ANTHONY DALY: Facing a League final with one eye on summer

Cork's Lorcan McLoughlin and Waterford's Pauric Mahony all set for tomorrow's NHL Division 1 final at Semple Stadium. Picture: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

When we played Cork in the 1998 league semi-final, what I remember most is that we wore white togs and yellow socks. We had never worn white togs before in our lives, not even as minors. I don’t know where the yellow socks came out of it, they were dire. We were worse. We were cat.

When we played Cork in the 1998 league semi-final, what I remember most is that we wore white togs and yellow socks. We had never worn white togs before in our lives, not even as minors. I don’t know where the yellow socks came out of it, they were dire. We were worse. We were cat.

There was all this talk afterwards that we trained for two hours before the match. We didn’t. Ger Loughnane just wasn’t bothered that day. He never blew the whistle to call us in for a pep talk below in Templemore, he just let us off. He knew what he was doing. He was thinking of our potential meeting later that summer. After we won the All-Ireland in 1995, Loughnane had no interest in any league so he didn’t want us qualifying for that final.

The following morning, I rang Loughnane and asked him to organise a bus, that we were going on the lash up the coast. It was the bank holiday weekend and Loughnane nearly lost the rag until I explained the method in my madness. “Ger, just get me a few pounds and a minibus and I’ll have the lads right for seven weeks. There will be no hangers-on, just ourselves. And I’ll get every man to swear that there won’t be a drop of drink touched again until we avenge yesterday.”

We never broke that pact. The quality of our training was never as good in the lead up to that match. We were never as primed for a battle. When we met Cork in June, we made bits of them.

It’s a different time now. This is a league final that both teams desperately want to win but you’d still wonder will there be some of that thinking in Cork’s mindset. They would love a league title but their championship meeting with Waterford in six weeks is the game they want to win most.

There is probably evidence of that thinking in management opting for Aidan Ryan at full-back, who has got no gametime in the league to date. Cork have had issues at full-back and now is the only opportunity Jimmy Barry-Murphy is really going to have to look at him before June 7.

They have settled their half-back line and they have serious options up front now but Conor Lehane is an interesting choice at full-forward. I wonder are they thinking a two man full-forward line against Waterford’s defensive set-up and getting a feeler for the system, testing it out, seeing what might and what might not work for June 7?

For Waterford, their thinking has to be different than that but you also hope that their players don’t get overly excited by the opportunity. If they stick to the way they’re playing, they’ll be very hard to beat. They’ll still have to ride their luck and hope for a goal but the key message from Derek McGrath to his players should be to just go for it.

For everyone else, it’s an opportunity to see just how good this Waterford team is. I thought Tipp would have enough long-range shooters to take out their defensive system but Tipp still only managed 2-15, a massive endorsement of Waterford’s workrate. Teams need to hit at least 20 scores to beat them. Easier said than done.

Their half-back line is superb in the air but Tadgh de Burca and Philip Mahoney have had excellent campaigns, while Austin Gleeson looks the real deal. He is showing maturity beyond his years. They crowd the middle and Colin Dunford has a huge part to play in how they execute the system. You never know where he will play. The only problem for Waterford now in Thurles is that when you crowd space for the opposition, you deny yourself space.

Waterford will still go for it because in their development, a national title is as important as beating Cork in six weeks. It would be massive too in their own evolution as a team. Like every system, McGrath will have to tweak it again next year and change their way of playing because teams will come up with ways around it. You saw that last year with Clare, which began in the league semi-final against Tipp, when Brendan Maher sat deep at centre-back but someone came back to mark Tony Kelly.

There is every opportunity that Waterford will want it more but that also makes this an ideal game for Cork, especially when forwards like Lehane, Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy are in such scoring form. You could also see Horgan or Lehane going to the wing, with maybe Rob O’Shea coming right out to midfield and leaving Alan Cadogan and Horgan and/or Lehane inside. Cork will want to keep it as wide as possible, to force the Waterford wing-backs close to the touchline, and leave space down the middle for Harnedy, Cork’s player of the year to date.

If Cork go 12 points down against this Waterford team, they won’t come back but I don’t see that happening. Waterford may want this more. Cork may have more of an eye on the championship. That could be a factor in a tight game but this is not 1998. Cork to have the experience to just about get there.


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