Cork will have again travelled up the M8 by bus yesterday in preparation for taking on Tyrone this evening in Croke Park.
While the journey and routine may be very similar to last week, the challenge that awaits on the pitch couldn’t be more different.
The swashbuckling traditional style of play illustrated so brilliantly seven days ago by Dublin is in stark contrast to the defensive counter-attacking approach preferred by Mickey Harte’s charges.
The big question is will Cork adapt their approach to counter the Ulster men’s style?
While there was a nice free-flowing feel to Saturday’s game with Cork at least subconsciously knowing it was a free hit, this evening’s encounter brings with it all the nerves and tension of knockout football.
Given Tyrone’s approach and style, Cork’s players will experience an intensity and physicality up a level even on last week’s contest.
Barring an unlikely victory for Roscommon over Dublin in the second game, defeat for Cork will end their hopes of making the All-Ireland semi-finals.
This will be Cork’s fifth championship game of the summer, – their first such runs since 2013 – having settled on an established style of play and a relatively settled first 15. Just 12 months ago, nine of tonight’s starting team started the corresponding fixture, a humbling 16 point defeat for Ronan McCarthy’s charges.
The dilemma facing Cork management is whether they believe their current system is suited to beating Tyrone’s setup or whether they would be better off mimicking Tyrone’s style.
There are pros and cons to both, so will Cork stick or twist?
Tyrone’s ultra-defensive formation was highlighted on The Sunday Game which highlighted how Cathal McShane is left alone up front with the other 13 outfield players dropping back into a defensive screen.
They begin to engage physically inside their own 65 metre line but with an absolute manic aggression being shown once a team enters their 45 metre zone.
They swarm tackle in an effort to turn over possession or at worst force the opposition to kick low percentage shots from distance or tight angles.
Scores from in and around the D are hard to come by and long deliveries to the full-forward line are meat and drink for the Tyrone defence given the cluster of bodies occupying those spaces.
Going forward Tyrone have two modes of attack. One, on the back of a turnover or winning a long kickout, is a fast break with pace and power in the form of Niall Sludden, Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly picking holes in retreating defences.
Secondly, is their slow and deliberate attacks when the opposition are set and lying in wait for the advancing bodies. Tyrone display patience and care in possession beforel ooking for intricate hand passing moves ideally finding McShane coming on the loop for scores.
I have no doubt Cork will score enough to give themselves a chance of winning the game.
Regardless of how Cork set up they have the players, and most importantly players playing with confidence in themselves and their setup. My major concern is how Cork will cope from a defensive point of view.
This is not a slight on the individuals involved as outside of Kevin Flahive, who will likely be tasked with nullifying the threat of McShane, the other five defenders and both midfielders will not be responsible for a direct opponent during open play.
In last year’s encounter in Portlaoise Tyrone ran through the Cork rearguard at will and it wasn’t for a lack of bodies in defence.
Cork’s issue on that occasion was that although players made great efforts in getting back, it was what they did next was the issue. Defending against an onrushing group of attackers requires an excellent defensive structure and clear and constant communication. Cork will be led by the likes of James Loughrey and Ian Maguire in terms of ensuring players squeeze up and tag runners coming through the crowd.
Watching Tyrone’s points float over the bar against Roscommon one noticeable observation was the amount of times spare Roscommon bodies were positioned on their own 21-yard line sweeping without applying any pressure.
Cork goalkeeper Mark White must ensure that Cork players don’t take the easy option of retreating to the D without serving a purpose.
Other lessons must be carried over from 12 months ago. Last year Cork looked as though players marked whoever came into their zone which led to some very inexperienced players being exposed by Tyrone’s main men.
Both Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly are both well used to the close attention of specialist man markers but the Cork management and players will surely have given thought as to whether a ‘dog’ or two should be sacrificed for the greater good. Noel O’Leary on Marty Clarke in 2010 springs to mind, with the greatest of respect intended.
As Ronan McCarthy doesn’t have a habit of naming dummy teams we can presume the omission of Paul Kerrigan at the expense of the welcome return of Killian O’Hanlon is a recognition of the demands expected of his troops.
Brian Hurley will spearhead the attack with the impressive Ronan McNamee likely to be his direct man marker while Mark Collins and Luke Connolly both have the engines and ball carrying ability to drop deep as play will no doubt dictate.
Cork will hope to remain in the game long enough to unleash the fresh legs of Kerrigan, Michael Hurley and the returning Seán Powter to run at Tyrone’s tiring defence. The key will be to repeat last week’s heroics and stay in the game long enough for the subs to have the opportunity to make an impact. The summer of 2019 has been an encouraging start to Cork football’s
five-year plan and optimism has returned to the Cork football fraternity.
Following on from heartening displays in both minor and senior Munster finals, qualification to the Super 8s, and the fantastic victory for the Cork U20s to claim Munster honours have further heightened the mood on Leeside.
A victory tonight would put Cork football firmly back on the map and give the Rebels serious cause for celebration. Here’s hoping its the Cork bus which will have reason for a sing-song returning home tonight.