On Saturday, the Cork supporters club, Cairde Chorcaí, had a Q&A for premium patrons, mostly Cork supporters, prior to the senior game.
Tomás Mulcahy asked the questions and former Cork hurlers Tom Kenny, Pat Mulcahy and Waterford icon Dan Shanahan were the guests. Shanahan delivered a witty, clever, relaxed performance that stole the show and as the Cork fans filed out they must have been hoping that the ‘new-look’ Waterford team wouldn’t follow suit.
Waterford had a youthful look about their team and manager Paraic Fanning went for pace up front.The forwards looked ‘up for the fight’ and Stephen Bennett and brother Shane, in particular, brought a physicality to proceedings which was absent in their earlier encounters.
Cork played against the strong breeze in the first-half and the play was quite loose with time and space available in the middle-third. Cork wing-forwards Daniel Kearney, opposed by man-marker Conor Gleeson, and Luke Meade, dropped very deep, as far back as their own half-back line on occasions and became regular outlets for deliveries from defence as Cork transitioned to attack. Their markers stayed at home, affording them space and time to run at defenders or to pick out colleagues with slick passes.
Darragh Fitzgibbon also linked up well on the left flank, running at the Déise defence, while wing-back Mark Coleman set up many attacks as Cork wove nice patterns of support running as they drove forward, with Bill Cooper solidly anchoring midfield.
The narrative of that first-half came down to the goalscoring difference between the teams. After five minutes, a sublime flickdown by Patrick Horgan of Alan Cadogan’s high delivery from the right sideline took Horgan away from his marker and he rattled the net to set Cork on their way.
Bill Cooper’s persistence and superb vision picked out the impressive Cadogan who struck another rocket five minutes before half-time and Cork led comfortably by six at the break.
It might, however, have been a different story if Waterford had taken two good goal chances. Shane Bennett got onto a long delivery from Brian O’Halloran in behind Sean O’Donoghue but his kicked effort went wide when it looked easier to score.
Tallow’s Tommy Ryan had another gilt-edged chance but was indecisive and the chance was lost. If even one of those chances were taken it might have put a different complexion on proceedings. As it was, Cork were on top if not quite in complete control in the opening half and supremacy lasted to the finish because of Cork’s display in the middle-third and their superior firepower up front.
Leading throughout, the Rebel panel members that saw action seemed to enjoy the workout. They scored two excellent goals and had 12 different scorers. Six points were provided by the bench, three of these being struck by Shane Kingston, who looked very lively and enthusiastic on his introduction. Overall, the total from play was 2-21.
The maximum number of replacements , five, were introduced, with each one making a positive contribution. It wasn’t a very intense affair so the panel should recover quickly, ensuring freshness and enthusiasm for next weekend’s trip to Ennis, their most serious contest of the season. So positives all round for Cork manager John Meyler and his management team. In Japanese business management, they rejoice when they find mistakes.
The philosophy is that once a mistake or weakness has been identified it can be rectified and eliminated, thereby making the organisation stronger.
This wasn’t a perfect performance by Cork by any stretch of the imagination but rather than being a negative this is a positive. The players and coaches can now work on eliminating these mistakes in preparation for the ‘winner-takes-all’ season-defining game next Sunday against the Banner.
In his first season, Niall O’Leary has been very good at corner-back for Cork, forceful and resolute. I liked the way he attacked the ball. He was out in front, playing the percentage in ‘safety first’ mode by blocking the ball with his stick and then gaining possession, rather than attempting to catch the ball first time with his man impeding him from behind.
But, he can be a impetuous. He left Shane Bennett too early in the Waterford move that led to Bennett’s goal and gave away a needless free in the first-half, by careering into the back of his opponent on the sideline.
But there were other defensive mistakes throughout from Cork. Slack marking,a lack of tracking back and poor communication for the first Déise goal among them.
Without Seamie Harnedy, Cork’s attacking sextet would fail to function. He is the go-to man when you need possession or someone to conjure up a decisive score. So I was surprised when he was guilty of some poor decisions throughout the game. Alan Cadogan set him up on the left of the goal on 29 minutes. And as Waterford ‘keeper Billy Nolan and a defender advanced to block his shot, Harnedy should have stepped right or left to shoot around the defenders. He stood instead of moving and was blocked.
In the second half, he made a great interception on Jamie Barron but instead of moving away and surveying things inside, where he would have seen Alan Cadogan in space in front of the posts, he elected to shoot. On another occasion, Kingston had moved in behind his marker to a great goalscoring position but the captain put the ball elsewhere.
These opportunities weren’t needed last Saturday but in the immortal words of the late ‘agony aunt’ Frankie Byrne, ”they could be someday” and possibly against Clare. Harnedy is a great championship team player. Maybe he knew Cork would win handily enough and was just guilty of fitting in a little target practice.
Waterford are not strong enough at present to trouble serious championship opposition. But their fans will be a little happier after this performance.
Fanning seems to have set his stall out by playing the younger members of his panel and dispensing with the system in vogue over the past few years. Shane Bennett was Waterford’s best attacker in 2019. He seemed rejuvenated. The problem is that he will have to wait until next January to taste inter-county action again. Many players have declared their enthusiasm for this championship format. It would be interesting to hear the Waterford view as they finish up in June for the second year running.