On the opening day of the Munster Championship Cork and Waterford proved inseparable.
Waterford surprised a lot of people in what was expected to be a comfortable win for Cork. They played with a passion and a freedom that was seriously lacking in Cork’s performance. Going into a nine point lead and losing will be an obvious disappointment to the Déise but they are still in a very good position going into Sunday’s replay.
For Cork it seems to be a case of ‘they cannot be as bad again’ but parts of their performance were uninspiring. And we all know that top level sport is not like a tap, when you can turn it on and perform as you please. There are still question marks regarding both.
It is difficult to know which side are in a more advantageous position ahead of the replay. Very much like the first day out, Waterford have little to lose. Cork are favourites again with a lot of expectation on their shoulders. The Déise remain a young team who have now experienced their first big championship occasion.
They know what it’s like and they could easily improve on their performance the last day out. On the Cork side, they have an awful lot to prove.
They will want to show themselves that last year was not a flash in the pan and will want to set up a shot at revenge against All-Ireland champions Clare. They showed character and most importantly good ability to turn around a nine-point deficit leaving the replay nicely poised.
There was a lot to admire about Waterford’s performance the last day out. To be honest, I felt the tactical performance was over-analysed. They simply went out and played the way hurling should be played. They let the shackles off and went out and imposed themselves on the game. They put Cork under a lot of pressure to force them into mistakes.
They played at a much higher pace and intensity. They did have a tactic of isolating the Cork full-back line and this worked well. Cork’s lack of ability around the middle third put the Cork full-back line under all sorts of pressure and Waterford also picked off some great long-range scores. They played very well and dominated the game for the bones of an hour, yet it wasn’t enough to win.
Two people epitomized Waterford’s performance from what I saw in Thurles. One on the field, and one off the field. On the field of play Austin Gleeson was a great reflection on how the Déise men performed. There was just confidence and fearlessness about the way he performed. He wasn’t intimidated by the occasion or what they ‘so called’ experts had to say.
He went out and tormented Cork by constantly pressurizing them without the ball and doing plenty of damage with the ball. Off the pitch, the images created by selector Dan Shanahan were a sign of the pride and passion that Waterford showed. He was up and down the line non-stop and the controlled passion he showed on the line seemed to filter out onto the field of play.
Cork were poor, there’s no getting away from that. It’s easy to criticize and there is no better place in Ireland than Cork to knock people while they are down, but those Cork players have to accept that they were very poor the last day. Selector Seánie McGrath defended the players during the week, citing exams and other factors for possible reasons for their flat performance.
It’s hard to know from the outside, but complacency and Division 1B may have been other legitimate reasons. The bigger picture of the game though suggests that Cork got a result from a game that they should have lost. They have a second chance to escape the back-door and they are still in the Munster championship.
There were a few positives. The obvious one was the performance of Alan Cadogan. Other newcomers also did quite well. While Pauric Mahony had a heavy influence on the game, Mark Ellis did grow into the game and for a championship debut it was a good performance. Cork will be looking to him to make the troublesome number six jersey his own.
The rest of the half-back line were also a slight improvement on last year. The middle third was a massive problem. Aidan Walsh did well on his debut but the other players in this area struggled badly. It was the root of Cork’s problem in the first-half as Waterford either scored from long range or played good quality of delivery into their inside forward line. Changes must be made by Jimmy Barry-Murphy in this area.
Cian McCarthy and Patrick Cronin have been given chance after chance and they continue to fail to perform. They just don’t seem to have what it takes to impact on games at the highest level. Bill Cooper was very effective on his introduction to the half-forward line the last day, as was Patrick Horgan and both may get a start there in the replay.
The likes of Jamie Coughlan and the returning Paudie O’Sullivan could also find themselves in from the start. Consistency seems to be Coughlan’s problem, but he has shown that he has what it takes to play at this level. Match fitness the is only question mark in the case of Paudie O’Sullivan.
By all accounts he looked fit and sharp for Cloyne in the club championship last week and throwing him in from the start may be the best thing to do if he is being risked in any way.
Both sides have plenty to gain and lose in this replay. With Tipperary and Laois already in the back door, neither side will want to join them. There is also a big prize at stake of playing Clare with two championship games under their belts. Clare are yet to play and the extra games will be a big plus for either Cork or Waterford. It’s another tough one to call.
It will be interesting to see how the Waterford youngsters perform. One player that could potentially have a big say is Jake Dillon. He is only back from injury and the game the last day will help his fitness.
Cork will need to play a lot better but if new faces can freshen up the side I expect them to perform. Expect another close encounter with little between the sides and let’s hope the hurling season can continue as it has started so far.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena