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5 key tactical decisions facing Kieran Kingston and John Kiely

Plenty to consider, including should Shane Kingston start, defensive match-ups and how can Lynch be stopped?

Updated Aug 20th 2021, 3:04 PM

1. Does Shane Kingston start?

ONE OF THE hottest debates heading into this All-Ireland final surrounds whether Kieran Kingston will start his son Shane or not. Despite scoring a game in every game leading up to the Kilkenny clash, the younger Kingston admitted himself he was performing below his best.

pjimage (7) The Cork and Limerick managers. Source: Inpho

That all changed after a sublime cameo in the semi-final that saw him win man-of-the-match despite only arriving onto the field of play in the 41st minute. His seven-point haul against the Cats indicated Kingston is brimming with confidence once again.

The argument for starting him: Limerick have a habit of blowing teams away so Cork need to start with their strongest XV, or the Treaty could be out of sight with 20 minutes to go. Kiely’s side will have a plan for Kingston if he comes in off the bench, so he won’t get the freedom of Croke Park like Kilkenny afforded him.

The argument against starting him: Cork need to finish with their strongest team on the field. If they’re going to win this game, they’ll require sort of bounce off the bench that Alan Cadogan and Kingston provided two weeks ago. When defenders tire in the final quarter, that’s the time a pacey forward like Kingston can make hay. It will also serve to excite the Cork crowd and give the team belief at a key stage in the game.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll be marching behind the band come Sunday afternoon.

2. Defensive match-ups

seamus-flanagan-reacts-after-scoring-a-point Limerick's Seamus Flanagan reacts after scoring a point in the semi-final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

As ever, match-ups in either defence will be key. Kingston is most likely to deploy Robert Downey on Seamus Flanagan, who has been Limerick’s most lethal inside attacker this season. 

If Peter Casey plays the floating role between the lines as usual, Niall O’Leary is probably the man who’ll get the job of tracking him. That leaves Sean O’Donoghue to take Aaron Gillane. It has been suggested that Downey may be more suited to marking Gillane, who tends to remain more stationary than Flanagan.

In the early stages of the semi-final, Billy Ryan hurt Downey by dragging him out to the flanks, and Flanagan will be instructed to do something similar if he’s on the Glen Rovers youngster. 

At the far end, Dan Morrissey will pick up Patrick Horgan, with Sean Finn taking Jack O’Connor, or whatever forward joins Horgan in Cork’s two-man full-forward line. 

Barry Nash will likely be given a free role in defence due to Cork’s three-man midfield, and his careful use of possession will be crucial for Limerick.  

3. Puck-out battle

patrick-collins Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins has stepped into Anthony Nash's shoes. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Limerick have less dilemmas than Cork heading into this game because they’ve such a well-defined system of play. 

The Rebels will need to press high on Nickie Quaid’s restarts to deny them the opportunity to work the ball through the lines. Nash in particular will present himself as an option on short puck-outs and Limerick can work triangles out of defence.

That will see them create shooting opportunities for the half-backs and midfielders (often it’s Kyle Hayes coming on the overlap), or they can spray diagonal ball into the full-forward line. 

Quaid will mix things up by going long to Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey who can win it in the air or on the ground. 

Cork have tended to drag their half-forwards towards their own goals on puck-outs, taking the opposing half-backs out of position, which leaves oceans of space in front of the corner-forwards for Patrick Collins to pick out with long deliveries. 

Limerick’s habit of leaving their half-backs sitting in zonal positions means Collins will either be forced to go short, or pick out the likes of Robbie O’Flynn, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Cahalane in pockets of space around midfield. Movement in Cork’s middle third will be key.

4. How do Cork stop Cian Lynch?

cian-lynch Cian Lynch is Limerick's key man at centre-forward. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In Ger Millerick’s likely absence due to a hamstring injury, Eoin Cadogan is expected to come into the half-back line. Cadogan and Tim O’Mahony are likely to take Hegarty and Tom Morrissey between them, depending on who Kingston feels will match-up best.

Mark Coleman’s role at centre-back is a vital part of Cork’s plan. He’ll look to drop off and sweep in front of the full-back line, meaning Cork will either put a man-marker on Lynch or go zonal and hope to swarm him with bodies in the middle third.

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Cork’s plan for Lynch is arguably the single biggest tactical decision facing either manager this week. Limerick pose plenty of questions but Lynch makes them tick and he’s an extremely difficult man to stop.

Putting a dedicated marker on Lynch could free up space for Limerick to create overlaps in centre-field, given his unselfishness, quick hands and excellent stickwork. Allowing him to roam free in the hope he’ll be picked up when he enters different zones could leave Lynch to have a field day. 

If Cork do decide to go zonal, their hunting pack of Cahalane, O’Flynn and Meade will be absolutely crucial in deny Lynch time on the ball. 

5. What if Jack O’Connor plays wing-forward?

jack-oconnor Jack O'Connor has been in electric form this summer. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Limerick’s habit of leaving their half-back lines sitting could provide an opportunity for Cork’s speedy forwards to run at them. Jack O’Connor was restricted when he played in the corner against Kilkenny, but once he was released to the flank he caused major damage.

“They’re extremely comfortable in their position,” said Tony Kelly recently of the Limerick half-backs.

“They don’t necessarily want to go man to man. They will give forwards their space. And it will be up to Cork to exploit that.”

If the Limerick wing-backs don’t follow their men out the field, Rebels will look to exploit that through the searing runs of O’Connor and potentially Kingston, if he starts. Playing zonal against a forward of O’Connor’s calibre could prove costly.

If, for instance, he’s followed by Hayes, then it will leave gaps in the Treaty defence. It’s one area where Cork could seriously hurt this strong Limerick rearguard.

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Kevin O'Brien

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