Jackie Tyrrell: Timid Clare got exactly what they deserved
Banner like a team obsessed with what Cork could do to them rather than vice versa
Cork’s Alan Cadogan scores the opening goal against Clare in the Munster final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Looking at the two teams last Sunday, if you knew nothing about hurling and you were asked to pick out the team with All-Ireland medals, you certainly wouldn’t have picked Clare.
Cork were the team that played with freedom, with confidence and with swagger. Clare didn’t carry themselves like a team that has won an All-Ireland and knows it could win another.
You look at them sometimes and you wonder what did they learn from 2013? What experience do they have from winning that All-Ireland that stands to them now? What did they take from it to carry forward into the rest of their careers? In all honesty, it’s hard to put your finger on anything specific.
Tony Kelly was Hurler of the Year at 19 years of age. How has he developed since? Podge Collins was the other Clare player nominated for Hurler of the Year in 2013. Where has that player gone? Shane O’Donnell scored a hat-trick in an All-Ireland final at 19 years of age. What’s his next trick?
Clare appeared to me as though they arrived in Thurles on Sunday with a completely negative and negating mindset. They looked like a team who were obsessed with what Cork could do to them rather than what they could do to Cork. That’s a strange attitude to have when you have won an All-Ireland and the other team hasn’t.
This stuff with Anthony Nash’s bag of sliotars only feeds into that. To me, that’s pure over-thinking. They obviously had made Nash’s puck-outs a major part of their pre-game analysis and decided that was the key part of the Cork game plan that they had to target. So they set out to disrupt it.
And that’s fine, up to a point. They’d have been fools not to have a plan for Nash’s puck-outs. Any team playing Cork for the rest of the year – or for the rest of Nash’s career, in fact – should have a plan. But you’re on dangerous mental ground if your approach to the game is tilted too far on the side of what you’re going to do to throw the opposition off their stride.
Now, I’m all on for doing your homework. Big time. Don’t ignore them, see what they’re all about. Pick out their strong points, their patterns of play, where their scores come from. Know your own match-ups, decide what the key battles are going to be. No serious team goes into a game without doing this sort of basic preparation.
But the key then is to use that information for reference points. You don’t build your whole game plan around it. Especially not when you have been there and done it and the other team haven’t. Clare weren’t playing Tipperary, the All-Ireland champions. They were playing Cork, who are still in the early stages of their journey. On the up, yes. But still only starting out.
On the strength of the two panels, I would have thought Clare had the better forwards. If any team was going into the game fixated about the strengths of the opposition, it should have been Cork. But that probably never entered Cork’s head. They went and played their game and got their reward.
Clare needed to pay Cork the respect they were due, not a penny more. Analyse them thoroughly and then, a week or 10 days out from the Munster final, push them to the back of their minds. The attitude for the week of the game needed to be: “Alright lads, Cork are boxed off here, we have that bit sorted. Now it’s time look inward and be ruthless in preparing ourselves. Focus on what we are going to do”.
You are Clare. Going into a Munster final. Where is your head for it? What does it mean to you? That week has to be about consuming yourself with how you are going to go at the opposition. Make a plan to bring war to them, to tear them to shreds, to make them wish they never saw another Clare jersey this lifetime. If that’s your focus all week, then there’s no way you’re thinking about a bag of sliotars.
The really telling thing about Clare’s approach was their strategy for Nash’s puck-outs was so passive. It was all about negating the influence of Conor Lehane and, in fairness, they achieved their aim on that score. But the way they went about it carried no aggression and no threat.
Instead, it allowed the Cork defenders to play their way into the game and work out a way around them. By backing off, Clare just gave Cork a different attacking route. The question has to be, why give them any at all?
They gave Nash an out ball, mostly to Damien Cahalane. The psychology of that for Cahalane is worth examining. If you’re targeting a player in that way, you’re basically saying you don’t fancy his ability to strike the ball 70 yards. You’d want to be fairly sure he’s going to live down to your expectations.
When I was playing in the full-back line, all I craved in the early part of a game was a handy ball to settle the nerves. What more could you want? A pass from your goalkeeper with nobody near you. Turn and hit it and start the attack. And if a point comes off it, you’re delighted. You’re in the game. You get a shout from your wing-back – “That’s your score, Jackie”. You drive on, confidence growing.
