[Frontpage] Kilkenny v Cork SHC SF Preview

The single biggest game in Kilkenny Hurling history.

That is what the Kilkenny team are looking at every time they take the field until they lose.
Any loss ends their record winning streak, which currently stands at 20.
It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.

The next hurdle is a Cork team who have flattered to deceive in this year’s championship.
Is this the Cork team that put Tipperary to the sword?
Or is this the Cork team that could not score from play in the first half of the replay with Waterford.

What about Kilkenny? Are they a side in regression or have they improved since last year.
Having Noel Hickey back to full back is a massive boost to Kilkenny. Not only do you have the stability of hickey at full back it frees up JJ Delaney back to his most natural position at left half back. Last year’s makeshift Kilkenny defence was always a source of concern. This year things feel solidified.

The Extra Man
I have heard it suggested that Cork should play Shane O’Neill as a free man extra defender.
From a Kilkenny point of view, this would give a few options depending on how the Cork forwards align themselves.
[For the purposes of this paragraph, I’m predicting Horgan will start and Cussen and Cronin will drop to the bench making space for Shane Murphy. But we will talk about various scenarios]

If Cork decide to go with a 3-man full forward line to keep Aisake as central as possible they could line up like this [below]:


Kilkenny would then have Hogan dropping a little deeper on Aisake to give Hickey extra protection.
The midfielders would have to be aware of the extra space this creates in the half back line for Naughton and Kenny to run in to, with maybe Cha dropping in and plugging the gap.

If Cork went with a 2-man full forward line it would mean Aisake moving a tad toward the corner and being combined with maybe Horgan.
Another possibility is going with Aisake and Cussen in the full forward line. That would be a clear signal of Cork tactics for the game.
This scenario would leave most likely Tyrrell or Dalton as the extra man. [below]


Cork could use these two interchangeably as a misdirection ploy to cause some uncertainty among the Kilkenny backs. If Fraggie or Horgan were to move in and out from corner forward to center forward this could be effective.

I don’t really see the great advantage in Cork going with an extra man in defence. Kilkenny are very used to playing against teams playing an extra man back in defence. Clare have done it a few times in the past, as have Dublin recently.
And if I was going to do it I and my plan was to play more high balls in to full forward line, the man I would have free would be Gardiner and not O’Neill.
Gardiner’s ball striking is the best in the Cork back line and not only would he be free to drop balls in around the Kilkenny house he would also be able to get in position to shoot from distance like he has been doing so successfully all year. O’Neill is a better defender than Gardiner and would be more useful in a marking role. Gardiner is key to a Cork victory in my eyes. Neither O’Neill or the rest of the Cork backs have the length or accuracy in their delivery that Gardiner has.

The Puck Out Quandary
The mechanics of it are simple enough. You have each of your forwards double mark by “splitting players”. The centre forward triple marks.
Your full forward line make themselves big enough to make a pass to your half backs look dodgy. Corner forwards tuck in slightly to block the line of sight to the half backs. And the traditional landing area of a long puck out becomes a crowded mess. The Kilkenny Forwards mark space more than players. A team who allows their half backs to follow the half forwards out only leave more space for the Kilkenny full forward line to operate.

So you are Donal Ă“g. What do you do?
Let’s assume Cork go man for man. The #1 problem that teams have faced against Kilkenny in recent history is how to deal with the crowded delivery area for puck outs.

The things I have learned from watching Kilkenny line up to defend puck outs over the years is:

  1. Do not use short puck outs. Your touch needs to be impeccable to get this right. They are just too risky unless you have glaring space and an obvious overlap. Over the past few years I expect that Kilkenny have scored more from short puck outs gone wrong than the opposition have scored from short puck outs gone right. Especially ones that are aimed for half backs or low ones to the midfield as in the second video clip below. Short puck outs are pretty useless for Cork anyway unless they can get the ball to Gardiner in space like they did against Tipperary and I very much doubt that Kilkenny would consistently allow that to happen. A short puck out to the corner backs will have the Kilkenny forward line swarming all over O’Neill and Brian Murphy and the likelihood is that if you do get a strike away it will be hit under great pressure and will not bypass the Kilkenny half back line, rendering it somewhat pointless given the length of their striking. Kilkenny have a bigger advantage with Dalton and Tyrrell in the corners as their striking is similar in length to Gardiner, albeit less accurate.

  2. Do not bomb high balls down on JJ Delaney or Tommy Walsh. Again, you are just asking for trouble. With John Tennyson out with another cruciate[a massive blow to Kilkenny], Brian Hogan becomes the weakest link in the Kilkenny defence on puck outs. If Brian Hogan returns to the form he had in 2008 this does not become an issue. But if he is the Brian Hogan who seems to be lacking in confidence since breaking his collar bone in the 2009 League Final then Cork could have an opening to exploit. He was very quiet in the Leinster Final victory before he went off. Move Cussen in on him and drop balls down on him, after pulling JJ and Tommy as far away as possible. This is one simple tactic. Obviously they could not just repeat this over and over. Others are up for discussion.


Maybe Cork are the team to come up with something creative to show teams how to get around this puck out formation. I have wondered what a batch of set piece puck outs would do to this formation. With cross field runners setting off to confuse and disrupt the Kilkenny defenders creating space for other Cork players to have the ball hit to them. Again, Kilkenny players generally mark space rather than players do it is hard to know if this would work.

In 4 years the only team to give Kilkenny serious trouble were a Tipperary team which just decided to stand up and fight like dogs for every ball. Sooner or later that will be enough to beat Kilkenny.
Tellingly, in the period where Tipperary were most dominant [The first 10 minutes of the 2nd half] Tipp had 1 successful short puck out[Stemming from poor covering from Eoin Larkin, which led to the Eoin Kelly goal chance] and no others. So they key is to take the game to Kilkenny and leave yourself with less puckouts to worry about. Which makes the Cork extra man idea less useful.

