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Analysis: Cork’s body language and tackle count, Waterford's counter-attack, Tipp's response

A huge day ahead in the Munster hurling championship.

Cork's Tim O'Mahony and Tipperary's Ronan Maher (file photo).
Cork's Tim O'Mahony and Tipperary's Ronan Maher (file photo).
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IN 2013, RONAN O’Gara stood pitch side with Brent Pope as he analysed the performance of Ireland against Australia at the Aviva stadium. The Cork man felt that Australia had won the body language battle against Joe Schmidt’s men with their aggressive performance.

He stated that “The little things about pushing fellas on the ground, getting up off the ground that split second faster [than your opponent], getting into the defensive line. Are you talking more aggressively than your opponent? Are you getting in a dirty little remark to him?”

In Walsh Park last Sunday it was almost like Kieran Kingston had shown the YouTube clip of their fellow Corkonian speaking before the game to ignite the fire in his Cork team.

Cork’s Body Language

The free awarded to Cork after two minutes and twenty seconds into the game will go into the history books of the GAA as it saw Patrick Horgan become the record scorer in the championship.

But it was the 20 seconds after the free was awarded which highlighted that there was something different about the Cork challenge and that they were going to war in Walsh Park. Luke Meade saw that time as an opportunity to get to know Jack Prendergast and Carthach Daly. Off the ball Niall O Leary was making Austin Gleeson earn every step as the Mount Sion man tried to get back up the pitch to set up for a Waterford puck out.

Kieran Kingston’s men backed up their devilment off the ball as the game saw his players hit 101 tackles against Liam Cahill’s side. This was an increase on their tackle count from the previous game against Clare when they hit 86 tackles against Brian Lohan’s men.

kieran-kingston Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Did Waterford’s way of playing bring Cork into the game and help to ignite their fight?

Waterford’s counter-attacking game allowed Cork to work

The Cork players were up for the fight but did the nature of Waterford’s counter attacking game create the conditions for the Rebel forwards to work harder than they normally do?

The Waterford style of play means that their midfield and half forwards drop deep into their own half when they are out of possession. This can often mean that there will be just two or three Waterford players in the opposition’s half at any one time.

This method of play compliments their attack-minded half-backs as they will hold their width when the ball is being fought for or when other Waterford players have turned over and won back possession.

Due to Waterford having extra bodies in their half, their wing backs almost rely on their opponent’s honesty which see them leaving their man to press the Waterford player in possession. This allows Waterford to manufacture an overlap and create a platform for their team to attack.

What Waterford want to do

Water1

Water2

Cork forwards

The 80-metre width of Walsh Park may have been one reason as to why Cork found ways to shut down Waterford’s attacking game.

As in recent games the Cork forwards have struggled to create a relationship between themselves and their backs when they are out of possession. It may be a mix of their players not being able to identify the danger before it happens, or it could have been the instruction from their previous defensive system that did not force their half forwards to drop deep as a unit.

That system saw the centre-back move in to the area around the D and protect the full-back line while the midfielders covered the opposition’s half forwards.

CorkWing

Against Waterford the Cork forwards were able to apply the pressure in all areas of the pitch at different times. They seemed to find the ability to identify the danger, press and tackle Waterford players as they recycled possession.

CorkPressing

Cork stopping

The work rate, attitude and the set up used by Cork allowed their forwards to put in the tackles at the right time. This could be seen in the tackle split between the Cork defenders and midfielder/forwards from the game. The Cork forwards and midfielders hit 61% of their overall tackles with their backs contributing 39% of the work.

This compares to Clare’s game against Cork which saw the Cork forwards contribute 49% of the tackles and their backs contributing 51% of the work. Even when you compare their top tacklers from both games, it shows there was some change in conditions at play.

In the Clare game the Rebels corner-back was their top tackler by hitting 14 tackles against the Banner County. In last week’s game against Waterford, it was their players from the middle third who were the team’s top tacklers with Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Luke Meade all registering 10 tackles each.

conor-lehane-scores-a-point Conor Lehane in action for Cork against Waterford. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Your tactics putting you in the right place at the right time to tackle

The previous two games against Limerick and Clare had many highlights of Cork players not getting near an opposition player in possession. It often can create a picture for a viewer at home or at a game that the team are not working hard enough and are not fit.

This issue could be seen in the tackle numbers in the game against Clare as 67% of the Cork tackles were pressure tackles. The pressure tackle comes from a player who may never make physical contact with a player, but gets a reward for putting a chase on or closing a player.

