Positive vibes return in Waterford
Allianz NHL Division 1B Rd 4: Noel Horgan was in Walsh Park on Sunday afternoon to witness a real return to form for the Rebels against the Deise
It would be fair to suggest that Cork have done as well as could have been expected in the National Hurling League so far.
Prior to the commencement of the competition, the general perception was that they would be hard-pressed to survive in Division 1A, in view of their slide down the rankings in 2016.
Their only win in the league last year was achieved in the relegation play-off against Galway up in Salthill, while they shipped a heavy defeat from Tipperary in the Munster championship and they later made their exit from the All-Ireland race when going under to unheralded Wexford in the qualifiers.
So, it was with more hope than confidence that Cork went into this season's league campaign, especially since the management had made it clear from the outset that one of their main objectives was to run the rule over some fresh blood in a bid to strengthen the squad ahead of the championship.
Needless to say, they couldn't be sure how the rookies would measure up, but it was easy to appreciate why they opted to embark on an extensive auditioning process, regardless of the consequences in the national league.
Cork boss Kieran Kingston repeatedly stated that building for the future was his priority and that giving as many newcomers as possible an opportunity to gain experience in the league was bound to be beneficial in the long-term.
With five league debutants on board, Cork got off to an encouraging start, turning in a vibrant display to fashion a convincing victory over Clare at Pairc Uí Rinn.
Their subsequent loss to Dublin at home caused many to conclude that Cork would again be plunged into a relegation final, especially with such big-hitters as Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary providing the opposition in the last three games in the group.
After losing to Kilkenny, the mood of pessimism surrounding Cork's prospects intensified and they were given little or no chance of getting back to winning ways against Waterford in Walsh Park last Sunday.
They rose to the challenge in great style, however, producing a performance that lacked for nothing in terms of determination, industry and desire to come away with a richly merited eight-point win.
The result means that Cork are back in contention for a place in the play-offs, although they are by no means out of the woods in regard to relegation, as they are currently sharing second spot in the league table with Clare and Waterford and the only issue resolved ahead of the final series of games is that Tipperary are guaranteed to be involved in the semi-finals.
The likelihood is that Kilkenny, on the three-point mark at the moment, will beat table-proppers Dublin in their next outing to secure a quarter-final berth, while the winners of the clash between Clare and Waterford will also go through to the knock-out stages.
If that game ends in a draw, both Clare and Waterford will remain in the hunt for the league title should Cork succumb to Tipp at Pairc Uí Rinn next Sunday week.
In that event, Cork's fate will be determined by score difference providing the Clare and Waterford game produces a conclusive result, leaving the Rebels level on points with the losers.
Even with home advantage, it's going to be extremely difficult for Cork to get something out of the clash with All-Ireland champions Tipp, whose league form to date brooks little argument about their rating as the best team in the country at the moment.
No matter how things unfold for Cork, however, they are entitled to feel that the league has already served its purpose to a certain extent, given that so many neophytes have been tested and that the team is still in with a chance of qualification for the play-offs after four games.
One would venture to suggest the management would have been happy to settle for that at the start of the campaign, notwithstanding the fact that there has been ample evidence over the past few years of how variable the form of most teams can be in the league.
Waterford's flat and feeble display last Sunday certainly wasn't a true reflection of their worth, and their rating above Cork in the pecking-order isn't going to be altered as a result of developments in Walsh Park last Sunday.
Still, Cork must be credited for the manner in which they got the job done, and their purposeful and assured play over the seventy minutes was just what the doctor ordered in terms of boosting confidence and morale following successive defeats at the hands of Dublin and Kilkenny.
Selector Pat Hartnett was delighted with the win, commenting afterwards that the consistency of Cork's endeavour was the most pleasing aspect of the performance.
"That's what we asked for from the lads, and, in fairness, they showed consistency of effort in abundance today, in contrast to the Kilkenny game the previous weekend when they didn't continue to play well after putting in a strong performance in the first half.
"We were very disappointed about that, but you couldn't find fault with what they produced today and to come down here and get a result against one of the top three teams in the country has to be a positive," he said, adding that it was important to keep things in context at the same time.
"It's just two points for us, we got a consistent performance from the lads, but we must do that time and time again, and we are under no illusions there's a huge task ahead of us against a very formidable Tipp side next Sunday week."
Hartnett is satisfied that the team is making progress, however, and he feels that Cork are in a good place at the moment.
"There's a number of new players in there who are performing admirably, some of them are really putting their hand up, and I think you have to acknowledge that.
I don't want to be mentioning individuals, because I prefer to keep it about the team, and I thought our work-rate and hurling was excellent today.
"As I've said, consistency of effort is going to be the key thing from now on, and if we can get that, I think we'll be as competitive as we can be going forward.
"To do ourselves justice in every game is what we're hoping for, but we feel the lads coming through are showing good promise, so the outlook is encouraging from that point of view," the Cork selector suggested.