After a disappointing defeat to Kilkenny last week, Cork selector Pat Hartnett was understandably happy after the game.
“To come down here, one of the top three teams in Ireland, with possibly a full team . . . but we’re keeping it in context. We’re realists. Everyone on the selection committee has played themselves.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t do yourself justice, but we did ourselves justice here.”
They did. Cork leaked an early goal to Shane Bennett when playing with a strong wind, but dominated the first half thanks to their industry in the middle third, dominating Waterford.
With Bill Cooper and Conor Lehane shooting well from distance, Cork’s five points on the spin before half-time gave them a seven-point lead at the break, 0-14 to 1-4.
With the wind behind them Waterford, and Padraic Mahony’s four frees in particular, began to eat into Cork’s lead, but the visitors made early attacks count with points from Dean Brosnan and Luke Meade.
On 49 minutes Meade burst onto a loose ball in the Waterford half-back line and went through to finish from close range: 1-17 to 1-9, and though a quarter remained to play, it was a decisive score.
The game took another twist when Maurice Shanahan got a straight red with 12 minutes left; a Christopher Joyce point immediately afterwards gave Cork a nine-point lead, and Seamus Harnedy’s late dismissal for the visitors had no effect on the game.
Waterford boss Derek McGrath has been consistent all year in seeing quality in the Cork side: “We got a good start against the breeze, we had a bit of momentum, we were highly motivated in the dressing-room beforehand, and then to come out and be completely flat . . . though in fairness you’d have to attribute a lot of that to Cork. They were very, very good, but I’m not surprised by that. Ye might be, but I’m not.”
Cork were sharp and hard-working, with Luke Meade emblematic of their approach. Drilling deeper into the tactics, McGrath detected an echo of his own side.
“I’ve watched Cork in the three games and Luke Meade has been an extra midfielder, Darragh Fitzgibbon has played that role, and Shane Kingston comes deep — it almost reminds me of us two years ago when Colin Dunford was performing that role for us.
“They’re doing that to a tee and they got a lot of joy from that against Kilkenny without getting scores. I think Cork are very good and I couldn’t quibble with the result. I’d be just a bit worried about ourselves.”
Waterford have yet to match the quality they showed against Kilkenny, and McGrath was quick to defend last year’s Player and Young Player of the Year, Austin Gleeson, who was substituted yesterday: “In life when you get a groundswell of opinion saying you’re the answer to all your prayers it’s difficult to deal with.
“I don’t think he’s struggling to deal with it, even look at Seamie Callanan, Pádraig Walsh was very good on him for a long period of the game (Saturday) and he’s a more mature example of what Austin might become.”
The Waterford boss added, however: “There has to be a sense of reality as well though, that wasn’t good enough.”
For the visitors, producing a 60-minute display was the significant element.
“In anything the skill is a given but the will to do it is the important thing and I thought we saw it today,” said Hartnett.
“We saw it last week but not for long enough. Looking at the stats, we gave away 11 possessions last week, but we gave fewer away today. We’re going to make mistakes and give the ball away, but if we can minimise our effort and be consistent, hold our shape, we’ll be as competitive as we can be.”
Yesterday was certainly a step in that direction for Cork.
What will encourage manager Kieran Kingston and his backroom in particular will be the appetite for work up front, which contaminated the supply to Waterford’s forward line and made life a little easier for the Cork defence.
In two weeks’ time they play the best in the business, however.
Based on Saturday night’s evidence there is little rust in Tipperary, but Cork will face the Premier in better heart after yesterday’s comprehensive win.
“They’re a serious outfit,” said Hartnett. “We know we have a huge task on Sunday week but we kept our shape today and executed well today.”
P Mahony (0-8, frees); Shane Bennett 1-0; P Curran (0-2); M Shanahan, A Gleeson, Stephen Bennett (0-1 each).
C Lehane ( 0-9, 7 frees); L Meade (1-1); B Cooper (0-3); C Joyce, A Nash (free), M. Coleman, M Cahalane, D Brosnan, S Kingston, S Harnedy, P Horgan ( 0-1 each).
S O’Keeffe, S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors, D Lyons, T de Burca, K Moran (c), J Barron, C Dunford, P Mahony, A Gleeson, Shane Bennett, M Shanahan, M Walsh, Stephen Bennett.
C Gleeson for Barron (inj., 14); T Devine for Dunford (47); P Curran for Shane Bennett (51); T Ryan for A Gleeson, B O’Halloran for Walsh (63).
A Nash, S McDonnell, D Cahalane, C Spillane, C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman, D Brosnan, L McLoughlin, B Cooper, C Lehane, S Kingston, A Cadogan, S Harnedy, L Meade.
M Cahalane for Cadogan (inj, 32); P Horgan for Kingston (inj, 63); K Burke for McDonnell (inj, 65); C O’Leary for McLoughlin (68).
B Kelly (Westmeath).