Cork ran riot at times against Tipp but Waterford will question how much Tipp really tested them, writes Anthony Daly.
As soon as the draw was made for the 2012 championship, only one date was burned into our minds with Dublin: June 23 against Kilkenny in Portlaoise.
We had a quarter-final against Laois earlier that month but we had almost brainwashed ourselves so much that lads were using those four numbers, 23-06, as the password code on their phones and house alarms.
Training was never more professional. We never worked harder. We convinced ourselves we were right but then Kilkenny arrived into Portlaoise and mowed us down as easily as an articulated lorry would roll over a blind dog.
There is always a danger of focusing too much on one date, on almost viewing that date as the defining point of your season. Waterford have made no secret all year about the importance of June 18.
There is often a risk with attaching so much importance to that one game but the circumstances have changed slightly for Waterford in the last month.
With Dublin, we knew would be facing Kilkenny.
We made it too much about Kilkenny, who were still a formidable force. I don’t think Waterford will have made that mistake by overly focusing on one team. Derek McGrath is so sharp that he would have known Cork had a chance of beating Tipperary. Waterford may still have expected to be meeting Tipperary but now it’s Cork in the other corner, Waterford will feel more ready than ever for D-Day. They will fully believe they can beat Cork, something they may have doubted deep down if they were facing Tipp.
Waterford’s core principles won’t have changed now that it is Cork. Derek won’t want this to be a shoot-out. Of course he will play an extra defender. Why should he go away from the system which has taken Waterford so far? Derek appreciates the importance of continuing to evolve and become more of an attacking threat, but he also just needs to get this match won.
Conor Lehane ran the game the last day. He cleaned out Ronan Maher, who didn’t want to follow Lehane out the field. Nobody really had responsibility for Lehane but if I was Derek, I’d drop a midfielder on Lehane and let Tadhg de Búrca hold the 45-yard line. I’d say Austin Gleeson will nominally play centre-forward, but drop deeper into midfield. One of the midfielders will probably drop back to pick up Lehane, with one of the inside forwards slipping into that number 11 zone.
The Cork half-forward line got 1-12 from play against the Tipp half-back line, which is crazy shooting. Conversely, the Tipp half-forward line got 0-12 from play off the Cork half-back line. That scoring rate is also off the charts but that’s the type of gun-slinging match Cork wanted it to be.
There is no way Derek will want, or allow, that to happen.
A sticky player like Conor Gleeson may be tagged to Lehane but the concern for Cork now is the ankle injury he sustained over the last two weeks, especially when Lehane trades so much on his blazing speed. Lehane has become absolutely central to Cork now, especially in his current form, but we saw last week in Wexford Park how much of a risk it is to play injured players. No matter how good you are, anyone who isn’t 100% fit will be exposed in the cauldron of excellence and expectancy of the modern inter-county game.
Cork ran riot at times against Tipp but Waterford will also question how much Tipp really tested them, especially their younger players. I’m sure Waterford will play Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh on Mark Coleman to really introduce him to what Munster championship hurling is all about. Derek will also have probably told Stephen O’Keeffe to land as many early puck-outs as possible down on top of ‘Brick’ and Coleman.
Coleman and Mark Ellis were excellent against Tipp but they were still taken for a bag of scores.
I don’t think Derek will look at his match-ups that way; shutting down the Cork half-back line as a launchpad for attacks will be deemed as important as burning them on the scoreboard. Even if Aussie Gleeson is given that roving role, whoever comes out on top of Ellis will prioritise stopping Ellis supplying the Cork attack with good early ball.
Waterford will dial up the heat big-time. Savage intensity and animal workrate is a baseline requirement if they are to really strangle the pace and class in the Cork attack but Waterford will also believe their power and experience will be decisive in the kind of battle they want to make this game.
On the other hand, Cork will feel they can present them with the type of challenge Waterford haven’t faced too often — confident, classy, slick, pure ball-playing forwards, most of whom are fitted with Olympic sprinter speed, the type of pace that any defensive system will struggle to contain.
Cork’s younger players may have yet to sample the brutality and savagery of a championship battle but what will the win against Tipp have done for them? Those guys look like confident players anyway. If anything, the performance they all delivered on their debuts may have ratcheted that confidence up to a whole new level. They are Cork after all, boi.
However, there is still no getting away from how nice the Tipp game was, how soft even Tipperary were. They reminded me of an auld greyhound that had gone stale, that had no interest in the hare anymore. They didn’t go after Cork but Waterford will hunt them down like a wild beast. And this beast has been zoning in on this kill all season long.
Cork know what’s coming. They will still aim to play their natural game but they will also need to have a Plan B. What is the alternative if ‘Brick’ fires Coleman out of his way? If big Maurice goes sky-high and starts catching balls over Colm Spillane’s head close to goal, what will Spillane, and the Cork management, do next? Have they the options to deal with those physical challenges?
Cork will try and play the ball as wide as possible to keep it away from de Burca. They have the pace to attack Waterford on the flanks. This team will feed off the energy from an expected big Cork crowd.
Cork have no reason to doubt themselves, or the direction they are going. Kieran Kingston and his management are building a new and vibrant young team. Even if they fall tomorrow, they will be dangerous in the qualifiers.
Cork won’t be thinking in those terms but this project is still largely designed with the long-term in mind.
For Waterford though, the short term is all that matters. They are further down the line in terms of development than Cork.
Some people often say that youth is better than experience but I have never fully bought into that theory. Waterford are looking for Liam MacCarthy but they need to win a Munster title first. And I expect them to be ready for D-Day tomorrow, and to secure a third Munster final appearance in-a-row.
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