Lack of fans allows Cork hurlers room to develop short passing game

'We can appreciate what it must feel like to be a defender who coughs up possession and endures the groans and moans from the stands'
Lack of fans allows Cork hurlers room to develop short passing game

Mark Coleman is the key man if the Cork hurlers are to stick with their current tactics during the summer. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IT may seem counter-intuitive given the frustrations about the negative impact Covid is having on the GAA but the lack of crowds could be beneficial to the Cork hurlers.

There is no denying the boost a Cork team in full flow can get from the Banks booming down from the terraces, but if Cork progress this summer, silence could be golden. 

Hands up any Cork hurling supporter who has roared 'get rid of it', 'drive it long', or mangled the famous song from the Frozen soundtrack by yelling 'let it go', in recent years?

Watching is often more stressful than actually playing. And when you are not privy to team talks and tactics then it is easy to get frustrated when there is a speed wobble or two in the game plan.

The much-discussed short game that Cork have employed is nothing new. Many a Cork supporter has woken up in a cold sweat at the memory of Cork trying to ‘play through the lines’ against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final of 2019, for instance. 

We can all appreciate what it must feel like to be a defender on a team trying to employ a short puck-out strategy who coughs up possession and endures the groans and moans from the stands. It must be tough to must yourself available all over again and further abuse from the supporters.

And that is why Cork might be better off playing in empty concrete bowls, considering they are doubling down on the possession game for this campaign. 

The likes of Sean O’Donoghue, Damien Cahalane and Niall O’Leary can gather possession off Patrick Collins, turn and attempt to work the ball through the opposition attacking lines without having anxious Rebel supporters haranguing them. 

Richie Hogan gets away from Sean O'Donoghue in the 2019 Cork loss to Kilkenny, when the short game didn't pan out. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Richie Hogan gets away from Sean O'Donoghue in the 2019 Cork loss to Kilkenny, when the short game didn't pan out. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

While the short game did not work in 2019 it has a much better chance now because of the deployment of Blarney’s Mark Coleman at centre-back. 

In previous years what tended to happen after a short puck-out was the relevant Cork player in possession would attempt to move the ball forward as quickly as possible by either attempting a short pass off the hurley, a hand-pass or by taking on their man. 

This approach invited a press from the opposition, leading to passes in heavy traffic, or that the relevant player had to run through multiple opponents to progress the ball up-field.

The difference that Coleman brings to the team at six is he not only gives a quality out-ball to the full-back unit but offers his teammates a chance to slow play, almost to soccer pace, and move the ball around the press. 

Watching this Cork team can resemble a soccer team passing the ball across a defence to move the ball up the pitch via the opposite wing. 

And while this might not look terribly attractive to a lot of hurling folk it should actually make Cork much harder to press, as there is no team in the country who can commit enough players to a press to put pressure on the full width of Cork’s defence. 

SENSIBLE

Therefore, with Coleman dropping so deep Cork will be confident of moving the ball out as far as midfield and from there they can look to get the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon, Robbie O’Flynn and the inside forwards on the ball to threaten the opposition goal.

So, while it may look like a negative ploy it is actually a well-thought-out tactic designed to ensure that Cork’s best hurlers get the ball in favourable circumstances. 

The alternative would be for Cork to hit long and hope the half-forward line can win enough dirty ball to supply their inside line. 

Considering Cork’s recent record of doing this, as well as the fact that the first game in the championship pits them against the half-back line of Byrnes/Hannon/Hayes means that this would not be the smart approach.

Of course, you would imagine that having some sort of long-ball threat, to keep the opposition guessing, is also required, but do not be rushing to scream at your TV if it looks like Cork’s build-up play is too slow. 

Just remember, it’s all part of the plan.

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