Friday 22 September 2017

Rebels lucky to escape clutches of fearless Deise

Waterford manager Derek McGrath
Waterford manager Derek McGrath

Cyril Farrell

THERE is only one reading of that game in Thurles yesterday. When Cork got on the team bus, they will have felt like they got out of jail.

For much of the match, they were bettered – plain and simple.

Waterford had their issues coming into this game and they were well-documented but you have to hand it to Deise manager Derek McGrath – he got his game plan spot on for Cork and he might feel like they should be preparing for a Munster semi-final.

I met a couple of Waterford people on their way to the ground and they travelled in hope more than expectation and it seemed like a fair appraisal as they prepared to play last year's All-Ireland finalists.

But they hit the ground running and the decision to play Kevin Moran at centre-back and Michael 'Brick' Walsh at midfield paid dividends.

It was a brave move but it laid the platform and their first-half display was excellent.

In fact, they probably should have been more ahead at the break with a six-point lead not really doing them justice. There's no doubt that they should have been further ahead and on reflection it might have cost them the game.

Early on they were superb. Watching them in Semple Stadium, I felt they had a touch of Clare about them with some lovely short, incisive passes to players who weren't afraid to have a go from distance. Jamie Nagle was particularly good in this regard and landed a couple of nice scores, while Pauric Mahony's free-taking was vital.

SUFFERED

The wide tally racked up but despite that they hurled with some confidence. The Cork half-forward line suffered to the point where Jimmy Barry-Murphy was forced into a few changes in that area.

That being said, you can't doubt Cork's character. In fact, their revival was typical Cork and even as they played second fiddle, you always felt there was a kick in them.

Shortly after the impressive Austin Gleeson's superb goal, they found themselves nine points in arrears and to pull a game out from there was a big result for them as they dug deep.

There was plenty of attention on dual player Aidan Walsh and he grew into the game. His sideline cut showed the talent he has and I think he'll be much better by the time the replay rolls around. A first taste of championship hurling will have brought him on no end.

They have other emerging talent too. Alan Cadogan was excellent despite his lack of experience. Bill Cooper made a big impact too, with his goal really helping to pull the Rebels out of a hole. Even though Pa Cronin and Daniel Kearney were replaced, Pat Horgan and others played very well. Cork had someone to pick up the slack and that is a sign of the options that they have.

The soul-searching will start in both counties this week. A lot will be made of the fact that it took Cork a while to get up to the pace of a side who had spent the spring hurling in Division 1A. If that's the case, then Cork are in the driving seat for the replay but I'm not sure it's as cut and dried as that.

Waterford will have taken a lot from that game and they could have the likes of Stephen Molumphy back.

Gleeson, Tadhg de Burca and the rest showed that their generation are fearless. They have no baggage and they'll carry that attitude into the replay and will have another proper cut at Cork.

The other major news yesterday was the conclusion of the Leinster round-robin series. I know it has divided opinion but I'm not sure what the alternative is.

The way the system is now, those counties have been given plenty of hurling. I know they'd like to play later in the year but the structure helps them get up to championship pace.

It also sees London head for the Christy Ring but I'm not sure if there is a better system out there at the moment.

The games will stand to Antrim and Laois when they take on Wexford and Galway respectively. If you had dropped them straight into the championship without the round-robin series, I'd fear that those teams would struggle but this gives them a fighting chance.

When it comes to it, I think we'll see two teams ready to do themselves justice. And as we look to expand the number of counties who can compete at the top level, that is vital.

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