Christy O'Connor on how the Cork hurlers defence tightened up 

Creating turnovers at the back is crucial to making the most of the Rebels' sizzling pace on the counter
Christy O'Connor on how the Cork hurlers defence tightened up 

Gavin Lee of Galway is tackled by Daire O'Leary and Sean O'Donoghue of Cork during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Cork and Galway at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IN the 56th minute of Saturday’s Cork-Galway game, Conor Whelan released Johnny Coen through on goal just outside the 20-metre line.

Coen still had work to do to try and eke out the space to get a strike, but he never even got that chance as a combination of Daire O’Leary, Luke Meade and Ger Mellerick forced Coen into over-carrying the ball.

Coen had taken too many steps before he even attempted to strike but, as well as having three Cork defenders around him, Mark Coleman was in front of Coen while Patrick Collins was in a solid position to stop any shot that Coen would have been able to get off in such a compromised striking position.

When Cork and Galway met in last year’s league, the match was played in mid-June, just three weeks before the championship, but Galway won because of their greater goal threat. As well as raising three green flags, Galway could have had a couple of more goals that afternoon.

On Saturday evening, Galway created just two goalscoring chances, one of which came after Collins was blocked down in the first half before the goalkeeper made a brilliant recovery to save Ronan Glennon’s shot.

Prior to last year’s All-Ireland final, Cork’s defence had done well in limiting goal chances, having only conceded four goals in four games, two of which came in the Munster semi-final against Limerick.

Limerick opened them up big-time in the All-Ireland final, but one of the most impressive – and important - aspects of Cork’s play to date in this league is the paltry amount of goal chances Cork have coughed up, conceding just three goals in four games.

Cork have clearly worked on having a more solid defensive shape and ensuring they have enough bodies back, not just to shut down space, but to prevent off-loads on the second-ball to third-man runners.

The two games Cork lost last year, they were out-goaled on both occasions against Limerick, but Cork’s immense goalscoring potential will always put them in a position to win any game once they can limit opposition goalscoring opportunities.

Creating turnovers with more bodies back also enables Cork to do more damage in the counter-attack, especially when no other team has their pace and running power.

Cork only scored one goal on Saturday, but they could have had four, possibly five. Their lust for goals is clearly obvious through hunting for green flags when handy point options are on. Their four goals against Offaly inflated their numbers but Cork are clearly looking to upgrade their average of a shade above two goals per game to at least 3 or 3.5 for the championship.

Shane Barrett of Cork in action against Padraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shane Barrett of Cork in action against Padraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

If they can hit those numbers, Cork will be hard to beat, especially when their point-scoring average is higher than any other team so far in this campaign, having raised 25 white flags or more in three of their four matches.

Throughout this league, Kieran Kingston has been consistent in his public messaging of how Cork are seeking consistency. In his post-match interview, Patrick Horgan said that it was important for Cork to back up the previous week’s display against Limerick. Cork have certainly ticked all those boxes this spring, something they hadn’t managed in years.

In winning four regular league games in a row for the first time in 17 years, Saturday was another game of big plusses. 

PRODUCTIVE

One of the biggest was the performance of Seamus Harnedy. It took him a while to get into the game but Harnedy was the most productive player on the pitch; as well as scoring four points, Harnedy was fouled for three frees and had another assist, along with creating a goal chance for Seán Twomey.

As well as his brilliance from placed balls, Patrick Horgan scored 1-2 and had one assist from eight possessions but his work-rate embellished his performance, with 1-1 of that 1-2 coming off pressure to manufacture those chances.

Conor Cahalane again proved once more how impactful and important he is becoming to Cork; after coming off the bench, Cahalane was fouled for two converted frees, as well as having another assist and creating another point-scoring opportunity.

Mark Coleman maintained his solid form from 16 possessions, scoring two points and having one assist, but he – and the team – are clearly profiting from the improved structure dually-designed to offer more defensive protection as well as giving Coleman more licence to get forward. Behind him, Daire O’Leary had another fine match.

One area Cork would have been looking to improve on from the Limerick game was turnovers, which Cork did; after turning the ball over 36 times against Limerick, Cork only gave up 22 turnovers on Saturday, which led to six Galway points.

Cork used the ball much better than Galway, especially in how they patiently built the play up and through their midfield platform. 

Cork’s conversion rate was 67.5%, but Cork would have preferred to have won more of their own puck-outs, with Galway securing possession off 18 Cork restarts. Conversely, Galway only translated that possession into three scores, while Cork manufactured 0-9 off Collins’s puck-outs.

Kingston won’t be reading too much into this result because the match lacked real intensity and was flat for long periods, which was to be expected in the circumstances after the sad passing of Paul Shefflin, Henry’s brother.

Galway had 18 wides. They got off 38 shots, just two less than Cork. Eight of the Galway players which played didn’t feature in last year’s championship.

Cork know that bigger tests lie ahead, but Kingston has said all along that he wants consistency. And he’s certainly getting it.

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