Sunday 21 April 2019

Final in Cork's grasp in Déise test

Munster SHC Round 4: Cork v Waterford, Sunday, June 17, Semple Stadium, 2pm

Cork defender Seán O’Donoghue. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cork defender Seán O’Donoghue. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Sheehan

Well, we are finally heading into the penultimate weekend in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship and few could argue that this season's championship hasn't been up there with the best in living memory.

Games at the highest level of intensity and quality have littered this year's championship with all sides stepping up to the mark to entertain and thrill in excess of 200,000 hurling fans already this campaign.

After last weekend's action and Cork's well timed break week the rebels will head back to Thurles to take on a Waterford side with plenty to prove but little to play for.

Waterford's season has come to a premature end and like Tipperary, the men from the south east will be bitterly disappointed with the way things panned out but with no home venue at present and a few staffing issues from the previous season, few thought Waterford would be in a position to reach the heights achieved in 2017.

Cork's season has been a thrill a minute to this point which must generate a huge sense of satisfaction for John Meyler and his troops as few gave them a chance either to retain the provincial crown they won so convincingly this time last year.

Cork beat Clare in their opener and have managed to salvage two draws from the jaws of defeat from the jaws of victory since that point. Tipperary and Limerick both looked down and out at stages, but the pair rallied in their respective clashes with Cork, bagging draws - now the men in red and white have to put those results behind them, concentrate on the Déise and take solace from the fact that they are still one of only two undefeated sides in the Munster Championship 2018.

Cork come into this weekend's clash in good form but still to put down a serious 70 - 75 minutes, but when they have played well they have been hugely impressive.

Cork's short passing, fast running and high intensity explosive starts have blown some aside however keeping up the pace and power over a full inter-county fixture has proved to be a problem - leaving two of three opponents back into their respective games.

Cork will again look to the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon and Bill Cooper in the middle to provide stability as well as some scores from distance with Patrick Horgan yet again the key man up front. Horgan has been hugely impressive again this season with a scoring rate most in the country could only dream of.

Conor Lehane, Daniel Kearney and Seamus Harnedy will all look to have more of an impact this time than last after a tough day up front against Limerick last time out.

Shane Kingston is in brilliant form and will surely again see the full forward line however Dean Brosnan may well have to head back to the bench with Luke Meade pressing hard to get his spot back.

Newtownshandrum's Tim O'Mahony is another that will look to force his way in, but that elbow injury he suffered earlier in the season still looks heavily strapped - a cameo may be the best he can hope for again.

At the rear, Anthony Nash will hold sway as the top keeper in the country continues to impress. Seán O'Donoughue, Damien Cahalane and Colm Spillane should all stand tall on the final defensive line with Mark Coleman and Mark Ellis both well worth their place this Sunday.

Waterford come into this weekend's fixture with seemingly nothing to play for, but the Déise men will be far from happy with the situation as it stands and will look to finish off their season with something of a bang.

Cork will be serious opposition for Waterford as the Rebels look to continue their non-losing run but Waterford will know that Cork have been unable to seal the deal on two of three occasions and should push on early to try and keep Cork from getting that forward momentum.

Waterford's heavy loss to high flying Limerick was a real blow to Derek McGrath's men last weekend so this week expect to see Shane Fives, Conor Gleeson and Michael Walsh all keeping a strong hold on Cork's front six with Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran strong near the middle.

Up front it will be the likes of Stephen Bennett and Tom Devine that should impress, but it is the attitude of a side already contemplating their summer break that will really decide the outcome here.

Semple Stadium will play host to this game as Waterford are short of a place to call home right now but with an attendance that is likely to be on the smaller side of this year's crowds, Cork's players will need to generate the excitement in the stands while staying patient, being clinical and continuing to provide this exciting brand of hurling and, hopefully, they will be rewarded with a place in the provincial final against what is likely to be (but not definitely) a near rampant Limerick team.

There are many permutations as to which two of the Cork, Limerick, Clare trio will play in the provincial showdown but to simplify, if Cork win or do no worse than Clare then they are home and dry.

Excitement all the way to the end.