Splitting the posts: Plans of attack
12:08, 22 Jun 2012
It’s July 10 2011. You’re Munster champions after your two marquee players and reigning All Stars have just scored 6-10 between them. It’s June 24 2012. Neither start.
You’ve just shot forward 351 days — find a Tipperary fan who could have imagined starting their next Páirc Uí Chaoimh clash without Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly. These are two players who are synonymous with Tipperary hurling since the turn of the century. They’ve been the good through the bad and the average, but they’ve always been there; injuries excepted.
Now that they’re not, looking at Tipperary’s forward line (below) begs more questions than it offers answers. It’s commonplace to hearken back to 2010 when Cork won by 10 but let’s look a little closer now that we’ve seen how Declan Ryan has named his team. Brian ‘Buggy’ O’Meara started full-forward then – he didn’t puck a ball. Then, as now, Noel McGrath started in the corner – not a ball did he puck.
Team selections do not always hold when play commences but it seems unusual to start McGrath anywhere except centre-forward — a position Tipperary finally have an answer for after going years without one. He playmakes brilliantly and his most fallow period against Limerick recently was when he was stranded in the corner.
It was a strange move by Ryan, particularly as for centre-forward McGrath averaged five points from play per game during the five rounds of the league. Never mind what he assisted for. Once he came back out the field, Limerick suffered; McGrath scored three and set up another five chances in total.
It’s a given that goals win games. It’s also undoubted that Tipperary have struggled to harvest that vital commodity since Munster last year; just five in six league games this year was a poor show. So why then leave three men — in Corbett, Kelly and Seamus Callanan — on the bench when they scored 13 of the side’s 16 championship games last season. A trio that comprised 66% of Tipp’s scores in the Munster championship last term (62% of Tipp’s total from play) and 60% in the championship overall (45% from play).
It’s all set up for the cavalry to save the day but these selections, along with Tipp’s usual flat starts, are accentuating a problem that does not necessarily need to be there. Now a starting forward knows that if he misses a couple of chances, he has those statistics waiting to replace him. As such, there may, as against Limerick, be incredible pressure on the reinforcements.
Conor O’Brien, who was deemed not good enough by Ryan for the panel a year ago, starts at corner-back this year after relatively sparse game time in the position. Donagh Maher was persisted with throughout the league and now is omitted, when he arguably played no worse than any other member of the full-back line against Limerick. O’Brien may go well but there’s a sense of panic to the change; somewhat like John O’Keeffe virtually falling off the face of the earth since last year’s All-Ireland.
The more you look at it the Tipperary team, the more you question it. Where is the slow, definite transition from league to championship? Where are the specialist corner-forwards and, outside of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, where is the pace in the forwards? The answer: mostly on the bench.
Cork’s team is not exactly as you’d expect it based on the league but there are fewer surprises to it. Pace is certainly one thing they have in abundance against an old foe with far less. Conor Lehane is the big threat while Cathal Naughton has already given Thomas Stapleton trouble in the league; indeed it’s key the Templederry man focuses more on defence than soloing forward.
The selections of Lorcan McLoughlin and Darren Sweetnam at midfield look very positive for Cork because they add yet more pace to the side. McLoughlin was one of the Rebels’ better performers when the sides met in Thurles last season while Sweetnam carries the ball effortlessly. Their battle with Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher is one to savour.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy obviously took note of Eoin Larkin’s physicality troubling Stephen McDonnell in the league final so, with the impressive Buggy in mind, he has put Brian Murphy on the square. Indeed there is the option to put Buggy’s old foe Eoin Cadogan back at three, Murphy on the wing and William Egan at six, should there be trouble in the house.
If we were to go with form, it’s Tipperary who are more likely to need a Plan B; or, as many people call Kelly, Corbett and Callanan: Plan A. The Premier County have earned a reputation for starting games slowly — though this at times happened during Liam Sheedy’s reign — and the Limerick game was the first competitive occasion during Ryan’s tenure in which Tipp have turned a half-time deficit into victory.
But why the flat starts to games? “It’s hard when you’re out on the field to pinpoint what’s going wrong,” says John O’Brien. “That Cork game in the league (semi), we knew afterwards that we weren’t working enough, getting in enough hooks or blocks. You didn’t have to look any farther. The Limerick game, I don’t think it was as bad as people thought but Limerick worked harder. But if we didn’t respond we would have lost that game so you have to look at the positives too.”
In other words, relative to this game, O’Brien knows that if his side are there or thereabouts in the second half, they should have enough in reserve to push through. Cork’s bench has the tested experience of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner but, arguably, Luke O’Farrell is the only game-changer up JBM’s sleeve. Plan A must work for Cork.
It may well do because theirs is a team full of goal potential. Patrick Horgan has become one of the better forwards in the country, while Lehane and Naughton can penetrate from deep. Had Cork put away their early goal chances against Tipp last year, they may have won in Semple Stadium. It might be different this time after the trouble Graeme Mulcahy and Sean Tobin gave Tipp’s full-back line recently.
Though some will still fancy Tipp. Why? Because Paudie Maher is back at seven unlike 2010 and unlike the league semi-final when he was full-back. Because Conor O’Mahony is looking an All Star this year and because John O’Brien will catch ball in enemy territory with Buggy battling beside him.
Others Cork. Because there doesn’t look to be a weak line on the field and they have so much pace. Because Pa Cronin will test O’Mahony to the last and is surrounded by clever forwards.
The bookies see just a point between the sides and, though they’ve gone with Tipperary, no one could confidently predict how this will play out. Cork seem to have a more settled side as Tipp chop and change, continuing to hack away at what 2010 brought — All-Ireland glory rather than Munster misery, of course. Tipp could leave it behind them this year, though not for the first time.
It’s July 28 2007. Michael ‘Babs’ Keating has Brendan Cummins, Shane McGrath and Eoin Kelly sitting behind him during the All-Ireland quarter-final against Wexford. You lose. No Tipperary fan could have imagined it.
Cork: Anthony Nash; Shane O'Neill, Brian Murphy, Conor O'Sullivan; Tom Kenny, Eoin Cadogan, William Egan; Darren Sweetnam, Lorcan McLoughlin; Conor Lehane, Pa Cronin, Cathal Naughton; Jamie Coughlan, Paudie O'Sullivan, Patrick Horgan.
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins; Conor O'Brien, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill; Thomas Stapleton, Conor O'Mahony, Paudie Maher; Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath Gearóid Ryan, Patrick Maher, Pa Bourke Brian O'Meara, John O'Brien, Noel McGrath.
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