Long and the short of it: Analysing the Cork hurlers' puck-out strategy

Rebels are working on a running game this summer but are their club players out there who would offer a more direct option?
Long and the short of it: Analysing the Cork hurlers' puck-out strategy

Tadhg Deasy, Blackrock, in action against Newtownshandrum. His size could make him a puck-out option for Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

ONE can’t help feeling that the Cork hurlers, with the way they have decided to play this year, have effectively put all their eggs into one basket for the upcoming Munster championship, and right now it would appear that it’s a brittle one.

Short puck-outs, with Mark Coleman as the quarterback from centre-back. It looks like Cork are all in on this one.

They have seemingly done nothing with regards improving their long puck-out stats either. Cork have brought Sean Twomey and Tadhg Deasy into the senior set-up in the last few months, but neither got too much game-time in the league campaign just finished.

Both players would be considered decent target men, something clearly lacking in the Cork forward line at present, but the Cork management team choose to go a different route.

There were plenty of options knocking about the county if the Cork brains trust wanted to make a concerted effort at bolstering the Cork half-forward line in order to resolve their longstanding puckout winning problems. Some of those options were within the existing squad, as Tim O’Mahony and Robert Downey both have played a lot of their underage hurling in attack, but the pair are being persisted with purely as defenders right now.

Other options included the 6ft 7 inch Sarsfields forward James Sweeney, who impressed in last year’s county championship, as well as members of the Munster U20 championship-winning side from last December, such as St Finbarr’s Brian Hayes and Liscarroll/Churchtown’s Colin O’Brien. However, none of these players were tried.

Erin's Own's Shane Murphy breaks his hurley in a tussle with Sarsfields' towering forward James Sweeney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Erin's Own's Shane Murphy breaks his hurley in a tussle with Sarsfields' towering forward James Sweeney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

With regards Hayes and O’Brien it is easy to make the obvious point that it would be unfair to expect two U20s to be the panacea for all Cork’s puck-out issues, but it is very telling that the two forwards from that successful U20 side that Kieran Kingston has already promoted to the senior set-up are Blackrock’s Alan Connolly and Blarney’s Shane Barrett.

They are two incredibly talented and exciting players, but neither are going to change the way Cork play anytime soon, and you could argue that they are similar in playing style to a number of players already in the squad. They were on the same U20 team as Hayes and O’Brien, and in fact, both are still U20 this year, yet both are considered good enough and old enough to impact at senior level already.

There is absolutely no issue with Connolly and Barrett being on the senior squad right now. In fact, it would not surprise anyone if they had a serious impact on this year’s championship, but you can’t help thinking that one of the 6ft 4” wing-forwards may have done likewise if they had been given an opportunity.

COMMITTTED

The one thing that the recent campaign showed us is that Cork seem to have doubled down on their intention to play out from the back when it is their own puck-out. Against Waterford and, to a lesser extent, Tipperary this approach worked fairly well, but against Limerick it came crumbling down like a house of cards.

Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins in action against Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins in action against Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Limerick showed that night in the Gaelic Grounds that when confronted with a full press the strategy was exposed brutally. In training matches, it might work a treat, but in training matches, it is unlikely that the puckout receivers are being pressurised in the manner that Limerick will. That alone is actually reason enough for throwing 6ft 7” and 6ft 4” wing-forwards into these training games, even if they aren’t deemed good enough to feature afterward, as most counties have giants under puck-outs these days.

It is actually a chicken and egg situation that Cork have backed themselves into with the make-up of their current squad. 

Basically, to be able to implement an effective short puck-out strategy you must offer a threat in going long also. 

By this, I mean that if the opposition believes that you are no threat from long puck-outs then they know they do not have to overcommit players in their own half of the pitch and can therefore commit more players in terms of pressurising the Cork defence higher up the pitch.

It’s a Catch 22, for sure. Cork go short because they think they can’t go long, and because they can’t go long, they can’t go short either!

The one chink of light is a game from 16 years ago, that year’s All-Ireland final. Galway expected Cork to go short on their puck-outs that day, yet Cork surprised them by doing the exact opposite, which ended up being key to Cork’s victory that day. You feel that to beat Limerick in a few weeks, Cork will have to come up with a similar surprise.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

jerseywarslogosml
votetextheader

jerseysformpu
echolive

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more