Sport can be very cruel, writes Donal O’Grady. If you were to pick out Waterford’s top player yesterday, the pacy, all-action, highly industrious Tommy Ryan, scorer of 1-3, would be top of your list.
However, Ryan lost possession in the play that finally turned the game in Cork’s favour with two minutes left on the clock. He went for a big winning point from well out the field. By throwing the ball up high he made it easier for Bill Cooper to make a great blockdown and Patrick Horgan dispatched the breaking ball between the posts with aplomb for the lead.
It was the game-defining moment. It pushed Cork ahead. A monster score from corner-back Colm Spillane and the final nail from Seamie Harnedy sealed the deal for Cork who need to work on lots of areas.
The Rebels scraped home in a game that lacked the intense edge of a real championship occasion. In the first half the Déise were bright and enthusiastic, content to knock over points without ever threatening the Cork goal. They seemed determined to go out with a bang. Cork, on the other hand, were below their best. However, they fought back well, never panicked and found a way to win. Their management will point to this as the object of the exercise.
But they were guilty of many unforced errors in attack and in defence. Patrick Horgan was very sharp and effective for the Rebels in their previous games but on this occasion he missed a free and another gilt-edged point chance from in front of the goal, at a time when they were badly needed by his team. Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston chipped in with three points each, a very valuable tally, but their first touch let them down on occasion and only Seamie Harnedy will be really pleased with his display.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath spoke of their wish to preserve the integrity of the competition and they certainly did that. The team in white and blue were sharp and they supported each other in little triangles moving the ball at pace. The Rebels were off the pace and they made many simple errors, miscontrolling the ball on occasions when their first touch, so good in the other games, let them down. But they came good down the stretch as Waterford’s challenge waned just enough to give Cork a grip on the game in the seven minutes of added time.
You need a little luck to win games. Seamie Harnedy pounced to score a great goal with three minutes of normal time to go when he ran across the Waterford defence and fired low into the corner of the net. This put Cork one point up as the game drew to a close. From my vantage point he took more steps than the four allowed. There may have been a foul committed by a defender and so the referee allowed him to take those extra steps. Whatever the case it is an opportunity for the ‘powers that be’ to clarify the interpretation of this situation. It would be beneficial for all fans to know why it was allowed and it would prevent further confusion in regards to some refereeing decisions.
Waterford had nothing to gain from this game competition wise. They could approach it without any pressure and they played the first half with a good deal of freedom, taking a four-point lead at half-time. Derek McGrath sent out a forward line that was full of pace. They played Tommy Ryan at full-forward as a lone inside attacker with Tom Devine at wing-forward. The speedy Brian O’Halloran and Colin Dunford played very deep and covered back to help out the defence.
Under Waterford’s long, wind-assisted puckouts there was no communication between Cork’s defenders and confusion reigned, presenting the Déise with easy point opportunities.
Cork’s strategy for the short puckout to the corners was also confusing. When the ball was struck to the corners by Anthony Nash, each supporting player needed to be aware of his role when attempting to transfer the ball with short passes out of defence. In the first half, Rebel defenders ran up blind alleys and took the ball into contact unnecessarily. This remains a weakness. The object of the exercise should be to provide possession to their midfielders or half-forwards as quickly as possible. Lateral passes always offer the opposing attack interception opportunities and Cork defenders play too many of these. Team-mates support laterally instead of coming from behind to create an angle. This strategy needs to be streamlined as it is not currently at the required standard.
Cork have to resolve these problems if they hope to win the Munster final. Over the course of the 77 minutes they coughed up six points through poor option and support play.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Waterford only registered a point and it looked as if Cork would take over.
Conor O’Sullivan’s introduction to play a free role in the Cork defence meant better distribution and ball transfer from defence.
Waterford’s spare man, Austin Gleeson, played too far back to influence matters and their reliance on Pauric Mahoney and the aforementioned Ryan for scores allowed the Cork defence to weather the storm and deliver quality ball forward in the final ten minutes of the game.
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh signed off on his inter-county career yesterday. He has been a wonderful ambassador for Waterford and for the game of hurling, rarely taking the wrong option and he never seemed in a hurry - always the sign of a top-class player. I wish him well, he will be missed.
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