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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Rebels must be able to pick off more points from distance

IN the aftermath of last weekend’s Limerick-Tipperary draw in Thurles, John Kiely was asked about their upcoming match with Cork and Limerick needing to win the game to stay alive in the championship.

There is a shade of grey for Cork as a draw would see them advance, but it’s firmly black and white for Limerick as a draw would see them exit the championship on scoring difference. Whatever happens next, this is a return to absolute old-school knockout Munster hurling. “It’s proper championship stuff now,” said Kiely.

Who would anyone trust most in this type of game? Limerick. Can Cork be trusted to finally beat a Limerick team that has inflicted so many deep lacerations and psychological scars on these Cork players?

Having lost to their neighbours by an aggregate margin of 35 points in their last three championship meetings over the last two seasons, Limerick are a foreboding shadow that Cork cannot escape.

“I think Cork need Limerick out of an All-Ireland to win one,” said John McCarthy, former Newtownshandrum All-Ireland club winning captain, this week. “Until this Limerick team regress or somebody knocks them out Cork won’t win one because they are capable of beating everyone else.” 

There won’t be another day this year unless Cork can get the job done here first. Can they? Limerick are still not themselves but they’re still finding a way to remain hard to beat.

Barry Nash, Kyle Hayes, Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Will O’Donoghue (especially in the second half) and Tom Morrissey had huge games against Tipp, but not all of their big players are operating at the level they were, or are capable off.

Limerick are turning over more ball than ever before – they conceded 0-18 off turnovers last Sunday, massive numbers by their high standards. Clare could have had five goals but other teams have struggled to open them up, with Limerick only having conceded one goal in three games to date.


The general consensus is that Cork will need goals to win but Cork almost need to think differently, which in effect means having to attack differently.

The biggest issue Cork had last week against Clare was the amount of ball they turned over from possession hit into their forwards, especially their full-forward line – just a 27% return.

The easy thing is to blame the forwards but where is most of that ball being delivered from? The majority is from too far back the pitch and not high enough into the midfield platform to give the Cork forwards more of an advantage to secure possession.

Cork are trying to limit goals, which they have done by leaking just four in three games, but how is that impacting their wider game?

The Cork half-back line aren’t engaging high enough up the field to be more of an attacking threat than they are, or are capable of being.

Conversely, is that setup also leaving Cork more exposed at the other end from an opposition-attacking perspective? Profiting from the space left by a retreating Cork half-forward line, the Clare half-back line scored 0-6 from eight shots last Sunday.

On the other hand, the Cork half-back line didn’t have a single shot at the target. Most of the ball Ciarán Joyce struck was inside his own 45.

Damien Cahalane scored a fine point. Rob Downey is well capable of scoring too but shooting from distance doesn’t currently seem to be part of Cork’s thought process when it will have to be against Limerick.

Tipperary didn’t create any clear-cut goalscoring chances against Limerick so Cork can’t bank on getting a couple of goals as being enough to win this game. Especially when Limerick will probably get off more shots. Limerick got off nearly as many shots (34) in the first three-quarters last weekend as Cork managed in the whole game (37).


The Cork half-forwards are working hard but they need to use the ball better. The full-forward line need to tackle more from behind the half-back line, especially against Limerick with the ability of Byrnes, Hannon and Hayes to shoot and attack from deep.

Cork will need to pick a different team to sort out their match-ups. Rob Downey will match up with Gearóid Hegarty. Damien Cahalane is playing so well inside that Cork probably won’t want to risk putting him out in the half-back line to tag Tom Morrissey, but it’s worth considering.

Eoin Downey is also worth consideration on Morrissey because Cork will need someone with height and power on Limerick’s best and most important player in this championship to date. 

Cork also need to place more attention around their match-up with Cathal O’Neill, something Tipp didn’t prioritise.

Do Cork take a chance and push their wing-backs higher up the field after Morrissey and Hegarty and let Joyce sit? When Waterford were happy to leave a 3v3 with a sweeper in 70 yards of space, Limerick hadn’t the raw pace inside to expose the tactic.

The forward line will also have to change, along with its structure. A big part of that decision-making process for Pat Ryan and his management will be around whether it’s better to start Shane Barrett and Shane Kingston or bring them on.

Whatever Cork do, they have one shot to get this right. If they do, anything is possible in 2023. If they don’t, the agony will continue for another year.

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