After a narrow escape against an inexperienced Waterford side, Sean Cremin looks at the wrongs Cork must right to go one better in the replay and assert themselves as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
It was a strange day in Thurles. There was an air of excitement that the hurling season was back but yet the crowd and the atmosphere remained in hiding as both Cork and Waterford arrived to the home place of the G.A.A. A comfortable Cork victory was the prediction of choice before throw-in. Waterford’s team looked weaker on paper and Cork were seen as the more proven side with the ability and experience to pull through. The most honest Déise fans would admit that they were travelling in more hope than expectation, while the traditional Cork confidence, or some may call it arrogance, saw people stay at home and ‘wait for the Clare game’. How wrong people proved to be.
The game appears to have set the tone for another big hurling season.Waterford deserve a lot of credit for yesterday’s performance. Had they finished the job, there could have been little complaint from the Cork camp as they simply were the better team for at least fifty-five minutes. They looked very sharp and played at a pace that Cork simply couldn’t match.
This website identified Alan Cadogan as a player to watch last week and another man who was on that list was Pauric Mahony who was outstanding in every department. He showed maturity beyond his years and led the Waterford attack brilliantly. His free taking was impeccable but he showed great ball-winning ability, for someone who is by no means a big physical presence and was a constant thorn in Cork’s side. Austin Gleeson also announced himself to the big stage. He was a player we pointed out prior to the National League, but waited for the championship to really show the public what he can do.
It will take a monumental effort for someone to score a better goal than the goal he scored against Cork. It takes a special talent to pick a ball sixty-five metres out from goal, show the pace and balance to leave almost five Cork players chasing his shadow, and then to finally strike a rocket of a shot straight off the hurley from his weak side leaving Ireland’s best goalkeeper with no chance. If the rest of last year’s minor team can start adding to this squad, then Waterford could become real contenders again soon. Other players showing real potential included Colin Dunford and Tadhg de Burca.
The main thing that Waterford showed was just raw passion, and a real want to play for their county. Even watching Dan Shanahan on the sideline was inspiring. There was a real sense of pride in themselves and pride in the Waterford jersey. For the whole first half they simply outfought Cork in fourteen of the fifteen positions. They wanted it more and this was clearly reflected as they were first to every ball and won every battle for breaking ball all over the field. They should take a lot of confidence from their display and they will have still have a chance, particularly if Stephen Molumphy, Shane O’Sullivan and Jake Dillon can get up to a good level of fitness.
Cork on the other hand may have to endure some painful reflection following that first-half display. They should be credited for coming back but they left themselves an awful lot of work to do and in the end were lucky to get a second chance. It’s hard to know just why they were so flat in the first half. It could have been over-confidence or a lack of sharpness but they were really left chasing shadows and a lot players got pushed around and did not seem to work hard enough.
There were a few positives for the Rebels. Alan Cadogan was excellent and Aidan Walsh showed that he is well up to the standard for senior inter-county hurling. Mark Ellis also showed promise at centre-back and Lorcán McLoughlin hurled a good bit of ball. Stephen McDonnell got the measure of his opponent in the second-half and things stared to click up front after a while.
Patrick Horgan also got some vital scores at vital times. He influenced the game when he moved to wing-forward and got away from the shackles of Noel Connors. Conor Lehane was unlucky and Seamus Harnedy showed well enough in the first-half when Cork were struggling badly. Bill Cooper was very good following his introduction and could easily find himself in from the start the next day.
When the Cork team was announced, there were eyebrows raised when the names of Cian McCarthy and Patrick Cronin were listed. Both players are two of the best forwards in the Cork club championship, but time after time they are proving to not be up the standard of senior inter-county hurling. Both players have been given multiple chances, but a look at the Cork bench would suggest that other players should be given go. Bill Cooper, Jamie Coughlan, Stephen Moylan and the returning Paudie O’Sullivan need to be given a chance.
Cork are in a good position now. They are being written off in some senses and they have a point to prove to themselves and the rest of the hurling community, to show that last year wasn’t a one-off.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena