Twenty-four hours and the dust is starting to settle on an epic opening Munster SHC encounter between reigning All Ireland Champions Tipperary and underdogs Cork. 56 scores in total tells it own story as both sides abandoned (for the most part) the much despised sweeper system to serve up an open, exhilarating contest. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and sees issues not only in the Tipperary defensive for Michael Ryan to contend with.
Cork freshness key
When Cork management announced the team to face Tipperary last week, a couple of personnel changes made hurling fans sit up and take note. The decision to go with youth, the decision to go with players in form, the decision to drop established players was a high risk strategy. On another day, it could have had backfired disastrously but for Kingston and management, it worked like a charm as the team produced a performance which was not expected from some quarters.
Why should we have being so surprised? Cork had accounted for Tipperary in the NHL 1A last month, a result which was at the time put down to Cork wanting it more to stave off the relegation threat. The NHL fixture was in many respects identical to the manner in which the championship fixture was played in that Cork imposed a fast tempo from the first whistle, excellent puckout strategy from Nash to the likes of Luke Meade and Conor Lehane and the willingness of the Cork midfield to make searing runs from deep creating the overlap for a player in a better position to score in attack.
Cork Rookies deliver
The manner in which Cork’s midfield and half-forward line performed yesterday was a testament to their conditioning. They were on form from the first whistle and the pace / speed factor was a no contest. Several players caught the eye yesterday. Luke Meade and Shane Kingston were unerring in their championship debut cameos, providing pace and precision throughout. Lehane’s contribution from frees and open play caused Tipperary endless issues. Pa Horgan imposed his influence on proceedings with four neat points. Harnedy chipped in with a couple of key scores in both halfs and took the leadership mantle to run at the Tipperary back line along with the impressive Lehane.
The midfield and half-back line performances were immense. Cooper and Fitzgibbon in particular ran Brendan Maher out of the contest. Coleman, Joyce and Spillane dominated defensively but were also ably assisted by the likes of Cahalane who did not give Callanan any space throughout from full back.
This is the blueprint for future Cork performances. The consistency levels in performance will be interesting to note as the summer progresses particularly with Waterford looming large in two weeks. Cork cannot let this result get to their heads; the supporters reaction was unbridled joy but it was only the opening round of the provincial championship. A loss to Waterford and a tough qualifier route would then beckon. Cork need to push on now and ensure that this performance was not a flash in the pan.
This was the most obvious failing from Tipperary on the day. As Anthony Nash was consistently identifying players in space and varying his delivery, Tipperary were simply bereft of ideas on the puckouts. Darren Gleeson option was to launch deep at very opportunity. With a half-forward line minus the services of Bonnar Maher, the Cork half-back line reveled in the predictable delivery either winning ball clean or the second ball where Cooper and Fitzgibbon collected and consistently ran with the ball from deep.
Tipperary’s puckout strategy lacked any invention or creativity to change the course of this contest. No variation and not once did a half-back line player look for a quick puckout in order to bypass a dominant Cork half-back line unit. Cork effectively snuffed out the space and in the second half starting to drift players back on the Tipperary puckout to offset the threat of O’Dwyer who was the only player for the Tipp half forward line who looked to make an impact. Breen from midfield scoring six points from play caught the eye. Either side of those players, all other Tipperary players struggled for performance on the day.
McCormick may have scored three points but aerially was routed throughout. Curran at half-forward lacked physicality and aggressiveness to effectively compete with the likes of Coleman and Ellis. Gleeson cannot take all the blame but the puckout strategy / player movement into space from both sides was a pivotal fact from which the result was created.
Lethargic or Burned Out Tipperary?
A team does not become a bad one overnight. Prior to the NHL final against Galway, this Tipperary side looked to have all the attributes to seriously retain this championship. It is still early in the season and Tipperary should restore confidence in the qualifiers come July but the fixture schedule from both a county (club) / intercounty perspective has caught up with several players.
