Sunday 17 December 2017

How Deise with De Burca fall-out could prove the winning and the losing of the game

All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Cork v Waterford, Sunday August 13, Croke Park, 3.30pm

Waterford manager Derek McGrath. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Waterford manager Derek McGrath. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Denis Hurley

Cork against Waterford in Croke Park on Sunday will call to mind memories of great days in the 2000s, when the counties' clashes often provided the most exciting games of the hurling championship.

Back then, Cork tended to win the clashes at GAA headquarters - the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final replay was Waterford's only win on Jones's Road - and it was the Rebels who claimed two All-Irelands to none for the Déise during the decade, with three Munster titles claimed by each before Waterford took the 2010 Munster title after a replay as an epilogue.

That remains their last provincial victory, and when Tipperary, the county which beat them in the 2015 and '16 Munster finals, lost to Cork in this year's first round, Derek McGrath's side must have sensed a great opportunity to push on.

The general feeling ahead of the Cork-Waterford Munster semi-final was that Cork would struggle to match their Tipp heroics and, a year or two ahead in their development and with more time to prepare, Waterford would take advantage.

That's not the way it panned out in Thurles on June 18, though, as the young Cork side built on what they had achieved and then pushed on further to see Clare in the final. From fifth-favourites of five before the start of the competition, they had reached the top.

The last time Cork won Munster, the five-week break between the win over Limerick in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary proved difficult to bridge.

Before that Croke Park clash, management didn't discern any problems - they finished training early a couple of nights because things were going too well and the form stayed on the practice pitch as Tipp claimed victory by ten points.

The soundings from the Cork camp are that the break has been managed better this time round - Kieran Kingston made the point that so many of the panel being involved with Umder 21s has actually been a benefit as it has meant that the panel have had only about two weeks together, the same as was afforded them prior to the wins over Tipp and Waterford.

Obviously, Sunday's game is one to be taken on its own merits, but a note of warning can be sounded from looking at semi-final results over the past decade. On seven occasions since 2007, the Munster champions have met another Munster side in the last four and only once - when Tipperary beat Limerick in 2009 - have they been victorious.

Beating the same team twice in the same championship is also a difficult task, but Cork should surely benefit from having a full squad to choose from while Waterford have to deal with the problem of replacing Tadhg de Búrca (barring a late reversal of his suspension by the DRA).

It could be argued that de Búrca is the toughest player on the Waterford team to replace, given the specialised nature of his sweeper role. If they are to stick with a sweeper, then Darragh Fives is the likeliest alternative, but relocating him would meant putting in someone new at wing-back.

Given that Waterford have made far more attacking substitutions than defensive ones in the championship so far (as have Cork, incidentally), that would mean either rejigging the team further and dropping Kevin Moran back to the half-back line, or else unleashing a greenhorn defender.

Or - with the amount of attacking options available to them, might this be the day that they go with a flat 15 and how us all that there is the extra dimension required to go on and show that they can win the All-Ireland?

One would have to think and hope that Cork have prepared for both eventualities, but that Waterford going with a sweeper would be preferable, given that would allow Mark Ellis to sit back and provide Damien Cahalane with the coverage which has helped him become All-Star material. If that happens, then up front Cork will have to try to upset the Waterford defensive balance.

Conor Lehane has pushed on to the next level this year and his long-range point-taking ability will be a key asset in bypassing any massed Waterford ranks. Alan Cadogan didn't enjoy the best of games in the first Waterford match but otherwise he has been a handful - either he scores when he gets the ball or teams are forced to foul him and Patrick Horgan puts the free over.

Horgan is another who seems revitalised this year and Luke Meade has settled into the Cork attack with ease. Shane Kingston's best game was the Tipp one and he hasn't matched that since, but he's surely due a good performance.

The Cork defence has been outstanding, with Mark Coleman providing an extra dimension going forward, while Bill Cooper has blossomed at midfield alongside Darragh Fitzgibbon.

Anthony Nash's puck-out strategy is finely honed and, while one wouldn't want him to have to showcase his shot-stopping too often, he has been excellent on that front too.

For Waterford, Kevin Moran is a player any other county would like, and along with Jamie Barron he has created a formidable midfield pairing. Austin Gleeson won't be as anonymous as he was in the second half against Cork in Thurles and Michael Walsh will again exert huge influence.

A question for McGrath and his selectors is whether or not they start Maurice Shanahan or bring him on during the second half when the game may be looser and he can cause havoc.

How they proceed in de Búrca's absence is likely to inform that decision, and could provide the key to the winning and losing of the game.


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