Nicky English: Power and poise on the big occasion points to Limerick triumph

Cork’s hopes lie in using pace to go around Limerick and open up vital goal chances

On several occasions against Waterford Tom Morrissey was able to get a good touch with his hand and then unshackle himself with physical power. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

On several occasions against Waterford Tom Morrissey was able to get a good touch with his hand and then unshackle himself with physical power. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

There’s no doubt that Cork are on an upward swing and that the win over Kilkenny will have accelerated that. They have a couple of things going for them: that momentum and their pace, which is serious and widespread in the team.

The two finalists are leading exponents of the modern game and extremely adept at playing through the lines. This requires a high level of technical ability, which both of them possess but Cork are relying on skill and pace whereas Limerick have skill, pace and, crucially, greater power.

For example, take a Limerick ball coming through Darragh O’Donovan or Will O’Donoghue and going to Tom Morrissey, who is physically marked. There’s a guy on his shoulder but on several occasions against Waterford he was able to get a good touch with his hand and then unshackle himself with physical power.

Traditionally Limerick have no anxieties about Tipperary but are extremely wary of Cork

Cork don’t have that in their locker but they do have pace all around the pitch and they need to use it to try to get around Limerick. They also have the win over Kilkenny and the manner of it but as well, they have the well publicised work that has been done this year in developing a goal threat through league and championship.

When Cork are about there’s also the matter of voodoo. Limerick are practised, All-Ireland veterans at this stage, playing a power game that at its best is irresistible but there’s no doubt that Cork are not the team they wanted to see winning the semi-final.

They bring the voodoo of 1966, 1986 and ’90 when they won as distant outsiders. They have people in the backroom who have won All-Irelands with Johnny Clifford, the Canon and JBM back in the day.

Cork’s Jack O’Connor celebrates scoring a goal during the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Cork’s Jack O’Connor celebrates scoring a goal during the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Then there is fanatical support, so that if they get any suggestion of an opening, the atmosphere builds. You could feel that energy at the under-20 All-Ireland final the other night.

Traditionally Limerick have no anxieties about Tipperary but are extremely wary of Cork.

The problem with voodoo is that no matter how many chickens’ heads you pull off, it won’t win it for you on its own. It only works when you get a run on the opposition and that’s where I see difficulties for Cork. How will they exert pressure on the champions?

The consensus is that they will have to get goals. I’m not in disagreement with that but you rarely hear the question, why? The reason is that no team can secure enough possession with Limerick to trade points and Cork are unlikely to buck that trend.

Cork haven’t been tested at that level even if we have seen better signs from them this year – coming back at Clare and Kilkenny

They couldn’t get it in July. As poorly as Limerick played, they got to grips with the match and Cork could get no more possession after that. Kyle Hayes became completely dominant and when the pressure was on at a man down, Cian Lynch took control and that on a day when Hegarty, Morrissey and Gillane were all replaced.

For the voodoo to be a factor, Cork need enough possession to get the crowd into play and if not they need goals.

Now they have created goal chances this year but their conversion rate isn’t brilliant. In the Munster semi-final they had opportunities, most obviously the penalty but also Shane Kingston’s. Jack O’Connor got a couple of runs that led to nothing. Even in the league meeting in Limerick they had about five goal chances.

Those will need to be taken because although it’s fair to say that Cork have improved since July, so have Limerick – immeasurably. I had doubts about Limerick after that match. They looked out of shape and it didn’t look like they would have the time to fix it.

Limerick’s Cian Lynch and Niall O’Leary of Cork in action during the All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Limerick’s Cian Lynch and Niall O’Leary of Cork in action during the All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

That was initially borne out in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when Tipperary were all over them in the first half of the Munster final but since then, they have put together three outstanding halves of hurling. Any time I have had doubts about Limerick coming into a game, it’s been about their form because when they’re on form there’s nobody to touch them.

The biggest issue for Cork is how to mark Lynch. In Thurles Mark Coleman did the job quite well until he was made a spare man during the Peter Casey sin-binning and Niall O’Leary took over. Lynch went to town before half-time and never looked back.

I’m not sure they have anyone to mark him. Waterford and Tipperary tried to go man-to-man but even when there was no one else at home in the first half of the Munster final, he was there riding shotgun. When Limerick are under pressure they rely on him.

This is where they have been tested, in the white heat of championship matches going wrong. Cork haven’t been tested at that level even if we have seen better signs from them this year – coming back at Clare and Kilkenny.

I still think that Cork will put it up to Limerick. I expect they’ll use pace to try and get around the champions and open up space to chase goals.

The champions are also well drilled in big days in Croke Park but it’s Cork’s first All-Ireland in eight years. Limerick have been excellent at finding the right form on these occasions. Last year they saved their best for the final.

Cork will be relying on them to a fair extent not matching their own standards. I just don’t see that happening.

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