In the minutes after his first championship win as Tipperary manager last month, Liam Cahill laid bare his green flag philosophy.
Cahill’s teams have come to be defined as goal ravenous. It’s become a trademark of his managerial approach.
But such a fascination with finding the net goes beyond the winning of games. Cahill wants his players to put on a show. A spectacle.
That they certainly did on the afternoon of his championship debut as Premier boss. Five goals were swept past Clare at Cusack Park. It was the first time since Tipperary’s 2016 provincial final win that a team had managed to raise five green flags in a single Munster championship game.
“From an entertainment point of view, I think it’s nice that you have games with goals in them. Spectators need that,” Cahill said in Ennis.
“While it’s lovely to watch fellas picking off points from 70 or 80 yards, it can become a bit monotonous at times. Any young players aspiring to be good forwards, today was a good spectacle for them to see the net lifting a couple of times.”
But the entertainment and the spectacle wasn’t exclusively provided by the forwards wearing blue and gold. The Tipp defence played their part too. They were cut open for three goals. It could easily have been five.
Tipp ‘keeper Barry Hogan produced an excellent block to deny Aidan McCarthy late in the first half. Deep in the second period, Michael Breen pulled back Aron Shanagher as the latter charged through.
By air strike and on foot, weaknesses were exposed in Cahill’s rearguard. “From a defensive perspective we need to be better,” he said afterwards.
No improvement was mined during the subsequent spin to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. If anything, Cork shed a harsher light on their defensive frailties.
The hosts could have had four goals inside the opening six minutes. Patrick Horgan batted wide. Brian Roche was blocked. Seamus Harnedy took a point instead of throwing possession inside to the unmarked Robbie O’Flynn. Declan Dalton, with their fourth raid, delivered the inevitable.
Coughing up 13 goal opportunities in two games is cause for concern. Tipp leaked 11 green flags across their four Munster round-robin defeats last year. Seven at the halfway mark in 2023 says quite loudly that those problems remain. Not even the 14 league goals scored or seven in two championship outings can deflect.
The large swathes of unmanned space that existed between the 20 and 45-metre lines at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which Cork routinely pinged possession into and went running from there, pointed to a lack of organisation and lack of pace in Cahill’s defence.
“When teams do get a run at us and attack us, we do lack a little bit of toe, at times, to deal with that pace. That is a concern,” said former Tipp boss Liam Sheedy on the Irish Examiner hurling podcast the week after the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stalemate.
“Mikey Breen and Johnny Ryan, I thought late on in the game they didn’t really attack the ball. Shane Kingston picked up a lot of ball uncontested. They still have to convince us at the back.
“The positive thing is that any team that is managed by Liam Cahill and coached by Mikey Bevans is generally very good to get past the 30-point mark. And if you get past the 30-point mark, you always have a chance of winning. But the bottom line is if they concede an average of three and a half goals a game, they won’t be featuring. That is why I think a big test for this team and to really understand where you are at is Limerick coming to town.
“[Full-back] Mikey Breen is trying to find his feet in a new position. It is not easy. Cathal Barrett is probably the only one of them that’s really comfortable on a one-v-one. That’s a concern.”
Even if Limerick prefer the monotonous point-taking from 70 and 80 yards, you can be sure they’ve noted what’s been happening further in.