Limerick may change tactics for the Cork showdown

Limerick may change tactics for the Cork showdown

Niall O'Leary of Cork in action against Aaron Gillane of Limerick during the 2021 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

AS Cork prepare for their Munster hurling championship opener against Limerick this weekend one of the major concerns is as to whether Cork are preparing for the right match.

It is April 2022, but the fear is that Cork may well have gotten too caught up in replaying last August’s All-Ireland hurling final against the same opposition, and setting up in the assumption that they will be facing the exact same Limerick on Sunday in Páirc Ui Chaoimh.

Cork got their set-up horribly wrong in that final and duly got burnt to the tune of a sixteen points mauling to Limerick as the Rebel defence got badly exposed, shipping 3-32 on the day.

Anyone who has watched Cork in their 2022 league campaign will have seen that the Cork management are persisting with deploying Mark Coleman as the creator in chief from centre back, but this time they are offering the Blarney man more protection.

Ciaran Joyce has come in and played at midfield, wing back and, bizarrely, even corner back in the league final defeat to Waterford. We can expect him to be somewhere in the half back line or midfield on Sunday. Ger Mellerick missed last year’s All-Ireland final due to injury and we can expect him to drop back from midfield to pick up Limerick’s playmaker in chief, Cian Lynch, as he did in the 1-13 to 2-19 league victory at the Gaelic Grounds in late February.

This would all offer much needed protection for Coleman and the spine of the Cork defence, but all that logic is operating under one very large assumption, and that is that Limerick have stood still since last August.

John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and co. know exactly how Cork are going to set up in order to stifle the Limerick attack, and indeed, they were in Thurles to see how Waterford dealt with Cork’s set-up in the league final. It is extremely unlikely that they would sit there and do nothing while Cian Lynch is marked out of a game. We can expect them to have plans afoot.

Gearóid Hegarty and Diarmaid Byrnes celebrate their All-Ireland win over Cork last year. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Gearóid Hegarty and Diarmaid Byrnes celebrate their All-Ireland win over Cork last year. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The long-term injury to Peter Casey and the rumoured injury to Seamus Flanagan mean that the Limerick forward line will require a bit of re-jigging from last August. They may just introduce the likes of their U20 star Cathal O’Neill straight into the fray, or they might choose to break up their much-heralded half forward line of Hegarty-Lynch-Morrissey. This remains to be seen, but they do have options, with one of them being moving wing back Kyle Hayes back up to the centre forward position where he made a name for himself in the 2018 All-Ireland triumph. The 6ft 5” Kildimo-Pallaskenry man would throw Cork’s defensive plans right out the window should he trot up to the forty for the throw in, and the thing is, Limerick have the perfect player in Colin Coughlan to fill in seamlessly in the half back line for Hayes.

The Ballybrown man has the size, power and hurling to keep the Limerick middle eight machine ticking over, while allowing Hayes to bring his own pace and power to proceeding further up the pitch.

Waterford showed everyone how the Cork defence can be picked apart by running at them and there is no better man in hurling then Hayes at doing that, as Tipperary can testify to after last year’s Munster Final exploits.

To have Hayes occupying the centre forward position with Lynch drifting off him into midfield would mean Cork’s plans were up in smoke. Would Mellerick still take Lynch? Would Coleman really match up against Hayes? Would someone like Robert Downey move to pick up Hayes in such a circumstance, but if that was to happen where would Coleman go?

It is quite possible that Limerick do not do any of this, of course. They might just back last year’s set-up to pick up where they left off, but considering how well sign-posted Cork’s own set-up is going to be it would not be any great surprise if Limerick tried to pull a fast one, even if that was a once off approach specifically designed for this Cork match.

Liam Cahill’s Waterford showed that there are a number of ways to skin this cat, as they brilliantly succeeded in marginalising the contributions of Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon in midfield, which had the impact of seriously restricting Cork’s build up play. Again, Kiely and Kinnerk would have noted this.

Cork better have their own plans afoot on Sunday.

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