Rest and recovery is a vital part of elite performance sport. A win this weekend for the Déise or the Rebels means a two-week gap for the victors before they line out again.
This is the ideal time span to ‘come down’ from victory and to prepare for a Munster final.
The defeated side could be facing another game next week, depending on the back door draw. Potentially, it could mean playing four matches on consecutive weekends to get to a semi-final in Croke Park.
If the round-robin competition of the last two years revealed anything it was that three or four games on successive weekends eventually caught up with the players as mental and physical fatigue became a major negative factor.
This inevitably led to sizeable dips in form. The last two All-Irelands were won through the back door. However, if Cork or Waterford have ambitions of reaching this All Ireland final, direct progress with two-week breaks between games is the only way to go.
This Cork v Waterford clash today is a real 50/50 affair. Because of the long break there is no known form. Both teams played challenge games recently against Wexford.
The Déise also played Kilkenny with the Rebels taking on Galway. Challenge games can be misleading. The only games on which to judge the sides are the Allianz League games of the early spring. The results would indicate that there is little between these neighbours.
Waterford won their league clash with Cork by a point. Having conceded two early goals, they came back impressively. Some teams might have folded after these early blows. However, Waterford dug in and went about their work in a businesslike manner.
Their performance on that January day was based primarily on support and workrate. The forwards continually funnelled back giving the Déise extra bodies in the middle third and they struck some fine long-range points. I’m expecting much the same plan today.
This strategy is designed to protect the defence by having extra bodies pressurising opponents in the middle third and to create conditions for quick counter-attacking by dragging defenders out the field leaving space for Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson inside.
Although Waterford, under current manager Liam Cahill, do not employ a sweeper per se, Cahill’s charges attempt to overload midfield by having pacy forwards Jack Fagan, Kieran Bennett and Jack Prendergast regularly dropping deep to operate in this sector.
This tactic is designed to provide cover for the defence and to pull the opposing halfbacks out of position.
The extra bodies provide a buffer in front of the half-back-line which allows centre-half-back Tadhg de Búrca to drop back to mop up long deliveries in front of his full-back, the tall, strong Conor Prunty, while ‘the cover’ polices dé Búrca’s man.
In previous years, Kevin Moran operated in a free role in midfield. Moran may operate at midfield or wing-back today with Austin Gleeson seeing service in the half-forwards in the centre with a free role.
By overloading the middle third, Waterford can then break forward with two or three supporting players but primarily through Jamie Barron. Barron is a master of the timed run from deep that breaks the opposing half-back-line. He then takes his own score or links up with an inside colleague.
Executing this strategy takes great fitness. However, senior club activity ceased in the Déise a full five weeks before Cork which is a huge advantage in terms of team organisation and physical preparation.
When you face a team using the Waterford strategy, your half-back-line is faced with a problem: Do I follow my man or stay put?
By following opponents deep into midfield, space is left behind the half-backs and in front of the inside forwards and space is always a forward's oxygen.
It is up to the Cork half-forwards to supplement their midfield efforts by coming deep to forage for breaking ball. The bulk of this responsibility will fall on Aidan Walsh, Conor Lehane and Seamie Harnedy. Space and time will be at a premium in this area until the last quarter when the play opens up. Cork will need to use their wing backs to get around the block in midfield.
When Cork gain possession in the middle faced with intense harassment, instead of trying to deliver quality ball forward a sideways pass towards the sideline to an attacking wing back is the best option.
The wing back takes the ball around rather than through the crowded central area. He then takes the ball forward towards the opposing wing back, links up with an attacker breaking centrally from behind the play or in Mark Coleman’s case, he can slot an easy score.
Christopher Joyce is a strong defender but is not as adept as Coleman at taking points. When he goes forward his best strategy would be to slot fast 30/40m advantageous deliveries in front of Alan Cadogan or Patrick Horgan.
Using possession wisely will be key for a Cork victory.
In the final 10 minutes of the league game, the Rebels were found wanting in this regard. Possession from Anthony Nash’s puckouts will be crucial and as Waterford half-forwards drop back on Cork’s restarts, most of Nash’s deliveries should land short on Cork’s half-back-line.
Stephen O'Keeffe's deliveries will hit the same area, so this line is make or break for the Rebels today.
Savage workrate, discipline, determination and protecting your possession are basic requirements of championship hurling.
Cork will need to outdo Waterford in these areas to win this afternoon.