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Tactical breakdown: Clare’s wide open spaces a stark contrast to Limerick solidity

Clare again showed a weakness when it comes to conceding goals, while Waterford used their aerial prowess brilliantly in Walsh Park

Concession of goals

Over the course of last week, it was highlighted that Clare were top of the round-robin table in Munster for the combined championships of 2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023, marginally ahead of Limerick who have been dominant in the provincial finals, winning three of these. The really staggering figure in the table though was Clare’s concession of goals across those 16 games, with 28 conceded (1.75 per game) compared to 11 for Limerick (0.69 per game). This was again a part of their downfall in the final quarter in Ennis last Sunday as they conceded three goals from a winning position, ultimately losing a nine-point lead. The video below contrasts the Limerick defensive structure in a 20th-minute effort for Clare, where bodies were thrown in the way and Cian Lynch was part of the heroic defending, compared to the openness of the Clare defence for the Donnacha Ó Dálaigh goal and the incomprehensible marking of Gearoid Hegarty for Gillane’s goal.

Limerick’s delivery platform

The delivery of ball to their inside two of Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan is a vital component of the Limerick game plan. This delivery of ball to the men inside, aligned with the half-forward line coming deep, has been a hallmark of the Treaty men for the last number of years. This was an area Clare really shut down in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the game. Limerick only managed six deliveries to their forwards in the 2nd quarter, winning just two of these and yielding no return on the scoreboard. This was a period that Clare won 1-4 to 0-3. The work rate of Clare shutting Limerick down in this period was typified by David McInerney turning over Hegarty for a converted free just inside the Limerick 45m line in the 20th minute. The 3rd quarter saw Limerick get their deliveries back up to nine, but they lost eight of these as they landed poorly directed ball onto Clare backs, with John Conlan making hay. This left Clare up by eight points, 1-15 to 0-10 entering the closing quarter.

However, Limerick’s delivery game did function in the opening quarter where they got off nine deliveries, winning five and yielding a return of 0-2 – it could have been more but their shooting was wayward. It was however in the final quarter where Limerick did some real damage, as they mined 2-2 off deliveries, as they worked the ball further up the field and supported the deliveries with runners. Furthermore, Adam English brought energy to the middle sector and Cian Lynch started to influence the game in the middle third, while Hegarty’s placement inside created a new dynamic.

Battle of the Skies

Waterford used a far more direct game, as they shocked Cork at Walsh Park. Davy Fitzgerald has been derided for his short passing game but the Déise were happy to go long at times and they won the battle of the skies. Waterford won 10 clean aerial balls in the game, compared to Cork only winning 5. It was what Waterford did with these aerial balls that really stood out, as they managed to convert 1-3, and almost had another goal in the first half, as a Jack Prendergast catch and offload led to Michael Kiely being denied by a spectacular Patrick Collins save. On the other hand, Cork only scored 0-2 from their catches. The dominance aerially of Kiely and Prendergast is highlighted in the video below. This was a clear element of the Waterford game plan as Shaun O’Brien used short puckouts sparingly. Worryingly for Cork, Conor Lehane was the only starting forward to win an aerial ball and it was the 72nd minute before substitute Robbie O’Flynn became the second forward to win one.

No Country for Old Men?

Has anything changed for Cork? Year after year people are giving out about the same old brigade in the forwards. The trio of Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane endured difficult afternoons which could have been so different. Lehane hit four wides and a shot short in the first half, as he exerted influence on the game. Harnedy was also prominent in the first half but his impact wasn’t being felt on the scoreboard – he had three shots which failed to register a point and he also assisted three shots which again didn’t result in a single white flag being raised. The St Ita’s man was at the pitch of the game and found his shooting boots as he hit two points in the second half before being called ashore in the 60th minute, where he was visibly disappointed.

Horgan drew a blank from play as he hit three wides. He was flawless from frees as he landed seven from seven, but he didn’t win any of these. Some of Pat Ryan’s underage class of 2020 were the source as Alan Connolly won two frees and Shane Barrett won another three. They bought aggression and directness to the forward unit. Connolly was immense in possession, the problem was he didn’t get enough supply. He landed 1-2 from balls he won himself and he was two from two for frees, when he took on the responsibility after Horgan was substituted. Barrett landed three points from play and also won three frees that were scored. The Blarney man also won three Cork puck-outs, although two of these ended up in wide balls. He also had a score involvement as Ger Millerick advanced for a point.

The Cork forwards are not far from clicking and their clash with Clare is sure to be a titanic tussle as both teams know that their season is on the line in Cork.

Paul O’Brien is a performance analyst with The Performance Process (