Saturday 16 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Cork's clumsy attempt to go modern only leads to deep embarrassment

Attempt to follow sweeper trend leaves Cork with egg on their faces

Cork’s designated ‘sweeper’ for the day William Egan tussles with John McGrath of Tipperary during Sunday’s Munster SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium. STEPHEN McCARTHY / SPORTSFILE
Cork’s designated ‘sweeper’ for the day William Egan tussles with John McGrath of Tipperary during Sunday’s Munster SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium. STEPHEN McCARTHY / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If you're going to follow the crowd - or at least the 'in' gang - make sure they know where they are going.

Otherwise, you could end up like Cork hurlers last Sunday when their clumsy attempt to go all modern led them deep into embarrassment. If ever there was a perfect example of the folly in trying to imitate others, this was it.

William Egan, named at midfield, was handed a sweeping brush and told to go busy himself around the full-back line, especially targeting the area close to where Damien Cahalane was trying to prevent Seamus Callanan from dismantling Cork's defensive barriers. With the memory of the two Clare v Waterford Allianz League finals, complete with traffic jams and bottlenecks, still fresh in everyone's mind, it was as if Cork decided they needed to be part of the cool gang. Look, we can play seven defenders too!

There was no need for it, not last Sunday anyway, since Tipperary would have been happy to go man-for-man in a straight formation. Whatever hope Cork had of surviving in a traditional shoot-out, they had little chance with a system which clearly doesn't suit their type of players.

Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane, Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan are four high-class forwards, yet only Cadogan did well all through. Horgan was replaced, Lehane hardly touched the ball in the first half and Harnedy threatened only sporadically.

Clare and Waterford have a different type of forward to Cork, players who thrive in carrying heavy loads and grafting all the over the pitch.

It doesn't make them better than Cork but it does make them different - hence the game-plan that has been devised to accommodate their talents.

Cork have more natural finishers, yet their set-up didn't reflect that. Instead, five forwards were up against six Tipp backs, with little or no support coming through from further out. In fact, the ball supply was erratic and inaccurate. Presumably, Cork deployed a 'sweeper' in an attempt to reduce a concession rate that averaged 1-24 in their previous 12 games. Granted, that was unacceptably high but on the attacking front, they averaged almost 1-21, so they had positives to work on.

Sure, they had defensive problems but their attempted solution backfired. By half-time, they had conceded 0-14 (right on track for their average concession over the last 15 months) but had scored only five points.

By the end, they had hit 0-13, their lowest in the championship since the strife-torn 2002 season when they returned 1-9 against Galway.

In effect, Cork tried to copy others last Sunday and failed miserably because it didn't suit them. Not only was there no improvement defensively during the period when the outcome was decided, the attacking side of their game was irretrievably damaged. It's unlikely they would have won even if they had remained true to their own instincts as Tipperary are better at present but at least it would have left Cork losing on their merits rather than off a borrowed routine that backfired.

Crucially, it would have left them better placed for the qualifier re-launch. Instead, they are trapped in confusion, having abandoned their own methods, only to find that the imported version bombed.

The moral of the story is this: play your own game and don't copy others. By all means, try something different but make sure it's your own plan, devised with your players specifically in mind.

However,we live in a copycat age where the last 'big idea' is usually seen as the best. It has applied in football for quite some time and is now spreading to hurling. So if Clare or Waterford win this year's All-Ireland, stand by for 20 players jammed around midfield in your local junior club game next season.


Speaking about Clare's tactical approach this week, Galway's David Collins said that it's "something we're going to have to learn to deal with.

"If you look at the All-Ireland final, in the second half, Kilkenny dropped back two men and we weren't able to counteract it. So we have to learn how to deal with that and counteract it, management and players alike."

Mixing metaphors, that's a case of when you're counteracting, you're losing! Surely the aim should be to force others to counteract you.

Cork's experience last Sunday illustrates the case. Everyone knew that Egan would be used as a sweeper so it took no great tactical science by Tipperary to plan for it.

What Cork needed was something fresh and inventive that would surprise Tipperary. It wasn't there and Tipp danced to an easy win.

Others - in both hurling and football - would be well-advised to heed the lesson. Be yourselves but do it differently.

Tipp will need to scratch 50-year itch

It may well be a matter of complete indifference to Tipperary after very solid looking Championship foundations were laid last Sunday, but here's a reminder anyway.

When Kerry are removed from the equation (and with respect to the Kingdom, they aren't on a par with any of their neighbours) no county has claimed the All-Ireland from a Round 1 win in the Munster Championship for 50 years.

That was Cork who beat Clare (replay), Limerick and Waterford to win the 1966 Munster title and followed up with an All-Ireland win over Kilkenny.

Cork in 1990 and Clare in '97 later won the All-Ireland from Round 1 in Munster but in both cases Kerry provided the opposition in the opening game, making it no more than a practice fence.

Tipperary, who needed to be fully tuned for last Sunday in case Cork hit a good day, have a four-week wait for the clash with Limerick and, if they win there, a further three-week gap before the final, which is five weeks before the All-Ireland semi-final. It's all very drawn out and difficult to calibrate from a training viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Cork won't be in action again until July 2. The Round 2 qualifiers are a week later, followed by a two-week break to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. It's easier to wrap a campaign around that timescale that what Tipperary may be facing.

Tipperary won the 2010 All-Ireland after losing the first round to Cork; the question now is whether they can achieve something that has eluded all Munster teams for 50 years?

The stop-go nature of the season will be no help.

Tipperary still have to beat two top contenders to reach the All-Ireland semi-final, while Cork can get there with three wins, one against weaker Leinster opposition.

It doesn't seem like the fairest of deals.

Irish Independent

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