The crowd invasion from the Cork supporters in attendance at the final whistle (could not hear it myself) told its own story. Cork had once again produced a stirring performance full of tempo and invention to deal with a Waterford side who struggled for long periods.
Defining Cork Victory
This is a defining victory for Cork hurling; a critical victory to backup the memorable victory over arch rivals Tipperary three weeks ago in the Munster Quarter Final. This result confirms the potential and answers the critics (including myself) who challenged and questioned this side on their performance consistency.
Those questions were emphatically answered. Each Cork player and management staff member contributed to this win. Management devised a perfect game plan to keep Waterford defensively off balance throughout; the decision to deploy Lehane around the half-back and midfield areas to strike points from long range exposed Waterford’s inability to track players from deep.
Cork management’s decision to move players around the forward line in particular Pa Horgan and Alan Cadogan reaped rewards as both marquee players played superbly. Horgan ended the day with ten points (seven from placed balls) while Cadogan won several close range frees with his selfless running. Harnedy was also prominent and his two point haul was just desserts for a superb outing.
The Cork rookies in the side again performed to a high level. I have to say the introduction of wing back Mark Coleman to the starting lineup has provided a massive upside for the team. His sideline cut in the opening period was nothing short of sensational but his all round game (game management, passing and defensive work rate) caught the eye. Ellis and Joyce provided superb support. Ellis’ game management was on point throughout and he nullified the threat of Austin Gleeson in the second half.
Cooper and Fitzgibbon chipped in with two points from a midfield. Even though Jamie Barron scored two points and Kevin Moran scored another, the Cork midfield work rate defensively and support outlets for their back line to launch attacks was pivotal.
This was a day where Cork confirmed that their win against Tipperary was no fluke; they controlled affairs for long periods of the first period without punishing Waterford on the scoreboard. All lines were firing well while Waterford were struggling to gain composure with possession. Lehane particularly in that opening period was key; his long range points oozed class and provided Cork with early confidence.
Decision Time for Waterford?
Despite Cork in the ascendancy, Waterford were somehow level at the break. Austin Gleeson with the pick of their scores; sensational pick up despite several Cork defenders around him to smartly dispatch the ball over the bar. The Deise will need to review and reflect on the game tape as several issues reared its head in this performance.
The lack of leadership on the pitch when Cork surged for the winning line in the third quarter was noteworthy; the key personnel were strangely subdued during this period. Veterans such as Brick Walsh and Kevin Moran struggled in the summer heat of Thurles and Austin Gleeson’s influence was perhaps negated by a leg injury sustained in the opening period.
With key players struggling for form in the contest, Waterford team colleagues started to panic with possession. The wide count for Waterford was incredibly high; several speculative efforts from long distance were never going to hit the target. Unfortunately, Padraic O’Mahony had a day to forget on placed balls. When Waterford required a steady free taker to keep the scoreboard ticking over, O’Mahony crumbled with several miscues.
Derek McGrath is four years in charge of Waterford. Progress has being made but the performance today looked lethargic and there did not appear to be the hunger or work rate as in previous years. Have Waterford players reached the peak of their powers under this management regime? Lack of competitive games will be touted but the lack of game plan and particularly the use of Maurice Shanahan was glaring from the Deise.
Shanahan was the only inside forward who threatened throughout. His goal may have being fortunate but his persistence to attack the Cork defense was rewarded. This should have being the cue for Waterford to distribute to the Lismore clubman inside but Waterford refused to change their short pass style of play. Incredibly frustrating day for the inside Waterford full forward line. Management must carry some of the blame for a blunt tactical display.
Waterford defensively were unnerved throughout. De Burca, O’Mahony and Fives tried to establish a platform but they were harried and put under immense pressure from a Cork forward line unit whose work rate was on point throughout even in trying weather conditions. The pressure exerted meant that Waterford’s forward line were not getting ideal ball to create attacking opportunities and the expected runs from deep from Barron and Moran were negated due to this.
It was sad to see legendary players such as Walsh and Moran struggle with the pace of the game. The Waterford veterans struggled to impose their influence on the contest. Walsh tried hard to get colleagues into the contest but it was a thankless task. Moran was a step or two off it all day and I was surprised he was left on for the duration of the contest.
Cork’s self-belief was challenged when Shanahan struck for his second half goal but the Rebels composure did not waver and a quick response from the impressive Horgan (free) settled any nerves.
With Ellis controlling Waterford attacking reads, Cork started to keep the scoreboard ticking over and setting up victory. Sub Cahalane again made an impact off the bench with a smart point. This was the theme of the day. Cork players contributed and delivered. Waterford frankly did not and must go into the qualifiers with massive questions to ask.
Officiating Tough Day
Barry Kelly had an extremely tough afternoon. The pace and tempo of the contest was awe inspiring as both sides were unrelenting in their speed. The officiating consistency topic again was to the fore; when you compare how Wexford / Kilkenny was officiated last weekend by Fergal Horgan, the officiating style was quite different.
Colin Fennelly’s penalties last weekend vs. Maurice Shanhan being pulled down by Cahalane in the second half today. Defenders holding and hand on the back was not pinged today. Shanahan’s penalty incident looked harsh on Waterford but how Kelly and his linesman missed Bennett with a clear helmet pull on Cahalane was staggering.
Kelly will say that he attempted to let the game flow but those incidents look glaring. Both sides will point to incidents not pinged as well. Who knows how the Munster SHC final will be officiated? It is a serious issue entering into the All Ireland Series. Credit the umpires who did their job diligently but the linesman at times did not help the man in the middle.
This is a day which Cork announced themselves as a viable contender in the Liam McCarthy race. Kingston and management will be keen to find out the extent of Lehane’s injury which forced the forward off late on. July 9th, Thurles and a final against Clare should be a superb occasion.
The level of Cork support today was incredible. 3-1 ratio over Waterford. Expect more Rebels to come on board as the county fully backs the team to potential provincial success. Hurling needs Cork back at the top table; that statement is emphatically true this evening despite having to play with fourteen players late in the contest!