LAST weekend, and not for the first time this year, you’d have to say the football outshone the hurling, big-time – a bad Leinster final in Croke Park.
Let’s hope that changes this weekend, and in the Munster final at least, there’s a good chance of that, the most entertaining pairing of the past 10 years, two good attacking teams.
The crucial difference between Cork and Waterford over that period is that Cork have gone on to win a couple of All-Irelands, while Waterford have failed at the final hurdles.
However, I would reckon that in terms of ability there is very little between the two teams. In fairness to Waterford they’ve stuck at it, and their supporters also – they’ve never lost faith in this bunch of players, followed them through thick and thin. I expect huge crowds again tomorrow.
Having said all that, I just can’t understand the odds. Cork are 4/9, odds-on favourites – crazy, in my opinion. There has been only a puck of a ball between Cork and Waterford in all the games over the past decade, why such short odds on Cork now?
Probably the reason people are going so heavy on Cork is because of the way Tipperary were dismissed in the first round, but we must ask the pertinent question – just how good were Tipperary that day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh?
And then, how good were Cork? They did play well on the day, no argument with that, but I thought Tipperary were very poor.
The big strength of this Cork team for a long number of years has been the defence. I know The Rock, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, is gone from full-back, but Eoin Cadogan is slotting in there very well, Brian Murphy is still in the corner, and Shane O’Neill has fast established himself as one of the best in the business in the other corner.
As for the half-back line, what more can we say? John Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Seán Óg O hAilpín is a line that will go down in history, and as they showed against Tipperary, there’s plenty of life in those legs yet.
Now though I’m coming to an area of the pitch where I think Cork really gained for tomorrow – I’m talking about the return of Tom Kenny to midfield. He’s crucial to this Cork team. When he’s on song, they are a much better team.
How this man hasn’t won an All Star I don’t know, because he has been one of the most outstanding and consistent midfielders in hurling over the past five or six years.
And then you look at the man alongside him tomorrow, Cathal Naughton – even faster, even more of an attacker. He’s after getting stronger as well this year, not as easily forced off the ball as he used to be.
Up front, Cork have a lot of experience in the two O’Connors, Niall McCarthy and Kieran Murphy, but I’ve been very impressed with Patrick Horgan. As for Aisake O hAilpín, I’ve heard people saying he’s the new Ray Cummins – an unfair comparison, very unfair.
Cummins was one of the greatest full-forwards of all time, Aisake is only just starting out. At the moment, Aisake is very effective for Cork, a fantastic worker, brave as a lion (typical O hAilpín), great hand, but I still think he’s a work in progress – imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s the finished article!
To Waterford. As I said at the top, fantastic hurlers. They were there for the taking against Clare, and the management team of Davy Fitz, Padraig Fanning and Pat Bennett got a lot of criticism for not starting the Prendergast brothers and Ken McGrath. I disagree.
Who’s to know how those guys would have done from the start? What we do know, however, they made a massive contribution when they came in, and that was the difference between Waterford being in this final, and going the back-door route.
NOW, are they going to start tomorrow? We haven’t got the Waterford team at the time of writing, so we’ll speculate; more than likely Waterford will go for experience this weekend.
I think Declan Prendergast will be at full-back, big man on big man, and with Noel Connors and Eoin Murphy alongside him he won’t have to worry about the corners, they are two tremendous defenders.
Crucial for Waterford tomorrow, however, will be the middle of the field – if they can hold their own there, they’ll be on their way. Big ‘if’ though, big ‘if’.
Up front, you’d have to say that Eoin Kelly, if he’s fit to start, John Mullane and Stephen Molumphy would make any team in the country.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mullane out on the wing, on Seán Óg, and Molumphy on Gardiner, Seamus Prendergast set for another great tussle with Ronan Curran.
Result? A hard game to call; I think Waterford hurling is on the up, the minors in the final again, but because Cork seem to have that hunger back, I’m giving them a very tentative nod.
Two words on the other two games – Offaly, Dublin.
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