IT was a defeat with something for everyone.
Cork were beaten by Tipp last Sunday and it felt like the sort of game that could both be summed up in one sentence and that could fill a Netflix series with theories and meanings.
It’d be tough to pick holes in the straight-forward line that Tipp were better, faster, hungrier, stronger and yet it doesn’t quite do enough to provide a full answer and misses out on some more interesting happenings.
There was as much a modern loss as a traditional one. Tipp’s two goals tell stories of last week’s game and the game of hurling.
There weren’t two minutes gone when Tipp took a short puck-out (point to note number one – Tipp targeting options other than long marks a move for them) and took one handpass to find the man in space. Point to note number two – the search to locate the player who has time to scan the field for a pass has become prime importance before looking for the inside-forward line.
The ball went loose and Tim O’Mahony, who’d been tracking Seamus Callanan down the right wing, got dragged infield to pick up possession.
He didn’t launch it down the wing (point to note number three – a team under pressure looking to play out from the back rather than flaking it) but his pass into traffic got half-blocked, Bonner Maher picked it up and handpassed it in over the Cork defence for Seamus Callanan.
Check out The Sunday Game wide-angle view here and you can see four Cork defenders drawn to the ball with no instinct to check danger zones or free forwards. You can see Chris Joyce checking over his shoulder to see Sean O’Donoghue one-v-one with John McGrath but not the Tipp number 11 lurking out on the sides.
Most of all you can see Callanan’s almost casual drift into the spaces, that thought/instinct to not get pulled into the crowds to fight for the ball but to be available with intent once the break gets snapped up and then the inevitability of the finish to the net.
A few things here.
The idea of turnover being the best playmaker has become sort of gospel in soccer from Jurgen Klopp’s influence especially but it’s become very much a part of GAA as well, with Limerick scoring a large percentage of their scores last year from turnovers won.
This goal came from a Cork possession inside their own 45 where all the Cork players had turned through ball-winning mode to possession mode and they hadn’t a chance to reset to defensive mode before Tipp had blitzed the goal.
Basically, Cork were at their most vulnerable and loose once they’d lost the ball.
Also, Tipp’s knack of finding dangerous spaces in attack hasn’t gone away and Liam Sheedy/ Eamonn O’Shea’s ability to create environments for an attack that can balance unpredictability and fluency of movement has been a wonder.
Exhibit B, Tipp’s goal number two.
If you’re looking for another example of use of space to create goal chance, let’s say TJ Reid’s goal last Saturday, the vision to spot the extra man and the game knowledge to know exactly how to use him was special and damn hard to teach — Henry Shefflin’s idea on the difference being down to numbers in clubs in Kilkenny and Dublin is probably worth a thesis.
This time it started from a Cork puck-out, and this showed exactly Cork’s struggles to secure proper possession from Anthony Nash’s restarts.
Again, check out that wide-angle and Cork’s entire defence and midfield really got drawn into a ruck situation without either winning the ball or being aware of the spaces and danger behind.
It’s startling to see John O’Dwyer just walk in front of the Cork goal unmarked and then drift to the side cleverly to create an impossible to defend two-v-one situation for the Cork defender. Again Tipp picked it out with the two exact passes necessary for John McGrath to blast a goal.
There was something very Tippsy about the goal, that sort of movement where it was so perfectly inventive it was almost choreographed. Again the turnover of sorts that allowed the attack while the opposition weren’t set or organised.
This clever use of ball and movement to spaces to create chances for scoring forwards is probably one of the dominant themes of hurling now.
It suits Tipp’s methods and skillsets and they were better at it than Cork. John O’Dwyer scored seven points from play but they generally came from awareness of positions to take up and some smart touches rather than contested balls being rained into his area of the field.
There’s still the need to win the one-v-one aerial battle, Brendan Maher’s monster score in the second half is the perfect example, but the teams with the balance of winning the ball in the crowded areas and the intelligence to move the ball into the less crowded areas will be successful in these type of open matches.
It just seemed like Tipp were far more able to impose the sort of game they wanted to play, that they were able to create the sort of situations (turnovers in the right areas, spaces opening in attack, one-v-one air battles in their half-back line) that would allow them control the game.
Cork seemed more unsure of themselves and what they’re meant to be about.
In Brian McDonnell’s remarkable statistical work on last year’s hurling championship, he ranked counties under various headings of gameplay.
Cork were in the bottom three on ruck balls won and bottom two on contested catches won and if some might see an obvious place to target improvement, it might make more sense to embrace what the team is good at and make these sort of areas less relevant.
There might be a rush to make a learning template of every All-Ireland winner and yet Limerick won because they did something different, because they had their own style that worked in the game as it is now.
There’s little point in playing catch-up and Cork must focus on being better at what they’re good at, on maximising the talents in the team rather than restricting them (sharpness, touch and spaces to run into are surely top three priorities).
Cork have no room for error now.
The battle for those spaces will decide the year.