The third level players on duty for Tipperary lacked spark yesterday apart from Michael Breen. Ronan Maher looked incredibly sluggish yesterday. Cork were pacy but Maher has being able to contend with this type of threat before? Are his exertions with Mary Immaculate earlier in the year, several club league and championship games with Thurles Sarsfields and the fixture list in March / April for the county taking a toll? The same could be levelled at the likes of John McGrath. He scored 1-1 but was off the pitch of the game for long periods.
The lack of work rate and tempo will have most disheartened Michael Ryan yesterday in the forward line. Tipperary last season were tigerish in open play with or without the ball. This season, that hunger and tempo has being missing particularly in the last two games. The work rate and tempo without the ball starts in the forward line and to be honest, Tipperary’s half-forward and full-forward lines lacked the work rate required. Cork defensively were not troubled as they passed their way out of defense repeatedly with no significant pressure applied by their hosts. No wonder the Tipperary back line were struggling with the ball coming in?
The half forward line was a mess from start to finish. Bonnar Maher’s loss was devastating; he sets the tone and work rate levels. His ability to provide for others was also missed albeit O’Dwyer tried to play that role particularly in the opening period. Noel McGrath scored three points but was absent for long periods.
Apart from the splendid John McGrath goal, there was a distinct lack of cohesion to Tipperary’s attacking moves for the majority of this contest. 1-26 would not suggest that but the majority of the scores came from individual brilliance more so than players selflessly running off the ball to create space for others. Tipperary will point to the goal chances spurned, fair point but it was indicative of the performance in recent weeks that they failed to convert; not precise enough. The team look burned out currently; devoid of creativity as a result. Time to reflect and come back strong in July.
Tipperary Defensive Woes
The loss yesterday highlighted a lack of depth in the defensive positions. Injuries to the likes of Michael Cahill, Donagh Maher resulted in fringe players getting game time. John O’Keefe had a torrid afternoon, not helped by the performance of his colleagues up the field. Horgan, Harnedy were dominant throughout inside.
The injury to Barrett in the final quarter was the final nail in the coffin. Barrett was holding the line at the seams but when he went off injured, James Barry felt that he needed to try to win the first ball. No confidence in his colleagues was apparent and it manifested itself in the Cahalane goal to seal the Cork victory. Barry is usually an excellent game reader but his decision to go for a ball even though O’Keefe was contesting it was very unusual. The ball slipped through the cover and the net rippled soon after. It is an area where Tipperary corner back options need to be identified quickly.
The half-back line as well had torrid afternoons. Ronan Maher was sluggish throughout and the amount of ball coming into the Cork full forward line at times was the ability of Cork to move the Thurles Sarsfields man around the pitch. Padraic Maher attempted to stem the flow but again was exposed on several occasions due to Cork half-forward line movement and communication defensive breakdowns. John Kennedy was average at best; was constantly on the back foot throughout and struggling to cope with the Cork speed and pace on show.
Michael Ryan will react to this loss; expect panel additions in the coming weeks particularly defensively as he looks for players with genuine form to come in and fill the breach.
Superb Munster Championship Opener
A great advertisement for the Munster SHC. 2-27 to 1-26 is a magnificent scoreline. The powers that be should leave well alone; retain the Munster SHC and play it out in May and early June along with Leinster SHC. The entertainment value yesterday was sensational.
Mind you, other fixtures may not be as pleasant on the eye with the likes of Clare and Waterford deploying sweeper systems probably this season again. It has opened up the Munster SHC for sure.
There are four teams who have now a realistic shot of winning the crown. Limerick come into the equation due to their challenge displays against Cork in recent weeks. The form line of Cork must bode well for John Kiely’s charges. Clare are looking good as well with competitive challenge games over Galway in recent weeks. Waterford should come into the championship all guns blazing.
For Cork to win this championship, it will be an immense feat. Three potential arduous fixtures to win the crown and potentially could take plenty out of them as the All Ireland Series commences later in the summer. Tipperary’s elimination from the championship could be a blessing for the Premier County (flashes of 2010), recharge the batteries and slowly restore confidence in the camp ahead of a potential All Ireland Quarter Final fixture.