Cork and Waterford are set to renew their famous rivalry this Sunday, in the Allianz League Division 1 hurling decider, at a venue that has provided many a thriller between the two throughout the noughties.
Waterford may not have the likes of John Mullane, Dan Shanahan, Tony Browne and Ken McGrath in their ranks now, but the younger crop of Déise men are swiflty becoming stars in their own right. Derek McGrath’s men have shone this spring.
Tadhg de Búrca has been a revelation at the back, starring in a sweeper role that is a key cog in this rejuvenated Waterford side’s engine. Against Tipperary, de Búrca almost completed nullified the threat of Seamus Callanan and Tipp’s inside foward line.
Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran have excelled at centre-field while the ever-reliant Pauric Mahony has been dead accurate both from play and dead balls. The work-rate of all 15 Waterford players has been fantastic this Spring and with an increased physical presence, Waterford are improving rapidly.
The sweeper system, implemented by Derek McGrath, has been the topic of much debate recently and it will be interesting to see how Cork and Jimmy Barry-Murphy will look to counteract this effective system come Sunday. Barry-Murphy’s team selection has left the option open of playing a sweeper, something he hasn’t done before.
With Conor Lehane named at the edge of the square, there is a high possibility that he will be shifted out to wing-forward with Rob O’Shea being transferred to midfield. This leaves room for one of Aidan Walsh and Daniel Kearney to drop deeper and occupy a sweeper role.
The fact that both sides are scheduled to face each other again, in the Munster semi-final in just five weeks time raises the question of shadow-boxing.
However, both teams are in bonus territory on Sunday. With Cork not having won a league title since 1998 and Waterford’s last triumph coming in 2007, expect both teams to hold nothing in reserve. In an era where Kilkenny and Tipperary have dominated, a national title is not to be laughed at.
Both teams may have thoughts of the championship encounter in the back of their minds but all will be forgotten come 3:30 tomorrow. As for the post match video analysis, that’ll be a different story.
Cork’s concession of large amounts of scores from play is something that is of great concern to the Rebel County and with Barry-Murphy labelling full-back as Cork’s ”problem position”, Waterford will look to exploit their decision to start Aidan Ryan at full-back.
Having impressed last Saturday in the ‘Friends Of Jamie Wall’ charity match against Kilkenny, Ryan, from Midleton, will start his first league game for Cork in five years.
On the other side of the pitch, Cork have six forwards of the highest calibre. Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane have been to the fore this Spring and if Cork can box cleverly and avoid hitting long aimless balls to Waterford’s extra man, their experience should see them through.
Verdict: Cork by four.