Former Cork star Tom Kenny feels Waterford won’t want to take the Rebels on in a “shoot-out” on Sunday and are likely to try to shut down the space in Semple Stadium.
Cork impressed with their movement against Tipperary in their opening-round win, but Kenny sees a different game ahead this weekend.
“Waterford will try to close down space. I think they’ll probably set up with a defensive sweeper — I don’t see why they wouldn’t; they only tend to go for games when they’re behind,” he says.
“I don’t think they’ll want to take Cork on in a shoot-out because Cork would traditionally be good at that kind of game.
“From Cork’s point of view, what’s the potential problem? It’s a high-risk game. Mark Coleman is a fantastic striker of the ball, he’s very good at that and was obviously told before the Tipp game to strike the ball across the field to find the likes of Patrick Horgan or Alan Cadogan on the opposite wing. Waterford will seek to try to cut that out. If it breaks down then the other side of the field is open for Waterford to attack, so it’s high risk if the ball doesn’t go to hand for the forward. That said, Cork brought in huge intensity and tackling with their forwards, and that could get them over the line.”
The win over Tipperary will give Cork much-needed confidence, says Kenny. “It was important to set their new team, they’ve four or five new players, they’ve found a home for Conor Lehane and for Seamus Harnedy and it was important for them to get confidence. That showed in Conor’s performance the last day, the way he stepped up, and even if it doesn’t go his way the next day I think he should be left there at centre-half-forward — providing he’s fit. The cat’s out of the bag in that the Tipperary performance is going to be the benchmark for the year, and hopefully it is. After all, Kilkenny had the same template year after year and it did them no harm at all. If Cork can reproduce that performance against Waterford they’ll be well on the way to a Munster championship final.”
Does he foresee a game more reminiscent of Wexford-Kilkenny last weekend? “Possibly, but Wexford-Kilkenny was also a horses-for-courses game in that Wexford probably wanted to go out and muscle Kilkenny, because that’s what Kilkenny did for years to them.
“Cork played Tipperary in a game where if Cork tried to muscle Tipp, they’d muscle them back, and if they hurled them, they’d hurl back. The latter suited Cork and that’s what they did. It’s intriguing this weekend because Waterford can be physical when they want to be, but if you take a hurling approach to them they’ll follow suit. That’s what I think Cork will do. Why should Cork bring a strong physical approach when, on paper, they have the hurling firepower to beat Waterford without doing that?”
Kenny added that for Waterford boss Derek McGrath, integrating last year’s All-Ireland U21 winners isn’t that straightforward.
“I don’t know Derek but he may be under pressure because of the way Waterford won the U21 title last year. They had an attacking style, it was easy on the eye, there was a fluency and an energy there — but bringing that through to senior is more difficult than people realise.
“There may be a fear of losing in the way Waterford set the team up rather than going out on the front foot, taking the game to the opposition and going all-out to win. It’s not often they do that — Waterford tends to grind teams down, get a few points ahead and keep the opposition at arm’s length. You don’t often see Waterford win by more than a few points.”
Their key man is last year’s young hurler and hurler of the year, Austin Gleeson. “Austin seems comfortable facing the ball,” says Kenny.
“But I wouldn’t play him centre-back, though he’s a fantastic centre-back. He’s a bit like Ken McGrath, who I thought was best at centre- forward.
“For Austin centrefield or centre-forward would be the best, he’d be the marquee player and you could build the team around him. The go-to guy, he’ll win puck-outs there, get a few points and bring the others with him.”
Kenny expects Waterford to ask more questions physically of Cork: “I think so. Cork had a great win against Tipp but there were only four points in it at the end. Tipp weren’t at the races but a couple of small things could have swung it their way. Waterford will look at that and at cutting down the space for Cork — that might knock a few points off their total. Waterford can bring that physicality to the game but Cork have always taken a hurling approach, an intensity that’s hurling-based. For that reason I’d be surprised if it’s as physical as Wexford- Kilkenny, I’d expect it to be more of a hurling game.”
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