Sunday 26 January 2020

Semi-final stats leave Cody and O'Shea with much to ponder

Cork have no excuses - they were second best every step of the way, writes Jamesie O'Connor

Seamus Callanan, Tipperary, celerates after scoring his side's first goal.
Seamus Callanan, Tipperary, celerates after scoring his side's first goal.
Patrick Maher, Tipperary, in action against Shane O'Neill, Cork.

Jamesie O'Connor

There are, or so we're told, lies, damned lies and statistics. But the truth is that the stats don't lie. Whether it was the shots-to-scores ratio, the hook, block and tackle count, the number of possessions, or that ultimate statistic on the scoreboard, Tipperary outshone Cork in every category that mattered last weekend.

I sat down last week with the remote control to watch the match again. It was an interesting exercise and having attended, and taken notes at, all of Cork's previous matches, here are some observations:

1: I'm not convinced that the five-week break from the Munster final is a valid excuse for Cork's performance. They actually got off to the perfect start last Sunday, with a point from Alan Cadogan inside the first 30 seconds. They failed to build on it though, and it took them a further 10 minutes to put their next score on the board.

That Cork had a ropey start shouldn't have been a surprise. In their previous four championship matches, after 10 to 12 minutes, they have trailed 5-2, 3-2, 5-3 and 5-2, to Waterford twice, Clare and Limerick respectively. Only once, against Clare, have they scored more than twice in the first 10 minutes and only in the replay with Waterford have they been ahead at the 20-minute mark. That they were relatively slow out of the blocks last Sunday wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

2: Tipperary's first three scores, including Seamus Callanan's goal, were the result of unforced errors by Cork players - a dropped catch, an overhit pass and a lost possession in their own half of the field - things which are very hard for a manager to legislate for.

3: Cork had nine wides in the opening half. The corresponding figures for their earlier matches were two in the drawn game with Waterford; six in the replay, four in the Clare match and three in the Munster final versus Limerick. Some of those misses can be attributed to the pressure Tipperary put them under. But for a side that has averaged almost 28 points per championship game in 2014, to amass half that total shows how below par their performance was.

4: Midfielder Daniel Kearney had more possessions than any other Cork player, but this was an area that Cork's expected dominance never materialised. Because Cork wanted Mark Ellis to sit deep and protect his full-back line - a role he played quite well, making a couple of critical interventions - responsibility for picking up his man seemed to lie with Kearney. That might have been possible, if Tipperary had co-operated and launched puck-out after puck-out into the Cork half-back line and normal landing areas where Kearney positioned himself. However, by going short, Tipperary were able to get their two midfielders on the ball time and time again. Tactically, they completely outsmarted their opponents and James Woodlock and Shane McGrath not only had a combined 36 possessions, but also scored six points from play.

5: Darren Gleeson hit 10 short puck-outs in the first half alone. Short in the sense that he was trying to pick out a Tipperary player on his own side of midfield, rather than driving the ball as far as he could. Not one of these was picked off or intercepted by a Cork player, which is very hard to fathom.

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6: Bypassing the Cork half-back line meant that Tipperary were able to pepper Callanan with high ball in that first half. Considering the inches he was conceding, Shane O'Neill actually did quite well. The fact that by the end of the game, he and his colleague in the full-back line, Stephen McDonnell, were on the ball more often than any other player apart from Kearney, tells you the pressure Cork's inside line were under.

7: Trailing by two at half-time, despite playing so poorly, Cork were still only four points behind with 25 minutes left. They trailed Waterford by nine at the same stage in the Munster championship. The second goal a minute later took the game out of reach.

8: Cork scored just four times in the second half, a paltry 1-3, with the goal coming in what the Americans call garbage time. But because Cork were chasing the game, and struggling to make any inroads up front, they were going for goals from a long way out.

9: The two goals Tipperary scored, one in each half, were both well taken by Callanan. But there were at least four other occasions when they had opportunities that could have resulted in clearcut goal chances had their execution been better.

10: Of Tipperary's 2-18 total, 2-17 came from play, indicative of the fluency that has returned to their game. Yet, three of their starting forwards failed to get their names on the scoresheet. Not that that will unduly worry Eamon O'Shea, given how hard both Gearóid Ryan and Bonner Maher worked. Only Lar Corbett's contribution, and to a lesser extent Noel McGrath's, failed to reach the required standard.

Tipperary's win sets up a truly intriguing final given the history between the teams. On one hand, Kilkenny may feel that they have Tipp's number, but having inflicted so much pain, they are facing an opponent burning to turn them over. It also changes the dynamic, because having lost to Cork last year, Kilkenny now go from being the hunter to the hunted, with Tipp rather than the Rebels in the opposite corner.

Unlike Cork, however, Kilkenny will bring the type of aggression and intensity needed to win big matches in Croke Park.

It's also worthwhile noting that while Limerick have been rightly lauded for the bravery and courage they showed in the first semi-final a fortnight ago, Kilkenny matched them every step of the way. The news as well that Richie Power hit 1-13 for Carrickshock in a club game last weekend, won't have Eamon O'Shea sleeping any easier in his bed either, given that while James Barry was again solid as a rock at full-back, he's still relatively inexperienced.

Much to ponder so, for both managers. Roll on September 7.

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