IT is such a pity that inter-county Gaelic football is not like a PlayStation game, as picking teams would be a hell of a lot easier if it was!
Get yourself two big midfielders, have loads of pacy guys at the back to run the ball out, and then pick the best six shooters in the county. Simple.
Imagine a forward line of Steven Sherlock, Brian Hurley, Luke Connolly, Chris Óg Jones, Cathail O’Mahony and Dan Ó Duinnín. There is ridiculous scoring power there, but, of course, it would be a terrible forward line in reality. A ‘Barbarians’ type approach to senior inter-county football is not going to cut it, unfortunately.
Players with other characteristics are required in a forward line too. Big men, in order to offer a threat in the ball-winning stakes, as well as just offering a physical edge to proceedings.
Ball-carriers, in order to transition the ball up the pitch to get within shooting range. Even man-markers, or at least players with a good sense of discipline without the ball, are needed in the modern game, as the likes of Jack McCaffrey, Gavin White and Lee Keegan have changed the game in the past decade with their penetrating attacking runs from deep, and players are now required to try and negate these runs.
But, while a team must have balance and be pragmatic with their tactical approach, the onus has to be on every inter-county manager to get as many of his best shooters into the side as possible.
There were many instances in the past few years where you would peruse a Cork football starting line-up in a big league or championship encounter and you would think that the team picked would struggle to kick 10 or 12 points at the most, due to the fact there might be a maximum of two noted scoring forwards in the side.
New Cork manager Keith Ricken’s U20 sides in recent seasons always had plenty of attacking options throughout, so you would expect that in 2022 Cork won’t be taking a negative approach anyway. The news that the likes of Barrs sharpshooter Sherlock and the talented Iveleary pair of Vaughan and Jones are being given the opportunity to stake claims in the attack is encouraging in this respect.
These players will be told what is expected of them. It is all well and good being able to split the posts, they will be well aware that their inter-county prospects will live and die by such factors as their perceived work-rate and fitness.
There is obviously a huge difference between senior and U20 grades in terms of approach. For instance, U20 games can be really exciting affairs to watch due to the fact that games tend to be end-to-end affairs with a huge amount of turnovers. Players at that grade are encouraged to play off-the-cuff football and to back their natural instincts. Compare that to senior level, where approaches are more conservative, or ‘professional’ if you like.
In an era where over-analysis has led to a degree of paralysis when it comes to adventurous play, it will be interesting to see whether Ricken’s senior Cork team play with more of a sense of adventure and abandon than Ronan McCarthy’s side of recent years.
And if so, what effect that will have at both ends of the pitch.
This time of year sees a lot of changes in the Cork panel, with players coming in and out. It will be worth keeping an eye over the next few weeks and months on the extent of the musical chairs that will occur between the hurling and football panels.
The likes of Tadhg Deasy, Daniel Meaney and Billy Hennessy have all recently been left off of Kieran Kingston’s hurling panel and all three could well be capable of doing a job with the big ball for Cork going forward. Deasy was St Michael’s main attacking threat in their run to the recent Senior A final, and his pace, power and accurate left foot could certainly be a weapon, and especially so when you consider that Cork have lacked a left-footed free-taker in recent campaigns.
Hennessy was a key member of the Barrs defence when seeing off Castlehaven and Clonakilty to win the recent Premier Senior title. Physical man-markers are at a premium and Hennessy could well do a job for Cork.
The other big call between the hurling and football panels will be as to whether Hennessy’s teammate Brian Hayes chooses hurling or football.
Should he go the football route then we can expect him to add his considerable height and athleticism to the Cork middle eight, an area that certainly needs bolstering.
Another surprise option in this sector could be Clon’s Joe Grimes. While some may be concerned by his Kerry heritage and upbringing, there can be no denying that he was one of the best midfielders on show at the recently completed county championships, and Ricken would be foolish not to explore every single available option at his disposal.
We can certainly expect to see a very different Cork team, with a very different approach come the commencement of the National Football League in late January.