The Christy O'Connor column
On Wednesday, John Considine, former Cork hurler and current Cork U17 manager, offered his thoughts on Tipperary, and how he felt Cork’s victory in their final regular league game, along with the league final hammering to Galway, had dented Tipp’s aura of invincibility.
Through all their dominance, that only happened Kilkenny on a handful of occasions. When they were beaten twice in 2013, teams felt those defeats created a hole in Kilkenny’s aura, and that the opposition could see through it.
Yet Kilkenny responded. Tipp only suffered a bad league defeat but that kind of a loss wouldn’t happen to Kilkenny.
And, for all the talk of Tipperary’s class during the spring, they haven’t, or have never had, the same modern mentality as Kilkenny. When they had the chance to smash Kilkenny early on in the league in Thurles in March, Tipp couldn’t take it.
That is what Michael Ryan has tried to develop most since last September, to ensure that Tipp don’t go soft, like they had in so many other years after winning an All-Ireland. The manner of the Galway defeat will have dented their confidence but, for a team like Tipperary, there is always a delicate balance between confidence, and overconfidence.
Any notions of overconfidence are gone now.
Tipp will be more on edge, which could make them far more dangerous, but other factors are bound to detract from the huge bank of confidence they had built up before the Galway game. How fit will Seamus Callanan be after breaking his thumb? How match-fit, and ready, is Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher? Jason Forde’s suspension deprives them of a solid option off the bench.
Kieran Bergin has left the panel. Other key players are carrying injuries.
Cork appreciate the backlash may still be coming but Gary Keegan has tried to get Cork focussing on just themselves, of what they can do, and on the positivity that must be attached to every little detail of how they do it. Winning an All-Ireland does inject a different level of confidence, and maturity – well that is what Ryan has tried to hone – but Cork are also in a far better place mentally than they were this time last year.
They have had a better league campaign. Talented young players have been blooded. Keegan’s influence will be felt.
The Cork forwards are going far better than they were last May. They may not be marking defenders of the same calibre in training that they will face on Sunday but Cork have firepower.
And they have pace in certain areas, something Tipp lack in those same areas in defence.
If Cork run at Tipperary, they could do some damage.
Last May, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan made little or no impact in the game.
Part of that was how Cork set up but all three have been burning it up in training in recent weeks.
Lehane suffered an injury and had to sit out a batch of sessions but the break may have done him no harm because he looks as sharp and fresh as ever. Horgan is also flying. Horgan will probably be named at corner-forward but surely the Cork management will have learned from the lessons of the past.
Horgan doesn’t have the pace for the corner. Cork won’t want him tied up inside by Cathal Barrett so they need to play Horgan in a more withdrawn role, with greater freedom.
Apart from Alan Cadogan, the Cork attack were eaten alive in this fixture last year but they seemed as much mentally strangled by the notion of the sweeper system, as they were strait-jacketed by it. Their negative body language almost shouted, ‘Why should we have to suffer when the defence isn’t good enough?’
Cork won’t play a sweeper again now. They’ve abandoned the tactic because the public, management and players don’t want it. They all certainly don’t want the negativity that goes with it when results go wrong.
You have to admire Cork’s adventure in not playing a sweeper. It is not in the culture or DNA of the players to play a containment game but the flipside is that the full-back line are going to come under huge pressure, especially against a Tipp full-forward line with such huge firepower.
Pulling bodies back and trying to crowd the middle, in order to try and contaminate the supply, and limit the flow, is fine in theory but it’s still difficult to pull off with a full-back line that needs protection.
For years, Kilkenny said they never played a sweeper. In theory they didn’t but in reality, they did. Brian Hogan mostly sat back as an auxiliary full-back but Kilkenny’s midfielders and half forwards played so deep, and tackled so savagely, that there was nearly always someone on, or in the centre-forward’s, air space.
That tactic was easier to execute because all of Kilkenny’s forwards worked so hard but it was also an ingrained part of their values, and operational, system as a team.
And not everyone is able to replicate that system, especially with so much movement and mobility now in the modern game. Mark Ellis will probably sit back on the edge of the D with someone else expected to pick up the Tipp centre-forward.
Again, that is fine in theory, but Cork aren’t Kilkenny in their prime and unless someone is actually detailed to mark the Tipp centre-forward, Cork run that risk of being picked apart by Tipp’s slick stick-passing game.
Cork’s forwards will post a decent score but if Tipp cut loose and hit Cork for three or four goals at the other end, the wheels could come off.
Still, that is the chance that Cork are willing to take. They’ve stacked all their chips on trying to win a shootout.
It might work. It could go horribly wrong. Tipperary should win but at least Cork will try to win playing the Cork way.