John Mullane: Waterford hurling is back where it belongs
Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30
This was a massive result for Waterford, one that has ushered in a bright new era for the county.
We're back in the big time again and it's time for me to hold my hands up and admit that I was wrong.
I was critical of the set-up last year, wondering what direction we were heading in.
But there's a time for criticism and a time for praise and Derek McGrath deserves huge praise this morning.
Restoring the captaincy of the team to Kevin Moran was a managerial masterstroke but bringing on board Fintan O'Connor as coach and Fergal O'Brien as physical trainer were shrewd moves too.
I had Fergal as far back as 1999 when he was training the minors and he's just an incredible guy. Right now, Waterford are the fittest team in the country.
What's so evident is the absolute togetherness of the team - Derek and his players will go to the ends of the earth for each other.
It was just a fantastic day in Thurles, and arguably a better performance than the league final.
Waterford started slowly but Colin Dunford's piercing run through the heart of the Cork defence to draw a close-range free was the catalyst.
We scored two great goals soon after and the floodgates opened. Waterford had four or five goal chances in that first half and I couldn't believe the amount of space our forwards had to operate in.
Cork decided to go man-to-man and this brought back memories of two years ago when they paid a heavy price for not learning the lessons from the drawn All-Ireland final against Clare. Cork had a look at us five weeks ago but seemed to learn absolutely nothing.
Again, Cork had no answer to Waterford's tactics but we didn't play as defensively as I've seen us on other days. We pushed on a bit more and got our rewards.
To a man, I thought every one of our players was outstanding. Shane Fives was excellent on Alan Cadogan, 'Brick' Walsh was colossal and Maurice Shanahan a deserved man of the match.
The subs that came in did their jobs too, Shane Bennett scoring two points before he returns to the Leaving Cert, Patrick Curran another, Tom Devine scoring the goal and Eddie Barrett putting in a shift. Waterford now have a very strong panel and can afford to empty the bench.
Over the course of the 70 minutes, Cork relied heavily on frees and the scoring touch of Patrick Cronin, a much-maligned figure with supporters. He was by far Cork's best player.
Waterford are now most certainly heading in the right direction, guaranteed a spot in the last six of the All-Ireland series.
No team will fancy meeting them from here on in and Croke Park could suit this Waterford team if they get there. They have no fear, there are no egos at play and that's reflected in the unity of their play.
Great credit is due to Maurice Shanahan, who really came of age.
The goal he scored was as good as I've seen in a long time and after missing an early free, he was more or less flawless on the placed balls.
Pauric Mahony is a serious player and a huge loss but there is a depth of personnel to fill any gaps now and the final scoreline didn't do justice to Waterford's performance. They were far more convincing winners than a four-point margin would suggest.
Not too far away, as the crow flies, Laois were making waves of their own, storming past Offaly in Portlaoise.
This result didn't come as a surprise to me. It's the first time they've beaten Offaly in senior championship hurling since 1972 but when they met in the league earlier in the year, Laois would have won only for Shane Dooley.
Laois have made huge strides and getting Cheddar Plunkett back was massive in the build-up. For Offaly, it's a damaging setback and a huge reality check.
The way to improve is by working on underage structures - and Waterford should be their template.
Reasons for Galway to be positive after Mannion runs riot
Cathal Mannion reminds me of a young Damien Hayes, blessed with speed, skill, strength and an eye for goal.
This kid lit up O'Connor Park on Saturday and he most certainly is the real deal.
In last Monday's column I stated that the pendulum had swung Galway's way after the Croke Park draw with Dublin.
That turned out to be the case and I was basing my assertion on the amount of scoring chances they created by pulling their half-forward line deep and creating space in front of their inside men.
Did Dublin learn anything from the first game? No, and that allowed Mannion, Joe Canning and Jason Flynn to score 5-8 from play.
Anthony Daly, when he was in charge of Dublin, took a common-sense approach, dropping back a sweeper when he needed to.
It's something Ger Cunningham should have considered from the start, especially with Peter Kelly ruled out through injury.
He was a massive loss and the obvious move was to bring Liam Rushe to centre-back, where I think he'll be for the remainder of the championship.
Look at the players they had on the bench - Johnny McCaffrey, Cian Boland, Eamonn Dillon, Paul Ryan. And Joey Boland back from injury gives Dublin five players who can strengthen the team straight away.
But Dublin need a home draw at Parnell Park in the qualifiers and if they don't get it, they'll exit the All-Ireland series quickly.
For Galway, there were plenty of reasons to be positive, Joe Canning's much-improved display chief among them.
All-Ireland contenders? Question marks still remain in defence and midfield but they won't be far off.