Sublime Waterford advertise their ferocious beauty

Saturday night told us a few things that we know, but all good teachers know that the secret to getting the information to stick is to tell it again.
Sublime Waterford advertise their ferocious beauty

2 April 2022; Stephen Bennett of Waterford in action against Ger Millerick of Cork during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final match between Cork and Waterford at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

WHEN Kant decided to share his observations on the feeling of the beautiful and sublime with us he wasn’t thinking of Semple Stadium.

Or - as the saying goes - was he?

Saturday night told us a few things that we know, but all good teachers know that the secret to getting the information to stick is to tell it again. And again.

Waterford underlined their status as prime contenders on both sides of the ball, to use an expression popular in American football. They showed that the punishment beating they handed out to Wexford in the semi-final wasn’t one of the accidental trimmings the league can sometimes produce but an accurate reflection of their standing.

On Saturday they showed what happens when the sublime comes together with qualities Kant didn’t write about that often. Waterford’s work rate and support play were exemplary: the emblematic score was the first half injury-time free won by Jack Prendergast when he helped dispossess Cork ‘keeper Patrick Collins.

Some of the Cork defenders can expect pungent feedback from the ‘keeper during the week about their availability for a pass when he was bottled up, but the passage of play was the game in miniature. From the moment Cork defender Robert Downey was turned inside in possession Waterford pressed high and pressed hard, and got their due reward. That was the last score of the half, and the last of three in a row Waterford struck to lead 2-10 to 0-10.

Their goals came in a sixty-second spell and were eerily similar, though each followed the same template - hard, aggressive running straight down the throat of the Cork defence, with the irrepressible Stephen Bennett and Patrick Curran converting the chances.

Half a century ago Christy Ring was preaching that going down the middle is harder, but better than trying the wing. True then, true now: another verity Kant could have flagged for us.

Waterford’s attack has surely been sharpened along the way by training-ground tussles with an unaccommodating defence. The winners denied Cork’s forward runners access to the red zone in front of Shaun O’Brien and with backs pressing high to support their midfielders, Waterford were the very definition of a team playing on the front foot.

In the after-game buzz - Semple Stadium’s valiant warnings to spectators to stay off the field was honoured more in the breach, etc - the final scoreline hung over the crowds milling around the players.

Little wonder that blinking message, 4-20 to 1-23, drew the following from one of the managers: “There will be a lot of learnings from tonight. There was a lot of ball-handling errors, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of ball that didn’t go to hand that could have created more openings.” Surprisingly it was Waterford manager Liam Cahill talking, referring to “stuff that Mikey (Bevans), Tony (Browne), Stephen (Frampton), and I will work on with the boys over the next couple of days and nights.

“The game was a bit cagey early on by both sides. It wasn’t a great spectacle, there were a lot of mistakes in it. But delighted to win it, it is a good little confidence boost for everybody, myself included.” 

It certainly gives Waterford’s home games in the rapidly approaching Munster championship an air of Christians coming to the Colosseum. More of that anon.

For Cork a miserable week ended in tune with how it began, the chaos off the field on Tuesday about the venue for the Munster SFC semi-final mirrored by comprehensive defeat on the field come Saturday.

Kieran Kingston and his management team face some tough calls ahead of another tough assignment, their Munster championship opener against Limerick.

Players who seemed guaranteed starters for that match at 7.15 on Saturday may have dropped back into the chasing pack. If Waterford are the benchmark, along with Limerick, when it comes to athleticism and power, Kingston and his selectors may be forced to a radical rethink when it comes to their own resources, even allowing for uncharacteristic misses reminiscent of their Munster championship opener last year.

“The positives tonight were some of our players stood up well,” said Kingston after the game. “I thought we reacted well to each goal and tried to come back into the game but suddenly you’r hit with another sucker punch. I always thought we needed a goal to get right back into the game and although it came it didn’t come at the right time.

“The last few games as the ground has got harder and the games got faster, you’re getting closer and closer to your championship team – injuries aside of course - and you’re going to have rotation throughout the Munster campaign as games come at you thick and fast.

“We have tried to do that (rotate) a little bit in the last few games putting guys in different positions and making a few tactical decisions to see how it would work without throwing out the balance of our team, and without losing our competitiveness, but yeah I think we are coming close to our championship 20, 21, injuries aside.” 

Even in the glow of victory Liam Cahill wasn’t forgetting the championship either: “The real test will start Easter Sunday. Let’s call a spade a spade, that is the real judge.

“Championship hurling is where you really find out whether the jigsaw is coming together or not.

“So we have to really try and get ourselves in the best shape possible for that, get fellas back on the pitch and get injuries sorted out.” 

Both men’s focus on injured players is understandable, given the approaching tornado. Cork will be missing Daire O’Leary with a broken foot for at least their first game; Waterford’s insistence on players being fit enough for a full training session the week of a game means players like Jamie Barron are in a rush to make it back.

The sublime and beautiful can be expressed in different ways. Ask anyone who was in Semple Stadium on Saturday night.

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