Billed as a clash of styles, Waterford’s deep-lying workrate versus Cork’s off-the-cuff improvisation, Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final saw the Déise record an emphatic win.
First things first. Were Waterford surprised that Cork didn’t counter their tactics?
“It’s probably a difficult question for me to answer, because I’m not in the Cork side,” said Noel Connors.
“I’m not being smart in that answer. I just thought that our work rate was quite high, particularly coming to the second half.
“I haven’t a clue if Cork didn’t play on the day, but we just kept our heads down and kept working extremely hard, like we have been doing all year. And we’re fortunate enough to get the win at the end of it.”
For Cork, another slow start certainly didn’t help their cause.
“No doubt about it,” said Cork’s Lorcan McLoughlin.
“The last few games — against Dublin same against Wexford — and it’s hard to pout your finger on it.
“It’s hugely disappointing. Our aim was to get out of the traps early but Waterford played with a hunger and intensity and we didn’t get up to the pitch of the game.
“That’s what happens — you fall behind and when you fall behind teams like Waterford, they put the boot down and drove on in the second half.”
His teammate Stephen McDonnell agreed: “What I know for sure is that we didn’t work hard enough and when you don’t work hard enough, that is simply what happens.
“And I think that is what it is down to: effort and hard work. We didn’t work as hard as we can as a team.”
Cork struggled to come to terms with Waterford’s approach all through, with Connors and his teammates resilient in defence both physically and mentally.
“Any time you go out onto the field as an inter-county player, you are always going to have it tough,” said Connors.
“You relish the opportunity because the realisation is there that you are marking the best corner back or forward in the opposition county.
“You are going to have to concede scores and they are going to win a ball in front of you — it’s to realise that that’s going to happen and not get caught up in the whole moment of it. That is the most important thing.”
As the game wore on, Waterford’s style confounded Cork more and more.
“Its based around huge intensity and work rate, and work rate is the key,” said McLoughlin.
“Their forwards move into the back line and are willing to work their socks off.
“Maybe across the board we fell down as a team and maybe our work rate didn’t match theirs. They had the building blocks, they worked their socks off and it paid off for them.
“They really clogged their own defence,” continued McDonnell. “Our forwards tried hard but they couldn’t get anywhere and the ball was coming out again and they were tacking points over.
“The game just passed us by and it went away from us.”
Before the game, Waterford boss Derek McGrath had pointed out that it was possible to have expression within structure, and Austin Gleeson’s towering first-half point after bursting down the wing was a good example of that.
“I just got the ball and went for it,” said Gleeson.
“Thankfully it paid off but it’s not about an individual: it’s about the team. A load more scores, there were better and we took them.
“If we get the ball you use your legs. We’re so fit, it’s all happening for us.”
Waterford conceded no goals on Sunday, having leaked only five in the league.
“I suppose it’s something we’ve to address too,” said Connors.
“We let in five goals, so our aspiration for the championship is to concede no goals throughout the whole campaign.
“That’s something we can address in the coming weeks.”
At the other end of the field, Tom Devine’s goal topped off the day for Waterford. It didn’t break the net; it didn’t have to.
“They got a goal that . . . I don’t know what you’d say about it,” said McDonnell. “It just crept over the line. That kind of killed us.”
As everyone knows, the teams meet again in five weeks in the Munster championship. That gives Waterford a chance to work on the 14 wides they hit, for instance.
“You’re never going to have a perfect game, really, are you?” said Connors.
“It always gives you some aspects to tidy up come championship, and it’s definitely something we’ll have to address in the next couple of weeks.
“Because five weeks, as I said to a few of the lads, won’t be long coming around, particularly when you’ve two weeks with your club.”
Stephen McDonnell was optimistic: “You can feel sorry for yourself or look at what went wrong in the game and look at your own game individually.
“That is what we are going to do. It’s five weeks. We have enough time to learn from it. My own mentality is that we have a lot to learn and that is not a bad thing.”
Last word to Waterford captain Kevin Moran, though.
“We have a young team but they’re serious lads, serious players.
“It’s nice to win the way we did, to win a national competition, but we know the business end of the season is around the corner, we have to replicate what we did in the second half in the championship and try to push on and beat Cork the next day.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved