After the drama of last weekend, this weekend sees the second All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final with Munster kingpins Cork facing a Waterford side who have steadily built confidence through the qualifiers. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
How have Cork managed the five week break?
A key factor in the lead-up to this fixture. Several provincial winners have failed to adequately manage the extended lay-off and the performance has dipped. Cork will know too well on their experiences in 2014 when they arrived to Croke Park in confident mood only to be turned over easily by Tipperary. The side failed to turn up and were second best in all facets of play. The opening exchanges will be crucial to see if Cork can get to the pitch of the game. If they can, then they are in a great position to win the contest; otherwise it could be an arduous afternoon.
The De Burca factor
Plenty of pregame notes have being associated with the appeals of Tadhg De Burca who is looking to be available for selection this weekend. The incident during the Wexford win was unfortunate. The helmet offense was missed by the referee and linesman but after Kehoe’s protests, the incident was discussed and a red card issued.
The fact that the CCCC are not planning on taking any action on Adrian Tuohy should mean that De Burca prospects of playing at the weekend are better than 50/50. Bennett’s suspension was down to television replay. De Burca was penalized by match official Fergal Horgan which is a huge factor in the subsequent appeal failures. The inconsistency of officiating the offense in recent weeks could be a telling argument for De Burca in the coming days.
De Burca’s role with Waterford is pivotal. He has honed the sweeper role to perfection and his distribution from the back is on point. Derek McGrath and management have no doubt identified a backup for the player in the last couple of weeks (Fives comes into the picture) but it would be huge blow if one of Waterford’s defensive cogs is suspended. Advantage to Cork if the suspension is upheld.
Do Waterford have the sufficient goal threat to win?
This point is not supposed to slight the Waterford forward line. All players are standouts but for Waterford to get to the promised land (Liam McCarthy glory), more goals are required from the full forward and half-forward units.
Cork’s back line have played superbly well in this season’s championship. Their pace, power and organization exposed a limited Waterford forward line effort in the Munster SHC. Damien Cahalane and Mark Ellis have formed a solid central defensive core and with the ever reliable Anthony Nash in goals, goal scoring chances have being at a premium.
Waterford will look to Brick Walsh, Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran to provide the platform in attack. Walsh in particular shone against Wexford; his opening cameo which included a superb long range point and winning several frees converted by Padraic O’Mahony were decisive contributions.
Mark Coleman, Mark Ellis and Chris Joyce as a half-back line have being stellar all year. It is going to be a fascinating tussle with the the likes of Austin Gleeson, Brick Walsh and Kevin Moran in opposition. Their precise passing out of defense with multiple running options has being a joy to watch and Waterford will need to counteract these runs at source meaning that the forward line units will need to put in a serious shift without the ball.
Back to my original point, Waterford have talented inside full forward line options. Bennett, Shanahan, Curran, Devine, Dillon could easily become game winners this weekend if provided with the right distribution. At times, the distribution into the full forward line has not adequate; perhaps due to the fact that Waterford dropping players deep down the field.
Waterford need to show different sides against Cork. If they go to prototype and deploy sweepers with minimal full forward line presence, Cork have the edge given their ability to take points from long range. I want to see Waterford at times take off the shackles and push up on the Cork puck-outs, push players further up the pitch to support their full forward line. Whether this happens is a different question but they need this dynamism to get over the line this weekend.
Can Jamie Barron provide Waterford the platform for victory?
Jamie Barron is such an important player for Waterford in the middle third. His contribution in the extra time victory over local neighbors Kilkenny oozed class. His energy was too much for a stretched Kilkenny side defensively and his superbly well taken goal was a fatal blow for Cody’s men.
Barron’s performance will indicate how Waterford are faring. If Barron is prominent in open play, Waterford will be in the ascendancy and Cork’s midfield of Cooper and Fitzgibbon having to dedicate more time to the defensive side of their play.
Cooper defensively has being on point this season. He will be trusted to track Barron’s runs from deep in order to allow Charleville native Fitzgibbon to create attacking opportunities running with the sliothar from deep. It is an area which will be eagerly anticipated. The tactical nous and management decisions to close the other opponent in this area of the pitch will be a talking point post-game.
Can Cork beat the Waterford sweeper system?
Cork have at first hand seen Waterford’s defensive system. Cork flew out of the traps in their last encounter against Waterford and never looked back. Lehane, Harnedy, Horgan were immense on the day and Cork will look to these players to hit quality scores from play. Alan Cadogan’s emergence in the Munster SHC final is a real asset; his goal and points spoke of a player in the peak of their playing form and confidence. Waterford will attempt to snuff out the quick ball going into the full forward line of Harnedy, Meade and Cadogan. All Cork inside forwards possess massive pace and ability to create goal chances from nothing.
If Waterford do successfully quieten the inside full forward line threat, Cork have a talented half-forward line to take scores from distance. How Waterford manage the running game of Cork will be a key element to this fixture? Lehane, Kingston will look to get involved early; if this means venturing into Cork’s back line to get ball and running with intent so be it. Do Waterford assign man markers to Lehane and Kingston in this case? Zonal defending is a risk and with Lehane lethal in open play this season, it is an area of concern for Waterford ahead of this tussle.
Waterford puck-out strategy?
How will Derek McGrath combat the threat posed by Anthony Nash’s puck out strategy. The Cork goalkeeper has being sublime in his game time decisions with the ball. His range of distribution to either half-back, midfield and half-forward line has being on full display this season. The half-forward line benefited from Nash’s puck out during the Tipperary triumph. Nash then adapted to Waterford and Clare, varying his distribution to his defensive units and midfielders in space. Nash has being a vital component in Cork’s progression this season. The Cork puck out win percentage is due in no small part to Nash and his distribution. His unerring accuracy has given his colleague the opportunity to win clean ball. Waterford have more questions to answer on this facet of play. Another intriguing element to the contest.
There are several underlying factors leading into this contest. How will Cork perform given their five week layoff. Munster SHC kingpins have traditionally found the All Ireland SHC semi-final hard going to establish tempo and flow; expect a shaky opening quarter from Cork but the lessons of 2014 will be learned to allow the Rebels impose their will on the game.
Waterford need to start brightly. The first quarter personally is where Waterford could hit a decisive blow given that Cork could be slow to settle. Can Waterford hit an early goal to test Cork confidence? Waterford need to hit goals on Sunday. If they don’t, they will come up second best. The tactical flexibility needs to be shown by Derek McGrath and team on the pitch.
Both teams come into this contest with good confidence. I have an inkling that Cork will do enough down the stretch to win this game as Waterford retreat further into their defensive setup. Cork for me by three / four points in a game which will make the purist tear their hair out. Cork’s ability to take long distance scores a decisive point.
If Waterford can take off the shackles and put pressure on Cork defensively, they could easily win this game with something to spare but I fear they will stick the tried and trusted hence I am siding with Cork on this.