DONAL O'GRADY: Cork must be sharp and smart to deny Waterford cause

When defeated in a big game you cannot wait to get a crack at the same opposition, seeking revenge. There’s a matter of pride and unity of purpose involved. This is a powerful stimulus which provides a strong incentive for a committed response.

Derek McGrath learned a sharp lesson in June’s defeat to Cork. It reinforced the concept that going with the ‘tried and trusted’ was the way forward. 

Since then, Waterford have returned to their wellhoned system. This has won them a league title and has carried them to a Croke Park semi-final three years in a row.

Déise fans are confident, even cocky, that a scramble for All-Ireland tickets will begin in the southeast at 5.30pm tomorrow evening. 

Their players and management see tomorrow’s game as a huge opportunity on their quest for ultimate success. Whereas they would have had a healthy respect for Tipp, the same levels of regard wouldn’t be held for the Tribesmen.

Déise revert to type

Waterford play with seven defenders, six in the traditional lineout and the extra man operating between the two defensive lines. I expect to see Darragh Fives in this role, with Austin Gleeson at centre-back. Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran operate in midfield with a licence to attack. Paraic Mahony and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh usually operate as wing forwards but Barron and Moran’s work in the middle third is supplemented by extra bodies from the attack, particularly Walsh and Mahony, leaving only two or three up front.

Both drift back, spending a lot of time in this central area. This provides extra cover for their half-back line and enables them to pick up breaks or to be available as outlets for short passes from the defence. Walsh is one of Waterford’s primary providers of scoring passes as well as being a master, over many years, of engineering frees, particularly against less experienced opponents. Winning scoreable frees is an important part of Waterford’s attacking strategy.

Mahony is their freetaker and along with Austin Gleeson is their best long-range point scorer. The Ballygunner man drifts across the pitch in midfield making himself available for short passes and he has the capacity to strike points from up to a 100m out.

Mahony scored four first-half points from play from the centre-forward berth by dropping off Mark Ellis and I expect Mahoney to be restored to the centre tomorrow.

Waterford’s system works for them, but it works best when they are defending a lead.

In their ‘back door’ games, Derek McGrath has used the same substitution strategy up front for the final 20 minutes. Maurice Shanahan is central to this with Brian O’Halloran and Tommy Ryan providing pace as the game opens up. It gives the Déise a scoring impetus down the stretch. I don’t see McGrath deviating from this plan so I’m expecting either Stephen Bennett or Colin Dunford, two players with pace, to start.

Cork must not play into Waterford’s hands

Anthony Nash’s puck-out strategy has been the launch pad for much of Cork’s positive attacking play this season. Waterford will have seen how it worked against themselves and Clare and set out to negate its effect. The Déise will have five forwards at most so Cork will have one defender free, at least. The opposition decide who that player will be. Waterford’s defensive set-up will want an inside Cork defender to be the only available resource to Anthony Nash.

They will then want to force that receiver to drive as many long balls as possible into the heart of their defence. Waterford will have a defensive advantage in this area so the Cork defence will have to resist this temptation.

The Rebel netminder often plays a ‘one-two’ with a close colleague at puck-out time. He then launches a long-range missile down on top of the opposition, landing 10 metres from their goal. These deliveries must also be resisted. However, Nash is speedy. He could carry on to within scoring range and knock one or two over the bar, from central positions or offload to a midfielder. This would force the Waterford attack to ‘push up’ for his puck-outs affording the Cork netminder some space to land deliveries in front of his wing-forwards.

Nash’s best options from restarts in the Munster campaign were Mark Coleman and Mark Ellis. They will have to be used as often as possible. However, Waterford’s half-forwards will have planned to stay tight on this duo. Carrying the ball out of defence by using short passes and snappy support play is another possible option. It can be tricky but if used well can pay high dividends.

One has to score to win. Finding the channels to supply the inside forwards will be a lot more difficult with an extra body in defence than it was in June. However, short accurate deliveries are the only way. Long deliveries are always a defenders’ choice.

The loose defender always initiates attacks. At the other end of the field, putting extreme pressure on Darragh Fives to offload backwards would be a good starting point for Cork. This would disrupt the Déise’s well-practised tactic of building from the back. Stopping Jamie Barron from making his trademark forward runs will also be essential.

Darragh Fitzgibbon, Conor Lehane, and Mark Coleman are all effective from long range. Getting them into ‘quarterback’ positions, supporting in central areas, just behind the play, will enable them shoot from distance. Many long-range scores will required by the Rebels as Waterford will attempt to shut up shop in front of their goal. Running hard at the centre of Waterford’s defence must be considered by the team in red, as some of the Déise defenders can be untidy in the tackle. Cork must show composure down the stretch, when the battle is at its most intense while discipline will, as always, be ultra important.

Motivational challenges for Rebels

Having already defeated the Déise, the Rebels must now seek ways to do it again, a very difficult assignment. ’Doing it for Tadhg’ will be the watchword in the Déise camp. It has given them a cause and a group with a cause are difficult to beat. All over the country, de Búrca’s unfortunate predicament has elicited huge sympathy, as it should have. The majority of neutrals are now hoping Waterford will win.

Cork have produced the most refreshing hurling this year, winning admiration from far and wide. They were the Cinderella of the Championship. However, through no fault of theirs, they have now become an Ugly Sister due to de Búrca’s suspension. The majority of neutrals now wish to see de Búrca playing in the final and Cork being excluded from the big September showpiece.

Up to now, Cork have been praised for their displays but there were always caveats that the opposition were somehow off the pace. Cork must now circle the mental wagons, really sharpen their focus, living up to their name as ‘Rebels’. In their minds, it must now be Cork against the rest.

Keady’s style and substance 

  Tony Keady was a superstar of hurling. He brought presence, heart, grit, skill but above all style and resolve to each occasion. The news of his passing is a shock to us all. This week Galway’s feats on the pitch brought great joy to their fol lower s. His untimely death has replaced this with an air of grief and shock, not just in Galway, but throughout the country.

In relation to the real matters of life, sport has again been put into its proper perspective.

I wish to offer my sincere condolences to his wife and family.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal.

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