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Tactical breakdown: Puckout strategies for Cork and Clare still need some finessing

We look at the tactical approaches that have come to light so far during this season’s Munster hurling championship

Clare’s puckout defence

The ability to win opposition puckouts is important. This is an area Clare are targeting for gains. David McInerney won four in the first half against Limerick and two against Cork. The role of the Clare front eight is crucial in puckout defence as Cathal Malone, David Fitzgerald and Peter Duggan are integral in adding size to the contest areas. Clare won 8/15 of Limerick’s first-half puckouts, scoring 0-2. Clare won another 6/13 in the second half, only managing another 0-2 from these. They won 50% of Limerick puckouts, yet only returned an immediate 0-4. While Limerick returned 1-7 from the 14 of their own puckouts won.

Cork’s puckout functioned efficiently early on but a huge Shane O’Donnell turnover, leading to a point following a Cork short puckout, left Cork questioning their approach and ability to build out from the back. Cork won 10/15 of their first-half puckouts against Clare, 13 of these going long. Cork scored 0-5 off their 10 won and Clare only scored 0-1 off their five won. Again Clare failing to capitalise on winning possessions.

In the second half Clare won 11/21 of the Cork puckouts, and off these 11 puck outs, Clare managed to score 2-5. The only half so far where they exerted a strong scoring return on these puckouts won. Diarmuid Ryan was instrumental in this period, winning ball and driving forward with it. Again, the placement of David Fitzgerald and Peter Duggan, dropping in front of the half-back line for breaks, was crucial as part of the Clare puck out defence.

Limerick’s double involvements

As the game entered the final quarter, and Limerick trailed Clare by nine points, Limerick had really struggled to get their intricate passing game flowing. By that stage they’d only managed phases where the same player was on the ball more than once in the same team possession on four occasions, and none of these led to scores.


However, this changed in the final quarter as Limerick had another four double involvement plays, as Conor Boylan won a free with a double involvement, Kyle Hayes advanced for a double involvement resulting in another free and Donnacha Ó Dálaigh scored a goal from a one-two with Gearoid Hegarty. This aligned to the period of the game were Limerick’s hurling really dictated the game.

Again, against Tipperary in the first half these double involvements weren’t effective on the scoreboard, five in total but with no scores accruing. However, the return on this changed dramatically in the second half as Limerick found a way, scoring 0-5 points from seven double involvement plays, with Tom Morrissey and Adam English landing the pick of these scores. The improvements as the games go on suggests that teams are only capable of handling the Limerick passing and movement style for so long, as Limerick tend to find a way around opponents.

Tipperary’s goal drought

It was injury time in their second Munster outing before Tipperary found the net. This is something that is sure to annoy Liam Cahill. Cahill teams have always had a craving for raising green flags. While Cahill is likely frustrated, you’d imagine that so is the Tipp public at how some basic skill execution errors in the attacking third have seen goal chances or half-goal chances spurned.

Across their two outings to date there has been 11 unforced errors in the attacking third by the Tipperary forwards. The difference between a ball executed to hand in comparison to the stick being used for an extra touch, or a ball going to ground on the pass, or the pick up not being executed first time, has thwarted Tipperary.

The three stand-out plays in these missed opportunities were the extra touch taken by Sean Ryan to secure possession as he bore down on Nickie Quaid’s goal in the 22nd minute in the Gaelic Grounds, while just before that Mark Kehoe dropped a hand pass executed to hand as he attacked centrally with Eoghan Connolly unmarked inside him in the 12th minute.

The following week the errors continued. In the 69th minute in Walsh Park, Mark Kehoe gave a ball across to Bonner Maher which was too high and required a fully-extended stick to control, then Bonner passed onto John McGrath’s feet, crispness of either of the passes being to hand may have seen a green flag raised.

Cork need to start breaking bad

During the national league Cork showed considerable puckout innovation, with 10 inside their 45 and well-timed movement from clusters out to well timed Patrick Collins deliveries. They have continued to win an amount of these coordinated puck outs, taking ball cleanly, and they managed six of these clean wins against Waterford and another four against Clare. The problem for Cork is that they are seeking perfection with these coordinated runs, but if the ball isn’t won clean it is leaving them at a numeric disadvantage for the breaking ball.

Cork only won 8/22 (36%) of their long puckouts against Waterford that required fighting for breaking ball. While, against Clare they only won 8/19 (42%) of these breaking balls on their own puckouts. Cork will need to commit more bodies and aggression to these breaking ball zones against Limerick and Tipperary if they are to have any chance of progression from the province.

Waterford’s line breakers

A particularly striking aspect of Waterford’s play to date has been their line breaking ability from the half-back and midfield area of the field. They have used men akin to rugby backrows like Tadhg De Burca, Neil Montgomery and Callum Lyons to power forward in possession, along with more diminutive centre-like players such as Jamie Barron and Darragh Lyons, who are able to ride through tackles despite their size.

This front-foot hurling has been evident along with the off-the-shoulder support to the ball carrier for a well-angled handpass. Waterford managed to score 0-5 against Cork with scores of this ilk and it increased further as they landed 0-7 from this front-foot runs and shots from distance against Tipperary.

Another interesting aspect of these 12 points is that six of them came from the side under the stand in Walsh Park and close to the watching eye of Davy Fitzgerald. The challenge for Waterford in this regard is their aggression and physicality in this area is likely to be matched in their final two Munster outings against Limerick and Clare, when big men are likely to collide.

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