Cork v Limerick: Christy O'Connor breaks down the stats behind Rebel misfire

'Of the 12 players Cork used from midfield up, their combined possession count was limited to just 63 possessions, and 14 shots at the target...'
Cork v Limerick: Christy O'Connor breaks down the stats behind Rebel misfire

Conor Lehane of Cork has a shot on goal saved by Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid just before half-time last weekend. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IN so many ways, Sunday’s result and performance from Cork was different from the horror show of last year’s All-Ireland final, and in so many other ways, it wasn’t.

Unlike last August, Cork were still in the game at half-time. Cork were level three minutes into the second half. Cork’s resistance may have been more sustained and prolonged until early in the third quarter, but the same deep-seated issues which led to the collapse last year saw the roof cave in again.

The defence is still a major issue, especially the centre of that defence. Cork were murdered on puck-outs and turnovers. Limerick physically bossed and hustled Cork players in possession. They bullied the contact zones.

“It wasn’t the same beating as last year’s All-Ireland final,” said Donal Óg Cusack in his RTÉ TV analysis afterwards. “But it wasn’t far off it.” Cork were in trouble all over the field but a number of statistics jump off the page in underlining just how much of another horror show this was.

Of the 12 players Cork used from midfield up, their combined possession count was limited to just 63 possessions, and 14 shots at the target. Seven of those 12 players had just a combined 25 possessions.

If you break down the Cork puck-out into more forensic detail, especially in how Limerick turned over the short puck-out on the second or third ball after Pa Collins’ restarts, Limerick mined 0-9 off that possession.

Analysing all of Cork’s puck-outs, their 28 long puck-outs plus the second and third balls off the short puckout, Limerick won 24 of those restarts. Of the 0-6 Cork scored off their own puck-outs, three of those scores came late on when the game was long over as a contest.

Cork turned over the ball 38 times and conceded 2-16 off that possession, 2-5 in the first half, and 0-11 after the break.

Mike Casey of Limerick catches the sliotar ahead of Patrick Horgan of Cork. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mike Casey of Limerick catches the sliotar ahead of Patrick Horgan of Cork. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Limerick only turned over the ball five times less than their opponents but Cork were never able to inflict the same damage, with Cork just manufacturing 0-7 off that possession.

Cork were lucky that the beating wasn’t even worse because Limerick had 18 more shots at the target (48-30). Cork did create four good goal chances, but similar to last August, only took one.

Shane Barrett had the best of those three missed chances and, while his shot was brilliantly saved by Nickie Quaid, Cusack rightly made the point afterwards of how Barrett “made it easy for Quaid” to make that save by hitting it at the height he did.

Barrett would also have regrets from his chance in the first half of the league final, which was also hit at a decent height and to the goalkeeper’s left side (which suits a right-handed keeper) for Shaun O’Brien to save.

As a comparison, five of the six goals Cork have conceded in their last two games were finished by forwards hopping the ball off the ground, the type of shot no goalkeeper likes having to deal with. And the other goal of the six – Kyle Hayes’ strike on Sunday – was a bat smash from close range, which no keeper will stop.

Kieran Kingston and his management will be frustrated by so many other aspects of this performance. Similar to the league, Cork gave Limerick the short puck-out and then effectively conceded it higher up the field because they applied so little pressure on that second or third ball.

There were numerous times when Limerick had four defenders lined up on the 20-metre line, which would have enabled them to easily work an overlap. Yet Limerick never had to run the ball because it was so easy to ping the sliotar to loose players out the field.

Cork were stopped in Limerick’s traps all afternoon because they couldn’t run the ball through the green wall in the middle of the field and were repeatedly forced to turn back.

The other part of that conundrum is that over-playing the ball around the defence can deny the opportunity to get fast ball inside because it enables the opposition to retreat into more of a defensive shell.

One of Cork’s biggest issues on Sunday though was that there was nowhere near enough movement in the forward line to facilitate that longer ball inside.

Aaron Gillane’s goal neatly summed up that difficulty the Cork defence were too often faced with because Tim O’Mahony and Seán O’Donoghue were both forced to turn back when the out-ball wasn’t on, which facilitated the Limerick pack to force the turnover from behind and create the opening for Gillane.

LETHAL

Gillane had gambled on the turnover, but the back door was also left unlocked for Hayes’ goal because Mark Coleman and Damien Cahalane left the inside channel wide open for Hayes to turn into, which was lethal with a player of his running power.

Apart from Waterford, Cork have more pace than any other side, but Limerick consistently stop most of those runs at source, or by guiding players down blind alleys. Yet not enough Cork players were willing to break the tackle and take on Limerick players.

Once again, Limerick had it too easy on Sunday, just as they had last August. The same numbers keep coming up; in their last two championship meetings, the aggregate score from play is Limerick 5-48, Cork 2-20.

Too easy. Again.

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