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Analysis: Did hungry Tipperary outwork Limerick?

Sean Flynn looks back at how Tipperary challenged Limerick, and how John Kiely’s men overcame it.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated May 9th 2022, 8:02 PM

TIPPERARY WON THE tackle count against Limerick by 12 in their seven-point defeat at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.

John Kiely’s outfit hit 80 tackles in a performance which left onlookers thinking that something was a bit off while the Premier County hit 92 tackles in a performance which was brimming with energy. But does this mean that Tipperary were more intense and did they outwork Limerick?

The answer is no.

Tackle per possession

Tipperary may have had a higher tackle count, but this cannot be held up as a stand-alone stat to measure how well a team performed in this area. It must be relative to the number of possessions that the opposition had in the game.

The Treaty men had 159 possessions in the game and Tipperary racked up 92 tackles. Colm Bonnar’s men hit a tackle for every 1.7 of Limerick’s possessions.

While the Premier County had 101 possessions in the game and Limerick hit 80 tackles. John Kiely’s men tackled for every 1.2 of Tipperary’s possessions.

Tipperary’s tackle per possession

95  Lim possessions -2

Limerick’s Tackle Per Possession

95 tipp possessions -2

It is important to note the lower tackle per possession ratio the better. If you had a ratio of one, then you tackled every single opposition possession.

If you had a ratio of two it would mean you tackle every 2nd opposition possession.

Intensity is a term which is mentioned in every GAA dressing room from your Junior B team talk to the final words before taking to the turf in Croke Park. Intensity can be obviously determined by attitude, before the individual players’ technique or a team’s set-up and tactics are even considered. 

Outworking opponents is often pinned up as the reason for victory in hurling. Is this true and how can you measure a team’s work or intensity?

Top Tacklers for Tipperary v Limerick

Top Tacklers for Tipperary v Limerick (900 × 850 px) (900 × 900 px) (950 × 900 px)

Analysis of the tackle

Technique and timing are huge ingredients to effective tackling, but we can’t disregard how a team’s tactics can affect their ability to put tackles on the opposition.  To put it simply if you can’t get near your opponent, you are not going to be able to tackle.

While everyone has their own interpretation, I like to break the tackle into four areas: pressure, a tackle with the body, a tackle with the hurl and the hook/blocks.

  1. 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.
  2. The body tackle can be a grey area for referees, but this can consist of tackling with the free hand, holding up players, a shoulder or any physical contact that could be deemed at tackle.
  3. The tackle with the hurl usually consists of players flicking the ball off an opponent’s hurl, when they are rising the ball or a contest on the ground when the hurl is used to flick the ball away from an opponent and possession is won back.
  4. The hook and block are the traditional skills of the game but maybe some that we can spend too much time talking about. In Sunday’s game, there were 6 hooks/blocks in the game. While they are a beautiful skill when perfected, their occurrence in games has dwindled over the years as teams have become smarter in possession.

Tipperary pressed effectively

When Tipperary had it in their legs, they pressed Limerick in the middle third of the pitch during play and this put pressure on the Limerick defenders when they were in possession.

This meant that the defenders were spending extra time on the ball, or they had to give an extra pass in the defence, the Tipperary forwards could apply more pressure. This is apparent in the tackle numbers as 40 of their 92 tackles came from players in their midfield and forward line.

A lot of teams will say they pressed in the middle third, but they still stand anywhere from one to five metres off their man which gives defenders a picture that they can still hit their player.

Pep Lijnders who is Liverpool’s first-team coach says the intent to press is not enough and the last two metres are important because this is your time to get the ball back. In yesterday’s game, Tipperary had some excellent examples of pressing in the middle third. Dillon Quirke’s positioning, press and tackle technique with the hurl on puck-outs hit into the middle third is a textbook example for any player in the game.

WhatsApp Image 2022-05-09 at 2.09.02 PM

A conscious press by teams is getting more common in hurling especially in the middle third as in the past we have been used to wing-backs holding, sweeping and doubling up with their full-back line.

A rule of thumb I use with players if they are pressing in a game is if you are close enough that you can knee him up the arse you are pressing up correctly. For Tipperary the way they were instructed to press simply allowed their players to be aggressive and play with intensity.

Pressure and high hurl

We often hear the term there are no lost causes and there are many occasions in a game of hurling when you can affect a player in possession without ever making physical contact with your opponent. That was shown on Sunday when Tipperary’s Craig Morgan showed the value of chasing and using a high hurl to force a shot at goal wide.

