major consequence, but Dublin are experienced and seasoned campaigners.

Waterford won't need reminding either that Dublin relegated them to Division 1B in 2014 and the Dubs went into last year's championship as Leinster cha mpions and came within an ace of an All-Ireland final in 2013.

It's a mammoth test for Waterford and Dublin's line-up will make for interesting reading. One big question is will Peter Kelly return in defence?

There's plenty at stake but I'm backing Waterford to shade a tight encounter, and set up a big semi-final with Kilkenny.

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