Where will Liam spend the Christmas of 2013?

On who’s sideboard will Liam McCarthy reside this Christmas? It is going to be fascinating and its genuinely very difficult to call, very difficult to analyse where this final will be won and lost. Here are some thoughts…

Its a novel paring, a duel between two Munster counties and all that, but the real interesting aspect is how are Cork going to dismember this Clare game plan. Bluntly it ain’t going to be easy. The first point to make is that its fairly probable that Clare will not change dramatically to what has been successful for them for the last two games. So Cork know what they are facing (similar to Limerick knew what they were facing). Clare will play with Pat Donnelan as a sweeper in the full back line and they play with two inside forwards in Darach Honan and Conor McGrath. That is the basic principle in it, tighten up your defence(7 backs) and create space in your forwards(5 forwards), nothing too dissimilar to what lots of teams try to achieve, but a lot of teams bring a forward out to midfield to try and create space for their inside forwards.

Early in the year Clare were playing a very short game out from their defence and it was breaking down on them. They looked to be struggling to put their game plan in place. Since this they have made slight tweaks in that they now vary their style in that they play long and short balls out of defense, remember their goal against Limerick came from a long delivery. Clare are very mobile, they play whats in front of them, short if the option is there and long if appropriate. Remember the first score against Limerick, that was Pat Donnelan(their so called sweeper at the back) in a wing forward position. They seem to really have struck the right balance. The other key point is the role Tony Kelly is performing; he is the link through which a lot happens, he is playing the perfect midfield game, making himself available for his backs coming out with ball and either delivering good ball to inside forwards or taking some great scores from distance. He also makes himself available to his half forwards if they are in possession. This is text book midfield play, the link between backs and forwards. When I saw Clare early in the year I didn’t like what they were doing (at that stage it was too much emphasis on the short game) but now they have balanced their approach and it looks formidable. What is somewhat confusing is how they are putting up such a decent score as in many cases the opposition will leave three inside backs on the two inside forwards which would say Clare’s scoring power is limited(6 backs on 5 Clare forwards). But a lot of the scores are coming from the midfield and half forward area rather than from inside 30 yards, where the majority of a teams scores come from. This would imply that they are taking the right options from half back and midfield. Their build up and support play in this area is very good, their ability to find a man in space( in the surrounding 20 meters of the man in possession) is very impressive. If Clare were forced to hit the ball under pressure in this area of the field, this would inhibit their game plan in two key ways, 1) from long distance score taking and, 2) from playing an advantageous ball to their two inside forwards(remember their inside forwards are being covered by 3 backs, so Hail Mary balls are no use really, they must be played to the forwards advantage).

So what have Cork to do? The first thing Cork have in their advantage is that when they have a spare man in their full back line, they have used it very well, their corner back reads the game very well, so it will be difficult for the Clare two inside forwards. To make the most of this advantage, Cork must, just must put enormous pressure on the Clare half backs and midfield as this is the source. This is where the long distance scores come from and the precision ball to the inside forwards. If Cork can disrupt this, they will be well on their way to reducing Clare’s scoring threat. Also to note here is if Brian Murphy starts at full back it will be another big plus for Cork and Clare may have difficulty scoring goals.

Then the difficulty for Cork is how do they put up a decent score themselves, as Clare’s work rate in defense is exemplary. Clare put massive pressure on the opposition, this is one of the corner stones on which Clare’s success this season has been built. Cork half backs, midfielders and half forwards won’t have much time on the ball of that there is no doubt. In tandem with that is Clare have an extra back in the full line. It looks as if the only real space that’s available is in both corners. Cork have pace in both corner forward positions and have a few options there (Farrell, Lehane, Coughlan). There may be opportunities for Cork here, but they would have to deliver the ball early to the corners and the two corner forwards would have to stay out wide, otherwise the Clare sweeper comes into play. Will Cork deliver the ball early is the question, hard to say!!!

All in all it will be intriguing and very hard to call. Paddy Power is giving 10/1 for draw, might be worth a punt!

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