So it is true: style and substance can go hand-in-hand.
Waterford’s victory yesterday was a most potent complement. Creating close to 40 scoring chances, they debunked all defensive theories about them to win their first Division 1 title since 2007.
But that doesn’t go far enough to emphasise just how momentous a success this was. In outthinking and outplaying Cork, they became the first team from Division 1B to belie their standing. It also served as much as a resounding endorsement of Derek McGrath’s management as the pitchfork and torch mob threatened to close in on him after his difficult debut season last year.
This was never going to be a game of shadows. Not for Waterford anyway. Cork might have been holding something in reserve for June 7 but not enough to question the validity of this coronation of a team dismissed by their own perhaps even more so than anybody else.
Paupers in January, Waterford are princes in May. Cork could very well leave them feeling anything but regal next month but on the basis of yesterday and recent games it won’t be Derek McGrath having to pop Waterford’s balloon to bring them back to earth but Jimmy Barry-Murphy needing to blow up Cork’s to lift them from the dirt.
Aidan Walsh had his quietest game for Cork since last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. He swore after that game it would never happen again. He will have to take stock once more. It wasn’t as if his semi-final performance against Dublin last month was much better but in that first half he was playing in an uncomfortable position. Yesterday he had no such excuse.
His class will ensure he will bounce back but will it be against Waterford on June 7 when the league champions will be expected to make midfield an even more claustrophobic area? Or will Barry-Murphy elect to once more reposition Walsh at wing forward when he was such an electric U21?
The former dual player must be a serious consideration for a redeployment for that Munster semi-final. There are other candidates too. Yesterday, Cork lined out conventionally, all 14 players lining out in positions corresponding with their jerseys.
Waterford, on the other hand, had only five in their original spots.
On that basis alone, they showed more respect to Cork than the other way around. Creating a height mismatch between Jake Dillon and Stephen McDonnell was just one of a series of clever pairings orchestrated by Derek McGrath.
Waterford, it can be argued, unveiled much more of themselves than Cork but like the county’s footballers seven days’ previous it was the lack of performance that was so alarming.Cork regularly found themselves outnumbered and on the occasions where they outflanked their opposition they didn’t look all that comfortable.
McDonnell wasn’t putting too much emphasis on the failure to fire, preferring to glean the positives. “I don’t know if it will be too much of a blow. It is up to us whether we treat it as a blow or as a blessing. Me for one, I am definitely going to treat it as a blessing. I learned 100% from that game and that is the way I am going to look at it. I know the lads are the same.
“The game just passed us by and it went away from us — they got a goal that, I don’t know what you’d say about it, it just crept over the line. That kind of killed us.”
Tom Devine’s 64th minute goal certainly did put the tin hat on it for Cork but then they were always chasing this game. Waterford led from start to finish, the biggest threat to their advantage coming in the 20th minute when Stephen O’Keeffe denied Seamus Harnedy a goal. An unmarked Paudie O’Sullivan could have done much better with the rebound. Considering Waterford should have been awarded a sideline in the build-up, some justice was served.
Waterford were 0-7 to 0-4 up at the time and led 0-11 to 0-7 at the interval. They had posted eight wides to Cork’s two as well but were managing to keep their conversion rate above 50%, Austin Gleeson sending over a remarkable solo, dummy hand-pass point from under the Ryan Stand having earlier cut over a sideline from the same area.
Cork, on the other hand, had to wait until the 19th minute for their first score from play. They came easier in the early part of the second half for Conor Lehane, Cork’s best player, and Aidan Walsh but Pauric Mahony and Stephen Bennett found their range just as comfortably.
Mahony then fired over two frees in quick succession although each were dubious and when a Bill Cooper strike was incorrectly waved wide Cork must have realised it wasn’t going to be their day.
With Maurice Shanahan doing a sterling job as a lone target man in the full-forward line, Waterford had put themselves seven ahead with 15 minutes remaining. Lehane will rue his shot cracking off the crossbar in the 58th minute when a goal might have provided the impetus for another unlikely Cork victory.
If luck wasn’t with him on that occasion, it certainly deserted Anthony Nash and Cormac Murphy, another of Cork’s better players, when they failed to negotiate Devine’s low shot. By that stage, Dan Shanahan was running the perimeter of the pitch and celebrating with the crowd. By that stage, McGrath’s fears about how Cork might line up had dissipated.
“(At the start) I thought they might push up on us,” he said. “I was probably overthinking it. Sometimes you can overthink it. Without dressing it up, it probably just came to do absolute honesty of work-rate.”
What a wholesome spring legacy to launch them into the championship. Even better for them if it can be sustained in five weeks’ time. Cork, though, can’t be so toothless again. Can they?
Scorers for Waterford:
Pauric Mahony (0-11, 8 frees, 1 65); T Devine (1-1); K Moran (0-3); A Gleeson (1 sideline), M Shanahan, M Walsh (0-2 each); J Barron, S Bennett, B O’Halloran (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork:
P Horgan (0-7, frees); C Lehane (0-5); S Harnedy (0-2); B Cooper, R O’Shea, A Walsh (0-1 each).
Subs for Waterford:
B O’Halloran for C Dunford (58); T Devine for S Bennett (61); S O’Sullivan for J Dillon (67); M O’Neill for A Gleeson (70); G O’Brien for J Barron (70+1).
Subs for Cork:
P O’Sullivan for A Cadogan (inj 11); B Lawton for A Walsh, L O’Farrell for R O’Shea (both 49); D Cahalane for A Ryan (57); J Coughlan for S Harnedy (inj 70+1).
Referee:J Ryan (Tipperary)
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