Contrast this to the Waterford game when 50% of the Cork tackles were pressure tackles and the other 50% were tackles with meaningful contact on a Deise player with the body or the hurl.

The clarity and set up of Cork and Waterford’s method of play created the conditions for Cork to be physical in the game.

tim-omahony-and-tadhg-de-burca Tadhg De Búrca ad Tim O'Mahony. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Cork matches

v Clare

  • % Pressure Tackle (Non-Contact) – 67%
  • % Body/Hurl Tackle (Physical Contact) – 33%

v Waterford

  • % Pressure Tackle (Non-Contact) – 50%
  • % Body/Hurl Tackle (Physical Contact) – 50%

Can Cork replicate the performance of work against Tipperary?

The Tipperary game will be a different game for Cork and it is unlikely that they will be able to bring the same intensity.

The reason for this is because 50% of Tipperary’s transition from defence to attack in previous games have come from long deliveries deep inside their half. This compares to Waterford against Cork who transitioned 32% of possession from deep in their half of the pitch. This change in the point of attack will put a huge strain on their backs and may not allow them to clog up or chase in the middle third like they did last weekend.

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Tipperary’s half backs will not push like the Waterford half backs

Last Sunday there was no hiding place for the Cork half forwards as Calum Lyons and Jack Fagan attacked from their defence. It is usually an excellent tactic to take away a team’s half forwards away from your goals as they follow the half backs runs up the pitch.

This naturally created scenarios where Lehane, Harnedy, Barrett and Kingston had to track deep into their half. Before the game I would have worried for Cork in this area based on their opening games, but this unlocked the excellent qualities of all these players off the ball as they came up with big moments when chasing back.

Defending against this tactic can go either way as it shifts the focus of a half-forward from attacking to defending. It reminded me of the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final when Wexford played Tipperary. Wexford’s Shaun Murphy from the start of the game was making attacking runs up the field and in the 3rd minute of the game had a goal chance from making one of his runs. This saw John ‘Bubbles’O’Dwyer doing his job of tracking these runs but the problem was that you don’t want a sharpshooter like the Killenaule man doing that job.

ODwyer

ODwyerdefending

Today the Tipperary half-backs will not attack as freely and this may leave the Cork half-forwards in the limbo they have found themselves in the games against Clare and Limerick.

While they may not bring the same intensity if the Cork half forwards drop deep during play, they could get joy against Tipperary, as in the past the Premier County have opted to hold the half back instead of pressing. This was highlighted in the Clare game this year when Shane O Donnell received the freedom of Semple Stadium. Colm Bonnar’s men did press hard against Limerick but would the concession of three goals against the Treaty men spook the management and make them revert to holding their half-back line?

colm-bonnar-encourages-his-team Colm Bonnar. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cork’s short puckouts

Cork have hit 46 short puck outs in the championship to date with only 14 of these restarts resulting in possession being retained in the opposition’s half, which is 30% retention rate.

Cork may get joy against Tipperary on the short puck out this Sunday as Tipperary have failed on the second press against Cork in recent meetings and this could give the Rebels a platform in the game. Tipperary may sit off Cork’s full back line like they did in the 2021 league meeting but where Bonnar’s men may get caught is on the second press. This could be a midfield player or a wing back not tracking a runner from the Cork midfielders and half-forwards after the short restart.

ShortRestart

This game in 2021 saw Cork score 0-6 off their short puck outs and 0-4 off their mid-range puck outs. Cork were allowed exit out of their half at ease as the Cork forwards came back in to the middle third while the Tipp half backs retreated.

Tipperary not press

The winning and losing of the game

For me the winning and losing of the game will be what happens off the Tipperary long puck out and during play when Cork turn over possession in their back line. The Cork half forwards have dropped deep against Tipperary in the past and this has allowed them to score from distance or put deliveries into the Cork full forward line.

With Tim O’Mahony they have a focal point in which they can deliver the ball in to and even when under pressure out the field,  they can try hit Newtownshandrum man as he can make the ball stick. For Cork it may take away the obsession with every ball needing to be hit into space for the forwards and help the team concede less turnovers in the middle third of the pitch, as they no longer must work the perfect ball every time.

As stated previously if Tipperary concede the middle third and expect their forwards and midfield to cover their own men, while also worrying about the Cork half-forwards, it could be another long day at the office for Colm Bonnar’s men.

Picture10

If Tipperary do press hard in the middle third on Sunday, the game could be an exciting helter-skelter one, in which there will be little to no time or space to think when in possession.

If this happens Tipperary may edge a victory, to finish the year on a positive note.

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