The two-time All-Ireland winner fancies the Munster champions to show more aggression against Waterford in next month’s provincial semi-final than they displayed against them in Sunday’s 10-point Division 1 final defeat.
However, he has concerns about their ruthlessness.
“Jimmy Barry-Murphy has his convictions and they haven’t served Cork that badly over the years,” O’Connor said. “You go back to last season, they put Clare to the sword in the first game, they were very impressive at times in the Munster final and have a lot of good players but Cork will have to look at what went wrong last weekend and find a way to remedy it in five weeks’ time.
“You feel with Tipp and Kilkenny, you feel even with Clare at the moment that they can create things. I still feel with Cork that they have excellent individual players but you just wonder are they going to cut you apart the way Tipp can, the way Kilkenny can.”
That being said, Waterford, he says, have every right to be wary of what Cork will present in Thurles on June 7.
“For Derek McGrath, Cork will come with a different mentality, Cork will come out with a lot more aggression. Aidan Walsh will be pretty frustrated I’d imagine with the way he played last weekend. (Patrick) Horgan — are Cork again going to allow Noel Connors to stymie him for 70 minutes? Will they try to find a way to get him away from Connors’ shackles? The dynamic will change and Cork will not be as passive as they were last weekend. They’ll play with a lot more aggression.”
O’Connor ranks Waterford as genuine All-Ireland contenders although he doesn’t fancy many other teams will, like them and Clare, adopt a one-man full-forward line tactic. He does, however, give major kudos to Derek McGrath for making brave calls before Christmas,calls that were rewarded in Division 1B before their successful march from the quarter-final stages.
“I think you have to give Derek McGrath credit for making hard decisions about Liam Lawlor for example, who gave great service to Waterford, Jamie Nagle and some of the other guys who he let go. His view maybe was, ‘Can these guys go to the next level that we’ll require to win an All-Ireland? Maybe we’re as well off to go with some of the younger players’.
“He gave youth its head and that night against Laois, and I know it was only Laois, but they just looked very compact, very difficult to break down. They knew what they were about and nothing really changed as the games progressed. They had to do it the hard way in the league. They had to go to Limerick on the opening night, they had to go to Wexford Park. They had that early setback against Tipp but the way they responded, this is a team with no fear.
“The game was really over I thought at the weekend with 20 minutes left. Cork just didn’t really seem to have any idea about how to break them down and the one thing I would be critical of them maybe is their use of the ball. They’ll only refine that and get better as the season goes on.”