Cork and Waterford to re-ignite age-old rivalry

Cork and Waterford to renew rivalry as Munster championship gets underway tomorrow.

Cork and Waterford to re-ignite age-old rivalry

By Peter O’ Dwyer

Cork and Waterford to renew rivalry as Munster championship gets underway tomorrow.

For Munster hurling supporters, the championship season starts tomorrow at Semple Stadium where Cork and Waterford will look to re-ignite a rivalry that illuminated many a championship over the last decade.

It’s now 10 years ago since the flame was properly lit under that epic rivalry when Paul Flynn; Dan Shanahan; and, memorably, Eoin Kelly hit the back of the net in a frantic game that saw John Mullane sent from the pitch and Ken McGrath point from a near-impossible distance as Waterford secured their second Munster crown of the decade.

Between 2002 and 2007 nine championship meetings fell equally to the two sides - with a draw for good measure – ending with another Waterford victory in 2010 before the embers of a riveting rivalry smouldered and eventually went out.

Tomorrow however could see the re-birth of that rivalry - a second coming for a new generation of hurlers on both sides; one inexperienced, the other even more so.

With so many years lying ahead of Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Derek McGrath’s respective sides, there’s plenty scope for a replay of the fire and brimstone of the noughties.

It’s the Rebels, last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists, who understandably go into the game as strong favourites.

Their championship performance of a year ago was enough to ensure that’d be the case regardless of what shape Waterford approached the game in, but a spate of injuries to the Déise panel has only strengthened that conviction among pundits.

The misfortune that has befallen McGrath’s panel is scarcely believable. Stephen Molumphy, Philip Mahony, Stephen Bennett, Brian O’ Halloran, Stephen Daniels, Maurice Shanahan, Jamie Barron and Darragh Fives are all ruled out through injury.

To add insult to injury, literally, Shane O’ Sullivan will also miss the game through suspension.

Consequently, four championship debutants will be initiated on Sunday: right-corner back Tadhg de Burca, left-half back Barry Coughlan, right-wing forward Colin Dunford and last year’s All-Ireland minor-winning centre-back Austin Gleeson who lines out at left-wing forward.

In the absence of Molumphy and O’ Sullivan in the centre of the park, a new midfield combination will also face the Rebels with Kevin Moran being partnered by Eddie Barrett who makes his first start in championship action.

Somewhat symbolic of the changing of the guard too, it’ll be the first season Waterford will begin a championship season without the totemic figure of Tony Browne in their ranks for 22 years.

The Waterford inside-forward line could be crucial to any chance of Déise success and against a leaky Cork defence the likes of Shane Walsh and Jake Dillon will fancy their chances of firing their side to what would be a considerable upset.

Cork meanwhile remain somewhat of an unknown entity. As All-Ireland finalists who came within 30 seconds of claiming the Liam McCarthy last September and with the considerable additions of Damien Cahalane, Alan and Eoin Cadogan and particularly Aidan Walsh the outlook is positive.

But it must be weighed against a mediocre league campaign and the loss of experienced campaigners Tom Kenny and man-marker supreme Brian Murphy since last year.

The former factors perhaps outweigh the latter however and as such Cork are a dangerous entity.

Aidan Walsh will lineout in midfield alongside Daniel Kearney for his championship debut while Alan Cadogan at right-corner forward and centre-back Mark Ellis also make their championship bows.

Cadogan has proven a spritely attacking threat over the spring and with Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy could pose a huge challenge to the Déise rearguard.

Harnedy in particular could be pivotal on the edge of the square. If he can best Liam Lawlor, Waterford ‘keeper Stephen O’ Keefe could be in for a busy evening.

All told, Cork are in pole position to book a semi-final date with Clare - and in doing so renew another burgeoning rivalry - but in the Munster championship where anything is possible this young Waterford side will retain hope of lighting the first sparks of what could be a rivalry to emulate the pyrotechnics of a decade ago.

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