BOTH Cork and Galway enter into Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final tie at Semple Stadium with a lot of questions to answer if they are to earn a semi-final berth in a fortnight.
Despite the brilliant wins over Waterford and Tipperary, that ensured that they qualified for the All-Ireland series, you get the sense that Cork are not quite the finished product yet.
In reality, about 12 positions appear set in stone, but there are two or three positions that could be the difference between another disappointing championship exit and All-Ireland glory.
The full-back position, for instance, keeps getting passed around, although the injury to Watergrasshill’s Daire O’Leary has not helped in this regard, as the youngster looked to be making a decent fist of nailing down the number three spot in the league.
Glen Rovers’ Robert Downey has minded the house too, but his best position is probably out at wing-back, and he can get exposed to pace and being pulled out of position inside. Therefore, the option of switching with St Finbarr’s Damien Cahalane is always a great option, as both can play full- and wing-back depending on Cork’s needs.
It is probably too late in the day to be trialling new fullbacks at this late stage of the championship, when the lifting of the Liam MacCarthy Cup is just five games away, but if O’Donoghue and Downey don’t make it then the likes of Sean O’Leary-Hayes and All-Ireland U20 winning full-back Eoin Roche may get called upon.
Further out the field, the two chinks in Cork’s armour are a lack of physicality around midfield and the fact that management are struggling to identify the ideal attacker to nail down the sixth forward position.
The management do not seem to know what to do with the Mark Keane experiment right now.
The Ballygiblin hurler got game time at full-forward and wing-forward in the league but has not been seen since being brandished with a red card after being introduced late on against Clare. When watching the likes of Limerick and Clare field 6' 5" and 6' 4" giants in midfield like William O’Donoghue and Cathal Malone, who do very specific jobs for the team, then you could see how Keane could do a similar job for Cork.
Again, it is all probably too late in the day for experiments like this, but such a move could really free up the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon to do wreck in Cork’s middle eight.
Cork certainly have ample firepower in their ranks, but so too do Galway, with an attack containing options like Conor Cooney, Joe Cooney, Conor Whelan, Brian Concannon, Cathal Mannion and Tom Monaghan. This game could really turn into a shootout, so therefore it could well come down to which defence puts out more fires on the day.
Galway will probably worry about Cork’s pace, as they are not the fastest side left in the championship.
If Cork can get the likes of Fitzgibbon, Robbie O’Flynn, Conor Lehane, Jack O’Connor and Shane Kingston running regularly at the Galway defence then there is real potential to open up the Galway defence and score goals, especially with Alan Connolly and Tim O’Mahony waiting inside.
At the other end, Galway have serious physical and aerial power that could unravel the Cork defence.
Manager Henry Shefflin is likely to order his troops to go long and direct and try and expose the Cork defenders in one-on-one situations. Cork fans will be certainly hoping that Sean O’Donoghue and Robert Downey are both declared fit for Saturday’s crunch tie, having picked up knocks against Antrim last weekend.
O’Donoghue has been Cork’s best defender all year and would be seen as probably the ideal man to put the shackles on Galway’s main sharpshooter Conor Whelan, while Downey adds that element of steel that is lacking in the rest of the rearguard. At this stage of the championship Cork simply cannot do without their main defenders.
Against Antrim Cork appeared to revert to the over-elaborate style of play that was a feature of their defeats to Limerick and Clare.
A return to the direct approach that worked so well against Waterford and Tipp should pay dividends and see Cork qualify for the last four once more.