Cork hurling selectors need to hold back some big names for a full bench press

Cork hurling selectors need to hold back some big names for a full bench press
Brian Murphy and Fergus Collins, Bride Rovers, put pressure on Declan Dalton, Fr O'Neill's, before his strike to score a goal. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“IF you’re not innovating, you’re dying...”

There have been countless quotes on innovation down the years, and while most were written with big business in mind, they can all be easily applied to any ambitious sporting side.

The search for the so-called ‘marginal gains’ that can propel a team to victory is never-ending, and most top-level managers in all sports will always keep a watchful eye on other sports to see whether they can adapt successful innovations in those sports to their own one.

GAA may not be a professional sport, but hurling and football have huge scope for new fresh ideas than can inspire teams to glory. It’s no secret that the Cork hurlers have been close in the last eight years, but have always ended up short of their ultimate All-Ireland goal. If ever a side needed to successfully innovate, it’s Cork.

With that in mind they might be well advised to look at a recent arrival to the province of Munster in order to look at something that could give them an edge over their rivals.

Munster Rugby have made two high profile signings for next season, the World Cup-winning Springbok duo Damian de Allende and RG Snyman, and it is the latter signing, the giant second row Snyman who could give Kieran Kingston and his selectors ideas.

Snyman made his name in 2019 at the World Cup in Japan as an integral part of South Africa’s highly effective bench that propelled them to World Cup glory. These replacements were so good that a phrase was coined in their honour, the ‘Bomb Squad’.

The idea was that South Africa would bring on six huge forwards off the bench when games were in the melting pot and that these changes would give South Africa the edge down the home straight of tight games. The approach worked.

The winning South African coach, Rassie Erasmus, once of the Munster parish, remarked that: “it has been scientifically proven that at the end of a game more oxygen is being used to keep tired bodies moving than their brains thinking clearly. I believe that it is at this critical stage that a game is won and lost.” It is around this basis that the concept of the Bomb Squad was built. Using six forwards off the bench, rather than the normal five, meant that Erasmus’ side would always be fresher than their opponents at the end. The fact that the six were huge Springbok specimens helped too.

In fact, the Springbok ‘Bomb Squad’ was so successful at the World Cup last year in Japan, with South Africa ending up being emphatic winners, that the lawmakers in the sport are seriously considering reducing the number of replacements allowed per game from eight to six, in order to reduce the impact that a bench can have on the international game.

How can Cork hurling utilise such a concept?

Well, in these strange times we are about to get a strange championship at a strange time of year. It might take a strange approach to prevail.

Perhaps Cork could take the ‘Bomb Squad’ concept and bend it a little to suit their needs. For instance, it might be that the best approach in this upcoming ‘winter championship’ is to not necessarily play your best 15 players from the start. Given the likely difficult conditions, it might make more sense to start players more suited to a dogfight initially, and when the game finally opens up in the second half to unleash the potential match-winners against tiring defences.

As an example, imagine Cork bringing Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Conor Lehane and Declan Dalton off the bench in one fell swoop against a tiring side? The above names are just an example, but you get the picture. The relevant players would not have had to use up valuable energy during those early ‘getting to know you’ exchanges when time and space is at a premium.

It could mean that the team that starts is deemed slightly inferior to the one that finishes, but that’s the whole point. Of course, that approach would bring with it the huge risk that the gamble might not work and Cork could be left with a mountain to climb by the time their version of the ‘Bomb Squad’ are introduced.

Limerick had a version of this approach when winning the All-Ireland two years ago, with the now-retired Shane Dowling, in particular, Peter Casey and William O’Donoghue all introduced to great effect late against Galway.

If the Cork management could get the relevant players themselves to buy into the concept then it could be an integral part of Cork’s armoury heading into the winter campaign.

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