Three Key Matchups

1. Power vs Cadogen


Richie Power has the potential to make any defender have a miserable day but more often than not does a little but not a lot. The second last time these 2 faced off, Power had 3 goals in the Nowlan Park annihilation before being moved out the field in the second half. He finished with 3-1. In the league this year he scored 0-7. 3 of those coming from play. Cadogen came to grips with Power in the second half when the game was in the balance. Cadogen and Cork will need for Power to continue on this downward trend if Cork are to have hope of springing a surprise.

2. Hickey vs Aisake


The expectation is that Cork will continue with their tactic of playing regular high balls in to Aisake Ó hAilpín in the hope of him catching and scoring. A fully fit and prepared Noel Hickey should be more than a match for Aisake. How Cork fare with any broken ball around these two will be key to how the match is won and lost. If Aisake were to score a goal or more on Hickey it would give Cork a massive chance and raise big question marks around Hickey’s future as the Kilkenny #3. If Hickey is dominant then it will be interesting to see how quickly Cork go to a plan B.

3. Gardiner vs Larkin


There is no love lost between these 2. Gardiner possibly could have been sent off in the 2006 All-Ireland for a terrible pull on Larkin’s ankle[/url]. Larkin got his revenge in 2008 when [url=“http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2Vi-sKCThk#t=09m40s”]he scored the crucial goal in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork. He scored 1-2 on the day and the performance was up there with the best he had during a year that led to him being named Hurler of the Year. Gardiner is playing the best hurling of his career, which says a lot given that he was GPA Hurler of the Year in 2005. He has been excellent all year and his scoring from the half back line has given Cork a big boost. If Larkin were to rediscover his form and get Gardiner on his back foot for the game it would go a long way to ensuring Kilkenny make their 5th All-Ireland Final appearance in a row. If John Gardiner is free to regularly pump accurate long ball down on Aisake Ó hAilpín then Kilkenny fans could be looking at a long day.

Kilkenny Weakness is Cork’s opportunity
PJ Ryan is the #1 talking point here. He had a very poor game against Galway. Maybe the AI Final last year has made him think he is better than he is but either way, Kilkenny could do without PJ Ryan handing Cork the kind of soft scores he did to Galway.
The goal was wholly on him and there were a series of other jittery moments that he needs to cut out. Immediately. Cork should position Aisake on the edge of the small square and test Ryan’s nerve early on.
Brian Hogan also could be seen as a weakness.
Losing Michael Rice from midfield should not be underestimated. He has been close to being Kilkenny’s very best performer in the last 2 years. His work rate in midfield will be sorely missed. Whether it is Lyng or Cha replacing him they will need to match his workload. Cha Fitz back to his best would be a massive bonus to Kilkenny. Currently, the Kilkenny top scorer from play is Aidan Fogarty, who has been a sub in the past 2 games.
Eoin Larkin is continuing to work through a loss of form. Kilkenny are full of young players bursting with potential. Richie Power, John Mulhall, Richie Hogan, TJ Reid all have the capability to run riot but they rarely do. Richie Hogan is certainly out. Mulhall will be on the bench. This is a big opportunity for TJ Reid and Richie Power to become more than the bit part players they have been but also an opportunity for Cork to set their progress back.
According to Paddy Power there is more chance of Kilkenny running riot and winning by 16 points or more than Cork winning….at all. Which is ridiculous to me. Kilkenny 1/7 is crazy as the results over the weekend have shown. At the end of the day we are still looking at 15 men vs 15 men. Sooner or later this Kilkenny team will slip up. History has shown this time and again. It is the main reason I have no doubt that Cork will give a good account of themselves much like they did in 2008, only better. Goals are key to all games but especially so to Cork in this game. Any chance they have of winning the game comes with scoring at least 2 goals and keeping Kilkenny out of their net. I would very much doubt Cork will outscore Kilkenny’s point total. Cork’s point totals of 15, 15 and 13 in their 3 matches with genuine contenders will put them in grave danger against a Kilkenny team that regularly raise 20 white flags or more. The bigger question marks in this game surround Cork. Conceding 0-19 points to Antrim has to be a concern. As has, their inability to score from play for large stretches of the replayed Munster Final. Cork seemed to drift in and out of the Munster Final matches. A similar up and down performance against this Kilkenny team could see them re-enacting parts of the Nowlan Park horror show from over a year ago.

The likelihood is that Cork will come out hard and fast, full of pride and commitment and take the game to Kilkenny in the first half building up a small early lead. If at this point they can get a goal or two they will really put themselves in a great position to kick on and sow seeds of doubt in this Kilkenny team. If Cork fade at any period they need to make sure they do not concede heavily. The hallmark of this Kilkenny team is a quick 5-10 minute flurry of scores which kills teams off.
In each of the last 3 All-Ireland Finals that Kilkenny have played in they have scored back to back goals to essentially kill off the tie. The last time they played Cork in the Championship they had a flurry before half time of 1-5. After 26 mins it was 0-7 0-6 to Kilkenny. By halftime it was 1-12 to 0-7 and the game was all but up. In 2007, 2-4 on Galway late on made Kilkenny’s victory look easy when in reality Galway were as close to Tipp last year to beating Kilkenny. Kill the momentum any way you can. If Cork can minimise Kilkenny flurries they have a chance. If Kilkenny score early goals and get on top like they did for 15 minutes or so against Galway it could be carnage. In the end I think that Kilkenny’s superior forwards will win the day and Cork will cover the 8 point spread.

Prediction: Kilkenny 1-22 Cork 1-16
Man of the Match: Richie Power

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