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Analysis: Limerick will target the short puck-out, Cork need to crack the Cian Lynch code

Sean Flynn breaks down the key battles ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster championship encounter.

A FEATURE OF Cork’s play in 2021 was their use of the short puck-out. 25% of the Rebels’ scores originated from a short puck-out in the championship.

pat-ryan-cian-lynch-and-seamus-flanagan-with-sean-oleary-hayes-mark-coleman-and-tim-omahony Action from last year's Cork and Limerick game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2021 Championship

(Percentage of scores which originated from a short puck out)

  • Cork – 25%
  • Wexford – 20%
  • Antrim – 14%
  • Limerick – 10%
  • Clare – 10%
  • Galway – 9%
  • Waterford – 9%
  • Tipperary – 8%
  • Laois – 7%
  • Kilkenny – 5%
  • Dublin – 4%

Statistics: GAA Insights

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Cork’s short puck-out against Limerick in 2021

Cork scored 2-22 off their short puck-outs against Limerick in their three 2021 meetings. This type of puck-out can force a team out of their defensive structure and make the middle third chaotic. Shane Kingston’s goal in the All-Ireland final highlighted this chaos and while there is no rehearsed nature to Cork’s method of working the ball out, it is generally about the player in possession running hard and players off the ball creating a line of sight for a pass.

This passage of play created problems for Limerick as it saw a disconnect between the Limerick midfield and their half backline. As the play developed, Declan Hannon had to leave Shane Kingston to try to cover the danger.

In the chaos, which was created from the Cork restart, no midfield player was there to cover Kingston’s run.

 

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Tim O’Mahony’s run creates space for Cork down the left-wing.

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As Cork work the ball forward, Limerick commit bodies and lose track of the runners.

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Over the past number of years, Limerick have dominated teams on the breaking ball off their opposition’s long puck-out. A big feature of this is the setup of their full-forward line to cut out any delivery to the opposition half-back line. As a result, their midfielders and half forwards are able to flood the breaks when the goalkeeper goes long.

This is one of the main reasons Cork have opted for the short puck-out in a bid to counteract Limerick’s excellent puck-out defence.

Did Wexford show the way to combat the Cork short puck-out?

Limerick have the ability and prior experience in dismantling an opposition’s puck-outs and putting the opposing goalkeeper under huge pressure when looking for a place to puck out the ball. Darragh Egan’s Wexford used a strategy in this year’s National League game against Cork which saw his full-forward line totally stand off the Cork full-back. They had no Wexford player inside the Cork 45-metre line before a puck-out was hit.

It allowed Egan’s men to pack up the middle third and their own defence. This resulted in Cork’s players getting to the 45-yard line in possession without bypassing any opposition player. Suddenly they had cut down the space for players in the middle third to receive a pass.

This method resulted in the Cork full-back line being higher up the pitch and left huge space in front of their goals. Wexford were able to expose this with a goal.

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Tipperary tried something similar in their 2020 league tie against Cork. The problem was they stood off in the middle as well, and Cork were able to score 0-6 off their short puck-out. 

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If Limerick can force Cork long on their puck out it may allow the Treaty men to stifle Cork’s strong attack in the middle third of the pitch. The defending champions can curtail the influence of Darragh Fitzgibbon, Robbie O Flynn, Shane Barrett and Seamus Harnedy in this scenario.

On top of that, Limerick can then bring one of their midfielders into the game. They should have space to operate if Ger Millerick at midfield is concerned with picking up the Limerick centre forward. Cian Lynch exploited his absence to devastating effect in the 2021 final.

The Cian Lynch impact against Cork

Cian Lynch is a constant thorn in Cork’s side. The Patrickswell man had 38 shot involvements and 35 scores against them in 2021. 

Top Shot Involvement Table from Limerick v Cork games in 2021

(Player – Shot Involvements – Scores from shot involvements)

  • Cian Lynch (Limerick) – 38 – 35
  • Aaron Gillane (Limerick) – 22 – 14
  • Tom Morrissey (Limerick) – 21 – 8
  • Seamus Flanagan (Limerick) – 18 – 13
  • Seamus Harnedy (Cork) – 11 – 6
  • Shane Kingston (Cork) – 11 – 10
  • Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork)  – 10 – 9

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In the Munster championship meeting between the two sides, Ger Millerick picked up Lynch and he still had the top shot involvement in the game with a total of eight, three points and five scores assisted.

In the All-Ireland final, Lynch drifted into the midfield. In the end, Mark Coleman and the Cork midfield were half covering the Limerick centre forward. He was allowed to roam free on several occasions. This saw Lynch having 16 shot involvements, contributing six scores and assisting 10 scores in the game.

It really affected Coleman’s influence on the game. The Blarney man averaged four-shot involvements from the half-back line prior to that day. However, in the final, he had no shot involvements and little attacking or defending influence for Cork. 

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Is it time for the full-court press on Lynch?

In 2019 when I was involved with Tipperary, we were preparing for Cork in the first round of the championship in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The players had a frustrating experience the previous year against Cork because their half-forward line were dropping deep to receive possession.

The Tipperary half-back line sat between their 45 and 65-metre line. The Tipperary midfield and half forwards were to cover these retreating Cork players. Like Coleman in the 2021 All-Ireland final, the influence of the Padraic and Ronan Maher was reduced due to this tactic. 

When analysing the Cork half forwards from 2018, Daniel Kearney played a vital role in Cork’s performance. In the first 15 minutes of that game, the Sarsfields man had seven possessions. In the 2019 game, the half-back line was instructed to push up on the retreating line with Brendan Maher detailed to push right up on Kearney. The idea of this was to put pressure on the player delivering the ball into the Cork full-forward line.

The previous year the uncontested deliveries made it impossible for the Tipperary full-back line to defend. For Tipperary, it helped generate more turnovers in the defence. They could play the ball out to the floating Noel McGrath in unstructured play and he had a huge say that day. 

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The result of pressing up

The result of the Tipperary half-back line pushing up was Kearney limited to just nine possessions and two shot involvements in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch.

The following weekend in the Gaelic Grounds the Limerick half-back line sat in their half and did not push up on Cork. This resulted in a surprise Cork win, but it was the influence of Daniel Kearney which was evident with 25 possessions in the game and 11 shot involvements. 

Half-back press comparison against Cork in 2019

Cork half-forward line possessions in 2019

  • v Tipperary – 28
  • v Limerick – 49

Limerick and Tipperary’s half-back line possessions v Cork in 2019 

  • v Tipperary – 50
  • v Limerick – 23

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Like Manchester City’s high pressing of Liverpool last Sunday, that pressure can be a powerful tool when trying to curb the influence of such creative players. The logic is simple. Instead of worrying about reacting to a key playmaker, stop the problem at source.

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