DONAL O'GRADY: No substitute for strength on bench

1. Strength in depth.

I WROTE on Saturday about the importance of the bench, saying Waterford had the more experienced replacements.

On Saturday night, Cork had to replace Shane O’Neill and Ronan Curran, two huge players, with inexperienced subs while Waterford replaced John Mullane with Dan Shanahan for extra time.

Shanahan’s first touch put Kevin Moran clear to knock over the first point of extra time, always a crucial score.

More was to come from the Lismore legend. In the second period of extra time, with the game in the melting pot, he fastened onto a ball 25 metres out with only Donal Óg Cusack in front of him.

He steadied to shoot low and I felt he was being a little ambitious, but he put the shot right into the corner, to Cusack’s left, and despite a touch from the ‘keeper’s hurley, it went low to the net.

It was a brilliant score that settled the game as a contest. Both sides had given everything and lots of mistakes were made by the tired players in extra time.

Cork bombarded the Waterford goal in the final few minutes but the Déise defence stood firm.

In the final play, Cork needed a good delivery to the edge of the square from a dead ball. I’d have expected John Gardiner to strike this free but instead Ray Ryan took the responsibility and hit it too far left. With that went Cork’s last chance, but overall Waterford just about deserved the win.

2. Waterford’s defensive cohesion.

WATERFORD won principally because their defence played as a unit and didn’t give up any clear-cut goal chances. Throughout the game their midfielders and Declan Prendergast at wing-back came quickly to supplement the efforts of any defender under pressure. Liam Lawlor, Eoin Murphy and Noel Connors were very tight and snapped up all the breaks. In the first half Michael Brick Walsh at centre-back had the luxury of playing as an extra defender as Cork’s Michael Cussen, his marker, remained deep.

As a result, Walsh could come to the aid of any defender under pressure and could cover, safe in the knowledge that his man would not be racing through onto a defence-splitting pass.

Cork’s long-ball policy from defensive clearances caused some bunching, and Waterford made sure they always had plenty of bodies behind the ball, crowding the situation and frustrating their opponent’s attacking ambitions.

Cork’s midfielders never got the opportunities to run through or make an extra man, and in extra time the sharpness of Waterford’s inside defenders ensured that after Shanahan’s goal, Cork had no way through.

Davy Fitzgerald rotated his forwards and up front Waterford put enough pressure on the Cork backs to get crucial frees. They also had the greater ability to score from play and a superb John Mullane point in the 53rd minute from the sideline, followed immediately by another good effort from Shane Walsh, steadied them at a time when Cork threatened to take over. Tony Browne took over the free-taking duties from Eoin Kelly and put them a point up, a psychologically important blow, and Dan’s magic was the scoring difference in the end. All the players deserve great credit for their efforts over the two weekends and this game added to the growing legend of Cork-Waterford rivalry in this century.

3. Cork option-taking.

IN the first half Cork hit only four points and none of the forwards scored from play. They had seven wides and Waterford had none.

A lot of the ball going into the Cork forwards was high and long, giving the Waterford defenders the advantage. There was little combination or quick support up front for Cork. Cork’s forwards, particularly Aisake Ó hAilpín, were isolated out wide on occasions and as a result, lost possession under fierce pressure from Waterford’s defenders.

Michael Cussen spent too much time lying deep, almost in midfield and I was puzzled as to why Cork didn’t use him at the edge of the square for sidelines and long frees; Michael Walsh, his marker, stood right in front of Ó hAilpín on those occasions.

When Cussen switched to corner-forward he made life hard for the otherwise excellent Noel Connors but he was only there five minutes before resuming at centre-forward for the second half.

Cork’s forwards didn’t play as a unit but they did get a number of goal chances — Pat Horgan was unlucky but Aisake Ó hAilpín, Niall McCarthy and Cussen all had half-chances and might have been better served taking points, as they shot from tight angles under pressure.

Cork’s defence played very well but will be a little disappointed with their use of the ball. There was nothing between the team with five minutes left and at this juncture in matches, cuteness and experience are vital.

Incredibly, Cork withdrew Kieran Murphy, who had been fighting hard and using the ball well, and replaced him with the untried Luke O’Farrell.

Summing up, John Gardiner’s penalty effort going over for a point was a huge blow to Cork, as it would almost certainly have given them victory if he had goaled. Tight games come down to small margins.


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