McGrath concern for Déise evolution
Cork 1-21 Waterford 1-13
Derek McGrath always sensed there would be days like this.
One thing to experience a day like last year's Munster final that goes against you with the weight of goals.
But on home soil yesterday they delivered their poorest Allianz League performance in the three campaigns since McGrath redesigned the blueprint.
The body of work they have behind them in the 19 games before this cuts them a lot of slack. That didn't stop McGrath sounding a note of concern though afterwards about what he had seen. "I think Cork are very good and I couldn't quibble with the result. I'd be just a bit worried about ourselves," he cautioned.
The evolution from a structured 'contain and counter' approach that has served them so well in these type of games over the previous two seasons to a more progressive goal-hunting machine is not just as seamless as the All-Ireland U-21 success last September suggested it might be, especially on a gluepot home pitch where they have now lost twice in this campaign. They're getting the goals, four in four games by comparison to one in five 2016 group games, but they look more vulnerable.
Cork had been a lot better than their league position suggested, just as the Waterford manager had emphasised in midweek. Their forwards are, in his estimation, right up there with the best Tipperary and Kilkenny can field.
So with a tight and physical approach to their defensive effort, where mistakes were cut down considerably, the visiting Rebels got a lot right and exercised impressive control for so much of this Walsh Park meeting.
Led by the dynamism of Conor Lehane, who again assumed responsibility for dead balls in the continued absence of the benched Patrick Horgan, they overcame the blow of an early Shane Bennett goal for Waterford against a strong wind and ripped in.
Young players like Mark Coleman again at half-back, Luke Meade operating as an extra midfielder, Dean Brosnan and the promising Michael Cahalane when he came on, all point to a more optimistic future. For now though they have given themselves a fighting chance of a quarter-final place. The hard work was done with the wind here when they battled back from that Bennett goal to lead by 0-14 to 1-4 at the break. They won so many one-to-one battles and, critically, so many of the rucks that developed on a surface that made the ball stick so often.
Twelve months ago you couldn't have contemplated such a reversal. For that, McGrath had the hand up. "I blame myself. There has been a definite attempt to become more forward-thinking and with the balance of trying to achieve that we are maybe losing touch with why, sometimes people didn't ask why did Waterford only lost two (group) league games in the last three seasons.
"Maybe there was an element of how we set up and how we approached it. And maybe we are getting lost a small bit in the need to evolve."
They badly missed the ability of Jamie Barron, who was withdrawn after just 14 minutes with a suspected cracked rib, to forage vital yards in those tight situations. But they got little out of Austin Gleeson, the Bennetts and Pauric Mahony, while Maurice Shanahan, who did pose a threat in the second half when he got going, was red-carded for reacting in an incident with Brosnan in the 59th minute.
By then the game was done, Meade, slipping through one of the many gaps in the Waterford rearguard to pounce for a goal on 49 minutes for a 1-17 to 1-9 lead.
McGrath doesn't believe Gleeson, the current Hurler of the Year, has hit a slump because of his billing, pointing to Seamie Callanan against Kilkenny the night before. But, not for the first time, he reiterated how age and expectation are not indexed properly. "I keep saying it, and then you're accused of deliberately playing it down, they're 20-21 years of age," he said.
"In life, when you get a groundswell of opinion saying you're the answer to all prayers, it's difficult to deal with. I don't think he's (Austin) struggling to deal with it. Even look at Seamie Callanan, Pádraig Walsh was very good on him for a long period of that game and he's a more mature example of what Austin might become. I wouldn't find fault with Austin's approach, it's dealing with the self-doubt that might creep in, in the event of a flat performance.
"It's important for us as management to just ensure that no doubt creeps in as regards where we are trying to go. There has to be a sense of reality as well though; that wasn't good enough."
Cork had strong defensive performances from Damien Cahalane at full-back and Christopher Joyce at wing-back while Bill Cooper picked off three first-half points on the wind. Harnedy was back to his abrasive self and had a first goal opportunity that resulted in a point before he too was sent off late on for a second yellow card.
Cork selector Pat Hartnett preached the message of consistency. "To come down here, (to play) one of the best three teams in Ireland, with possibly a full team. But we're keeping it in context. We're realists. Everyone on the selection committee has played themselves. It's disappointing when you don't do yourself justice, but we did ourselves justice today," he said.
McGrath was hoping Waterford would have had the cushion of safety before mixing up selection for the remaining game against Clare. But it's something that he feels they might still do, despite the threat of a relegation battle which, he feels, they'd be better able t0 deal with if it transpires.
"Now we're facing a situation, do we stick or twist? I think we'll twist. There's a staleness based on three years in a row of being able to name 13 of our 15 players.
"That's what I can see. I can also see a difference between U-21 and senior in terms of the expectancy, that possible blip in terms of where we're going. We're dragged into it now, but we're not going to be in the dressing-room saying, 'There's no way we're going to 1B', we'll take the other approach."
Scorers - Cork: C Lehane 0-8 (6fs), L Meade 1-1, B Cooper 0-3, D Brosnan, A Nash (f), M Coleman, S Kingston, M Cahalane, P Horgan, L McLoughlin, C Joyce, S Harnedy all 0-1 each. Waterford: P Mahony 0-8 (8fs), Shane Bennett 1-0, P Curran 0-2, A Gleeson, Stephen Bennett, M Shanahan all 0-1 each.
Cork - A Nash 8; S McDonnell 7, D Cahalane 8, C Spillane 7; C Joyce 7, M Ellis 6, M Coleman 7; L McLoughlin 7, D Brosnan 7; B Cooper 8, C Lehane 8, L Meade 7; A Cadogan 6, S Harnedy 7, S Kingston 6. Subs: M Cahalane 7 for Cadogan inj (31), P Horgan for Kingston (64), K Burke for McDonnell inj (66), C O'Leary for McLoughlin (68).
Waterford - S O'Keeffe 7; N Connors 7, B Coughlan 7, S Fives 7; D Lyons 6, T de Búrca 7, K Moran 6; J Barron 6, Shane Bennett 6; C Dunford 5, A Gleeson 6, P Mahony 6; Stephen Bennett 6, M Walsh 6, M Shanahan 6. Subs: C Gleeson 6 for Barron inj (14), T Devine 6 for Dunford (48) P Curran 7 for Shane Bennett (51), B O'Halloran for Gleeson (64), T Ryan for Walsh (64).
Ref - B Kelly (Westmeath)