The Cork hurlers backed up their impressive win over Tipperary in the first round with an equally outstanding effort to get the better of Waterford in Sunday’s Munster semi-final.
Despite being reduced the 14 players, the Rebels kept up their level of intensity in the searing heat in Semple Stadium and saw out the 0-23 to 1-15 victory to set up a date with Clare in the provincial final.
While very few would doubt that Kieran Kingston’s side have been more impressive than the Banner so far in the championship, where do they sit in relation to the other counties who are still in the hunt for the Liam McCarthy Cup?
Kilkenny and Tipperary will always be there-or-thereabouts and, depending on next Monday’s qualifier draw, we could very easily see both these teams make it to the All-Irelnd quarter-finals. Dublin, Limerick and Waterford will all have something to say about that, as the back door looks as crowded as ever this season. Whoever navigates their way into the latter stages of the summer through the scenic route will be battle hardened and have momentum behind them.
We have seen in the past that winning Munster doesn’t necessarily mean you are front in line for All-Ireand glory. However, July 9 sees a great chance for Cork to win some wilverware and keep their excellent run of form going.
While you can’t rule out any of the teams in the qualifiers, there are also the Leinster finalists. Galway and Wexford have been the two form teams in the country so far this year and will be keeping a close eye on what’s happening down south.
The league champions are the best team in the country in most people’s eyes and there is somewhat of a revoulution going on by the banks of the Slaney, and whomever comes out on top in the Leinster final will probably be the bookies favourites for the All-Ireland.
None of this should pose too much of a worry for the Rebels, who can just continue going about their business and look to improve their own game. When interviewed before Sunday’s win in Thurles on RTE, Kingston was asked if Cork would change up their style of play to match the Deise. What followed was a wonderful look of bewilderment as the Cork boss asked why would they – should Waterford not change their style to face Cork?
Obviously, there is no doubt that Cork talked about how to counter-act “the system” in preperation, but it was the correct attitude shown by the manager. Why should Cork up-end their year’s worth of work and change up eveything just for Waterford? This Waterford side has been over-rated by many in the last couple of seasons, and Derek McGrath is still looking for a signature win to prove that his side can be considered one of the best in the land.
The regression of Kilkenny and, perhaps Tipp, (although the Premier are likely to bounce back strongly) opened the door for this Waterford side. With Tipp out of the way, it was their Munster title to lose – and they lost it. They shot stupid wides from way out the field and, although Cork weren’t exactly clinical in front of goal, Waterford wasted chance after chance.
Despite having an extra player in the latter stages of the game, the Deise seemed to run into a red wall time after time as they looked to force a secod goal and make the Cork-men sweat it out. This never came as a disciplined defence saw the game home.
While Cork were worthy winners and showed that, on form, they are the best team in Munster, Waterford ended the game like a team who are falling into the habit of losing close games – a worrying feature as he head to the business end of the campaign.
Whie Galway are number one in the country at the moment – Cork are second best, in my opinion anyway. With Patrick Horgan back on the frees, and a spread of 10 different scorers with the likes of Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy standing out, Cork have shown that they can out-score anybody. Their use of possession is another key component – it was clear yesterday that they had a plan, while Waterford were hitting aimless balls, and diagonal passes just for the sake of it.
Cork have a young team – the number of u-21 players in the panel is in double figures – but yet, Clare won an All-Ireland in 2013 with a young side. Players likes Horgan and Anthony Nash will know that all too well as that pair in particular have stood up as leaders in 2017.
With these players on form, and the young talent coming through, there is no reason to doubt that the Rebels will be there or thereabouts come September.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena