Cork v Clare: Picking the Rebel 15 for critical Munster Hurling tie in Thurles

Éamonn Murphy looks at how the management can shake up the team and approach for the Munster hurling clash with Clare in Semple Stadium
Cork v Clare: Picking the Rebel 15 for critical Munster Hurling tie in Thurles

Dublin's Donal Burke battling Tim O'Mahony of Cork in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

CORK fans are still reeling from the defeat to Limerick.

Not the result, of course. Despite this idea from outside the county that bounds that Rebels were getting carried away with a few decent league wins, Leesiders were realistic enough to appreciate the champions were saving their best for championship. Even before Waterford beat Cork to the league crown, Limerick were strong favourites for the Munster opener.

What left Rebels reeling as they drifted out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Easter Sunday was how the same issues were at the heart of the comprehensive loss. There were a few personnel changes but the tactics were similar to the All-Ireland final no-show. They didn't work.

Cork players Tim O’Mahony, left, and Mark Coleman make their way to the bench for the team picture before the Limerick loss. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cork players Tim O’Mahony, left, and Mark Coleman make their way to the bench for the team picture before the Limerick loss. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Déise used the same combination of a high-press on puck-outs, middle-third physicality and targeting the centre of the Cork defence two weeks before the Limerick tie. Are Cork just going to attempt to get the better of Clare with the same 15 and style that wasn't good enough in the Páirc? 

Why not go for broke?

That doesn't mean Cork need to drop six or seven players and abandon the elements of their game-plan that maximise their pace and skill. They certainly need to shake it up though.

Here are three suggestions and a possible starting 15 for Thurles against Clare.

MOVE TIM O'MAHONY UP:

With U20 graduate Daire O'Leary injured and Sean O'Leary Hayes and Daire Connery out of favour, Cork don't have an abundance of defensive options. Yet they have to rejig defensively. 

Rob Downey was unlucky not to start against Limerick but must come in here. Many have suggested shifting Mark Coleman to midfield but Tim O'Mahony would add a more muscular presence there than the captain.

Ciarán Joyce is callow but was one of the few Rebels to enhance his reputation against Limerick. Why not hand him the centre-back role now with Coleman reverting to his natural habitat in the number seven geansaí? He can also sweep behind Joyce from the flank.

Ger Millerick is an ideal covering midfield but also an expert man-marker. He could comfortably revert to wing-back or be asked to track Tony Kelly. Downey should have been Man of the Match for his excellence at full-back against the Banner in 2021.

With Tim O'Mahony at midfield, he could both protect the half-back line and free up Darragh Fitzgibbon to rampage forward. 

HOLD SHANE KINGSTON IN RESERVE:

On one level, you could make the case for Shane Kingston being critical to Cork's attacker. He scored a goal on his championship start against Tipp in 2017 and netted against Limerick to maintain his excellent record.

Yet when he's deployed up top he tends to go long spells without possession. His best position is wing-forward but having him forage deep for possession is counter-productive.

If hurling is now all about 'starters' and 'finishers' rather than subs, Kingston is a nightmare for defenders in the second half, with his strength and pace. 

He torched Kilkenny for 0-7 in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and shot three points in the second half of the league final.

With Kingston on the bench alongside Seamus Harnedy and Conor Cahalane, Cork would have a variety of impact options. Jack O'Connor's speed and Alan Connolly's aerial prowess would still offer a considerable goal threat as foils to Patrick Horgan, whose reliable free-taking should not be underestimated.

Blackrock's Alan Connolly celebrates the first of his two goals against Douglas last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Blackrock's Alan Connolly celebrates the first of his two goals against Douglas last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

BE DIRECT:

This isn't to call for the Rebels to pike long deliveries from all angles. There aren't the ball-winners up front for that.

Yet they have to hurl with more urgency, stop over-thinking the running game and move from the middle third, by carrying the sliotar or angling passes to Horgan, at a high tempo. 

The slow build-up and crowded middle-third doesn't do anything for Coleman, Fitzgibbon, Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Barrett and co.

THE GO-FOR-BROKE 15:

Patrick Collins;

Seán O'Donoghue, Rob Downey, Niall O'Leary;

Ger Millerick, Ciarán Joyce, Mark Coleman;

Tim O'Mahony, Darragh Fitzgibbon;

Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Barrett, Conor Lehane;

Alan Connolly, Patrick Horgan, Jack O'Connor.

Impact subs: Shane Kingston, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Cahalane. 

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