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Sometimes we see players crouch down when defending a shot when they try to get a block on. It often results in them missing the block as they are not close enough to the striker. Morgan showed excellent awareness and technique yesterday forcing the Limerick player to shoot around the hurl.

To execute this skill, you are looking to coach your players into having a high body position along with their hurl being high. Get players to think they are a rugby player trying to charge down a drop on goal.

Tipperary’s scores from turnovers

What did set Tipperary apart from Limerick was their ability to generate scores from turnovers. Colm Bonnar’s men scored 0-13 points from turnovers while Limerick just generated 0-7 points from turning over Tipperary in possession. These are the scores and frees that give a team energy on the pitch while it ignites the supporter’s passion in the crowd.

Conor Stakelum epitomised Tipperary’s attitude with 14 tackles, six of which resulted in turnovers.

What about Limerick?

Limerick brought their usual hard running and physicality to the game, and they were asked some questions by Tipperary, especially in the first half. Their ability to pressurise opponents in possession could be seen right through the 70 plus minutes and I would not question Limerick’s attitude during any stage of that game.

Limerick’s top tacklers v Tipperary

Limerick’s Top Tacklers v Tipperary (950 × 700 px)

 Limerick’s detail won in the end

There were some energy-sapping moments for Limerick as they tried to get into their flow and these took the form of wides, frees awarded for throws and frees awarded for tackles which usually would not be awarded against Limerick by a referee.

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This along with some turnovers which were created by excellent Tipperary pressure may have allowed the Limerick players to wonder if it was their day.

However, Limerick’s detail on their long puck-out and the hours of work they have done on the training ground shone through.

They had huge success from hitting their half-forward line in yesterday’s game as they won 14 out of 18 long puck outs that were hit on their starting trio.

limerick detail

While some of these were won clean, it is the Treaty men’s ability to know where to position themselves on the break, separate themselves from the opposition and know when to arrive.

Picture15

For teams, the long puck-out gives them a 50/50 result on the breaking ball but in yesterday’s game, John Kiely’s men won 60% of the breaking ball.

 Hegarty and Morrisey take over

The second half saw Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrisey grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The pair had 19 possessions between themselves in the second half of the game and overall, the two players had 23 shot involvements from a total of 43 shots for their team over the 70 minutes.

Set up on the opposition puck-out

Limerick have been well known for their set-up on the opposition’s puck out and putting huge pressure on the opposition when the goalkeeper is trying to restart the play. Barry Hogan was phenomenal with the ball in hand and he was a big factor in raising Tipperary’s retention rate on the long puck.

Against Clare, they retained just 32% of their long puck out. Against one of the best set-up teams in the game, the Kiladangan man helped his team to retain 54% of the long restarts. It was Tipperary’s ability to hit players like Ger Browne dropping deep into midfield which shocked Limerick in the opening half.

As their legs tired, Hogan had not the same options and this was when the Limerick monster really came into play. From the 52nd minute of the game, Tipperary hit 10 long puck-outs which saw them retain possession on only two occasions. In this period Limerick scored 2-2 (8) off the Tipperary long restarts, the influence of their half forwards and midfield could be seen around the breaks.

Hard on Tipperary

That Tipperary performance would have probably won a championship game five or six years ago, but their opponents have raised the bar in new ways, and it is up to the Premier County to follow. Emptying the tank and having top class hurlers is not enough anymore and although Tipperary improved their detail in some areas yesterday, they have a bit to go before they can mount a 70-minute challenge on the champions.

The positives yesterday are they did something that not many teams do and that is out-shoot Limerick in a game.

Limerick

They have Cathal O Neill who is building towards a big performance down the line as he gets experience at this level for the first time. The Limerick set piece is in good order and their set up on the opposition puck-out received some nice questions yesterday that they can learn from. The use of the hurl, the spare hand while tackling and the clampdown on some of their handpasses may be a concern for them as it affected their flow at times in the game. 

What about the tackles?

Setting targets for tackles is a dangerous thing for your team and they need to be relevant to the opposition’s possessions. The game of hurling has so many variables you cannot just set a number and expect your team to hit that every day. It can be a dangerous metric if the players are relying on it for assurance of a good performance. The focus needs to be on the attitude to work, technique and the teams’ tactics which allows them to work hard. Then the numbers should look after themselves.

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