Consistency, or lack of it, must be the biggest concern for supporters of the Cork senior hurling team at present.
To find a similar lack of performance and work-rate as displayed by Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s men in Thurles on Sunday, all one has to do is look back at Cork’s opening league game when they failed to match Kilkenny’s endeavour.
The statistics from the league final show Cork were simply beaten to the punch on far too many occasions by a Waterford side that were ravenous for success. Derek McGrath’s men made 67 tackles, compared to 48 by Cork. There were 21 turnovers against Cork players in possession.
The Cork forwards’ collective tackle-rate (Paudie O’Sullivan’s tally is included, because he was on the field for the majority of the game) was particularly low, a meagre 12. Jake Dillon nearly matched that tally himself with nine tackles on the day. Maybe Cork were shadow-boxing somewhat because that is surely the only excuse that can be offered for such poor figures.
The Cork forward line again struggled to gain quality possession against a massed Waterford defence. On 24 occasions, a long ball was delivered into Cork’s attacking zone with absolutely no return. Paudie O’Sullivan managed just two possessions for the entire game, while Patrick Horgan struggled to win 50/50 ball with any kind of consistency, although in his defence, he was double-marked for the entire game. Conor Lehane was the only Cork inside-forward capable of winning his own possession and the Midleton man showed that the Waterford defensive system can be breached with five quality points from play.
If Cork persist with the long delivery into the full-forward line in the Munster championship, then they desperately need a ball-winning full-forward. Where is the new Ray Cummins?
At the other end of the field, Maurice Shanahan showed the benefit of having a target man in your attack. The Lismore man may have been a little wayward with his shooting, only converting two out of seven scoring chances, but his ability to win possession troubled the Cork defence throughout.
Derek McGrath and his management team won the tactical head-to-head hands down. The game was played on Waterford’s terms, best illustrated by the individual possession tallies. Waterford were happy to allow Cork possession as far away from goal as possible and three defenders — Cormac Murphy, Shane O’Neill and Stephen McDonnell — were among the Cork players most on the ball.
Only Seamus Harnedy and Daniel Kearney were in any way competitive in the middle third of the field, where Waterford dominated the game. Waterford’s top possession tallies came in that vital middle third battle ground, with Barron, Gleeson, Moran, Walsh, Dunford and De Burca all thriving.
Time and again, Waterford were able to find an unmarked spare man in space in key areas while Cork struggled in possession due to the ferocity of Waterford’s tackling and weight of numbers surrounding opponents. It’s a Waterford game-plan that has proven successful against Cork, Tipp and Galway in the run-in to a third league title win.
One suspects, however, that the real test of the ‘Waterford system’ will come if they meet Kilkenny later this summer. Kilkenny have the physicality and work-rate, but there is little doubt that it will take a seriously strong side to beat the Déise this summer. As for Cork, the time for talking is over and unless Barry Murphy’s men can find a consistent level of performance, they may be set for a barren summer.
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