Clare didn’t carry themselves like a team that has won an All-Ireland and knows it could win another.
I remember going to training with the club after Kilkenny games and Fan Larkin always on to me saying: “When ye get a free in the full-back line, make sure you hit it. Don’t be letting McGarry come out and take it, that’s your ball”.
He gave two reasons. One, it’s good for your confidence. And two? “Fellas will see you hitting frees on the telly or in the crowd and they’ll subconsciously think you must have had a right game because you were on the ball a good bit.”
And he was right!
What is Damien Cahalane thinking when Clare are giving him every ball? Well, he has a choice. He can let it get to him that they consider him to be a weak link or he can decide he’s going to make them regret it. Maybe in other years, when he was struggling for form and confidence, he would have taken the first option. But in 2017, with his confidence growing from game-to-game and Diarmuid O’Sullivan having his back, he drove on and stuck it to Clare.
Giving him that room backfired on Clare. Cork scored 0-7 from short puck-outs, mainly through balls played down their left flank by Cahalane. Anybody wondering what that did for Cahalane’s confidence only has to think of his inspirational breakout from defence at the end of the game.
He must have run 80 yards with the ball on his stick, the whole stadium rising to roar him on as he went. It screamed confidence. Can you imagine him doing that last year? More to the point, can you imagine him doing it if Clare hadn’t let him ease himself into the game by giving him 20 yards of space from all those puck-outs?
I couldn’t understand why Clare never changed it up. They seemed to stick rigidly to their game plan, as if there was no other option. But that just tells me that they were too focused in the build-up on Cork, so much so that they couldn’t bring themselves to break away from it in the game.
But a game plan is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan for the game. If the game starts going in a different direction to what you’ve planned, you have to change it. And it’s players who have to do the changing. In the middle of an intense Munster championship game, they can’t be looking to the sideline to ask if they can change their shape. That has to happen on the pitch. They have to have on-field generals who dictate this.
Tony Kelly, John Conlon, whoever it is – one of them has to take the others by the scruff of the neck and go: “Right, next puck-out – Shane O’Donnell split the 2 and the 3, Conor McGrath split the 3 and the 4. Push up and be cute. Everybody else take a man each and we drop the spare man in front of Lehane. Work”.
They didn’t do any of that. They just kept going the way they were going and Cork kept doing what they were doing. Even when Conor McGrath got his goal, you were thinking: “Now, go for it. Push up on them”.
But they didn’t. And even though Tony Kelly got the next point, it was cancelled out within seconds by Alan Cadogan, again directly from a short Nash puck-out and this time Colm Spillane with space and time to drive it long.
Sometimes you have to break it down to brass tacks. What is the identity of this Clare team? Are they a short-passing team? Are they a pacy team with movement and speed, only using the long ball option if they run out of options out the field? Because to me they seem confused.
I believe this confusion has left the Clare supporters frustrated and fed up. They were totally outnumbered last Sunday.
Where was the Clare support for this team? If this was the Clare team of old, supporters would go to war outside in the square in Thurles just to get a ticket to go follow Ger Loughnane’s heroes. They saw them as real men, who even when they had a rare off day would die on their backs for the cause.
I don’t see that on the pitch with this Clare team. A key moment for me on Sunday was Patrick Horgan’s hit on Pat O’Connor – and especially its aftermath. The hit itself showed what Cork were up for.
Horgan wouldn’t be one of the most physical Cork players but he showed he was prepared to get in there and lay a hit on one of Clare’s main men. Nothing passive, no backward steps.
You have to stand up for your team. I don’t see a lot of that from Clare and I don’t see the Clare public supporting them like they once did
Where was the Clare response? Horgan got a yellow card and maybe could have got more for the hit. But whatever the ref gave him, I didn’t see too many Clare players coming in for their own say on the matter. He’s not that kind of player? So what? He still did it and the Clare lads didn’t react. If that was the Clare team of old, he’d be on the ground.
You have to stand up for your team. I don’t see a lot of that from Clare and I don’t see the Clare public supporting them like they once did. I don’t think anyone can say they saw genuine belief in either the team or the crowd on Sunday. They never gave the impression that they were convinced they could win.
Going into a Munster final with Tipperary and Waterford out of the picture, I find it very hard to get my head around that.