Cork v Clare: Goals key to good early league form and will be needed in Thurles

The Rebels have raised just one green flag in each of the last five games
Cork v Clare: Goals key to good early league form and will be needed in Thurles

Shane Barrett celebrates scoring the third of Cork's three goals against Clare in last year's All-Ireland SHC clash in Limerick. Picture: Inpho/Tommy Dickson

WHAT does last Saturday night’s Munster SHC clash between Limerick and Waterford have in common with Dublin’s victory against Laois in the Leinster championship?

Well, of the 10 games played across the two provincial hurling competitions so far, they are the only ones where the  team scoring more goals has ended up losing. It is, of course, a small sample size and you might justifiably say that 20 percent isn’t a tiny minority, but in last year’s championship it happened in just two out of 19 games. Put simply, if you score more goals than your opponents, you have a good chance of winning.

Since the beginning of 2020, that’s an area Cork have looked to improve after under-performing on the goal front for too long before that. In the leagues of 2020 and 2021, Cork were the top goalscorers in their section and last year’s championship was noteworthy in that the win over Clare was the first time since 1991 that the county had won a championship match by scoring more goals and fewer points than their opponents.

Though Cork’s 10 goals in five Division 1 Group A matches in this year’s league was the highest among the six teams in the pool, the last two games – the win over Galway and loss to Wexford in the final dead rubber – saw them raise just one green flag each time. Unfortunately, that trend has continued in the three games since, the league semi-final win over Kilkenny, the final defeat to Waterford and the championship opener against Limerick.

Against the Cats, the Cork goal came late as Darragh Fitzgibbon struck on 65 minutes, but it was a game-changer and allowed the Rebels to push on and take the win, having been second-best for much of proceedings.

The goal against Waterford came even later, Robbie O’Flynn striking in injury time, and it only had the effect of making the final scoreline of 4-20 to 1-23 look a bit closer than the game had actually been.

There was a contrast against Limerick, with Shane Kingston rifling the first shot of the game past Nickie Quaid after 12 seconds, but Cork couldn’t find another goal in the 70-plus minutes that remained to be played. To be fair, it’s not that there weren’t chances – Conor Lehane was denied by Quaid’s quick reactions just before half-time when Darragh Fitzgibbon successful gambled on where a long Patrick Collins puckout would end up and, as mentioned, O’Connor fizzed a chance wide after he was brought on.

Obviously, Lehane’s was the more crucial in terms of the flow of the game as it would have left Cork just one behind at half-time. Would Limerick have still won even if it had been scored? There’s a good chance – Waterford did get two goals to the Treatymen’s none last Saturday, after all – but it would have asked a question.

OPPORTUNITIES

Cork aren’t going to score every goal chance but, generally speaking, if more opportunities are created then more goals will result. When Tony Kelly stroked home his penalty before half-time in Thurles last Sunday to make it 3-6 to 0-4 for Clare against Tipperary, nobody believed there was a way back. 

Maybe Limerick might have been able to overhaul such a deficit by scoring 11 points more than their opposition, but if you’ve scored three to none, you’ll more than likely take the win once you don’t open the floodgates at the other end.

After the Waterford and Limerick games, the talk was how Cork needed to tighten up at the back and improve at the other end but, ultimately, they’re two elements of the same thing rather than two different things. 

Better use of the ball in attack means fewer turnovers and less opportunity to be caught open at the back. 

Similarly, more bodies forcing the opposing attack into coughing up possession allows for the building of more cohesive counter-attacks.

It's very easy to prescribe all of this on paper, of course. Cork must go and do it on the field on Sunday – but, while it might be the natural reaction to take a safer option for a point in the wake of recent results, the braver option might be rewarded.

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