Hard to know where Cork are going, but Waterford driving on

Before yesterday’s Munster hurling semi-final began, the mood and atmosphere around this Cork team reminded me of 2003, when they met Clare in Thurles.

Hard to know where Cork are going, but Waterford driving on

Cork had just come off the first players’ strike. After a couple of difficult days, and coming so soon after the league final defeat to Waterford, Cork looked ready to cut loose and make a statement.

Even in the parade yesterday in Thurles, you could see how animated the Cork crowd were. They expected a big performance. In the first 20 minutes, it looked like they were going to get it.

That was all they got.

Once Waterford scored their first goal, the belief and momentum coursed through Derek McGrath’s men like a whirlwind and Cork were crushed beneath it.

This was an unbelievable win for Waterford. It backed up everything they have done to date. When they were knocked back on their heels in the opening 20 minutes, they had the composure to ride it out. Winning the game in that context will even pump more belief into their bloodstream. The sky is the limit for this group now.

More than anything, the nature of the performance confirmed, and corroborated, everything they believe in, what their system stands for. Derek McGrath won’t be happy that Pa Cronin got five points but Tadhg de Burca was massive as their primary defensive screen.

The amount of ball he mopped up, the number of attacks he cut out, gave huge confidence and belief to everyone around him. Given the dominance he had on the game, Waterford could still get by with Cronin inflicting the damage he did.

Once more though, Cork were found wanting tactically. Playing three forwards inside was never going to work with how Waterford defensively set up.

They should have played two inside and sprayed ball wide to the two corners to try and take out de Burca. They probably should have even pushed someone up on de Burca to make him less effective. As it was, Cork had just no penetration inside.

At the other end, Cork were just wide open. There were times when Waterford had overlaps with two-on-ones, or two-on-twos. Cork knew what Waterford were going to do but instead of sitting someone like Daniel Kearney back, and just fighting it out, sticking to what would work best, Cork foolishly thought they could take Waterford down by playing the beautiful game.

Waterford just had more stability and defiance about them and nobody displayed that more than ‘Brick’ Walsh. He was unreal. The experience, the intelligence and composure he brings to this team is just incalculable. At a time when Waterford desperately needed a free, when they were craving something, ‘Brick’ came up with the goods.

It’s hard to know where Cork can go next but it’s clear where Waterford are going. They are a team on the move, a team that are well capable now of winning a Munster title.

Looking back to Saturday, it was another kind of collapse from Dublin. I understand everything about those days because I was involved in a few of them, but most of those capitulations came against Kilkenny.

This was a different kind of comedown after the high of six days earlier when Dublin should have beaten Galway.

I understand the mentality of the Dubs. They just don’t do expectation that well. I found they were at their best when they were at their rawest, when there were question marks hanging over them, when they were nearly written off. Their best performances were when their backs were to the wall. After Saturday, their backs are pressed so tightly against the wall that you can barely see a shaft of light. Will that draw a backlash now in the qualifiers?

I believe that Ger Cunningham was the right appointment for the Dubs. He is the right man to take Dublin forward but there comes a time too when the players just have to accept responsibility for all these dog days. The manager can only do so much. The players have got to ask themselves why all these collapses keep happening.

There have been consistent issues with their mentality. Maybe the new sports psychologist can finally sort them out.

I thought Dublin were all wrong from the start, in everything they did. They didn’t fight the fight. They were outfought everywhere, even on the line.

Anthony Cunningham and Eugene Cloonan were far more aggressive, almost Brian Codyesque in their sideline demeanour, but Dublin handed Galway a complete platform from the start with how they set up.

I couldn’t understand them going 15-on-15 against that breeze. It made no sense. Dublin sat a sweeper back when the horse had bolted. The game was effectively over after 13 minutes. You can’t really judge anything from after that point. Some of Dublin’s subs — Eamonn Dillon and Cian Boland — were one of the few positives for Dublin but the day belonged to Galway.

In fairness to the Galway management, they stepped up. Taking the frees off Joe Canning was the first big statement. I have questioned Joe here enough times but the Cannings are great hurling people and Joe showed that when he is on form — as Galway always need him to be — he is a lethal force that will gun anyone down.

What impressed me most about Joe though, was his workrate. Jason Flynn’s point just before half-time resulted from the tackling and harrying Joe did prior to the turnover. With Cathal Mannion on fire beside him, the Dublin full-back line was torn asunder.

Paul Schutte is an excellent player, but he wasn’t fit. A few lads from Cuala told me last week that he was three or four weeks away from fitness but Dublin gambled.

I thought Dublin made too many changes anyway in the full-back line with Peter Kelly out. Mikey Carton is a superb wing-back but he’s just not comfortable at number 3.

Dublin have a lot of issues to sort out now before the qualifiers. Their backs are to the wall again. So are they going to come out fighting again?

Finally, you have to give massive credit to Laois after their impressive win yesterday.

It looked like all the progress they had made was unravelling when ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett walked away two weeks ago.

But there was clearly method in him making the decision he did, which was proven against Offaly.

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