Cork and Waterford clash at Semple Stadium in Sunday, Brina Barry discusses the three biggest talking points ahead of the Munster Championship opener.
1. Will Cork’s defence tighten up?
Cork’s defence held up throughout the summer last year, but was ultimately their downfall in the All-Ireland Final replay against Clare, shipping 5-16. With their young forward line one year older and eager to do damage, the onus is on their backs to step up to the plate.
The return of Eoin Cadogan to the fold has helped, but the dual star is out the Rebels’ opener. Paudie O’Sullivan is another who will help the cause, albeit in the forward line, and starts on the bench on Sunday.
Perhaps a commanding centre-back is what has been lacking. Christopher Joyce was solid last year, but was not the player to control the game from the pocket. William Egan has also been tried there. Jimmy Barry-Murphy has opted for debutant Mark Ellis this week. Waterford do not possess firepower up front as strong as other attacks which Cork will face this summer, but their duel will the rebel back line will offer a good indicator if Barry-Murphy’s has cracked the code.
2. Can Cork bounce back?
The addition of Aidan Walsh is a big boost to the Rebels. Having impressed hugely at u21 with the county, he makes his senior bow against the Déise. Alan Cadogan, brother of Eoin, debuts at corner forward. Add Ellis, and there is a healthy turnover in what is a competitive squad.
All the talk in the country at present is focused on Clare’s high-paced, youthful attack. Had referee Brian Gavin not been so generous with the amount of added time in the drawn game, it would have been a very different winter. The tactics of JBM would be the conundrum for his counterparts. Instead, Cork have been left to winter with a sense of what might have been. Nonetheless, the heartbreak of surrendering an All-Ireland title late into injury time will haunt the players. This can have a big impact on such a young team. How they react will define this team.
3. How will Waterford’s training ban affect the team?
The decision for the senior county team not to train for a number of weeks following the league sparked much debate around the country. Whether this was a decision from the county board is irrelevant. But whether this a much needed break from intense training at the right time, or downright stupidity remains to be seen. If the Déise beat Cork on Sunday, this will become the template for teams throughout the country.
Verdict: There has been very little talk about Cork when sizing up the contenders for Liam McCarthy. This will suit JBM and co. down to the ground. This Waterford team is in transition. A good performance is perhaps the best they can hope for. Cork by seven.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.