Rebels should secure their ticket
Munster SHC Round 4: Clare v Cork, Sunday June 16, Cusack Park, Ennis 2pm
Cork's display against Waterford, when taken in isolation, means little in the context of where Cork are about now.
Waterford have fallen to a level in the last number of years, that few would have predicted as recently as 2017, but there was always the chance that there might be a sting in the tail of this proud county - that said, Cork had a job to do last Saturday night and credit to them, they did it and did it well at that.
The game started well for the home side with just over 26,500 paying customers getting ample early opportunity to test their vocal chords.
Some good early scores, a rampant opening period from Alan Cadogan and a little bit or argy-bargy in the midfield area and all signs pointed to a hotly contested battle by the Lee, but reality put paid to all that and the game became something akin to a procession.
This one was still in the mix at the interval, but even at that stage few, if any, were seeing Waterford as winners. Cork were playing within themselves and still had plenty to see off the visitors. All over the pitch Cork were stronger than their opponents and all over the pitch the players in red made the opposition pay - that said, Cork do have plenty things to work on from this comfortable win.
From the back Cork were solid but even that solidity coughed up a pair of goals that on another day could have been costly.
Cork will need to focus on defending better as a unit, something that was evident when they played Limerick a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps, it was that break that resulted in a little fragmentation but in the main well on top of their brief.
Nash was good, some quick accurate puck-outs and no fault for the goals. In front of Nash, sat the much lauded new full-back line and yet again the second last line of defence was solid. Niall O'Leary was again brilliant as was Seán O'Donoghue, was resilience personified.
The half-back line of Robert Downey, Mark Ellis and Mark Coleman also did their job well with the latter back to his inimitable best going backwards and forwards. There was a little bit of confusion at times in the middle but overall all the defenders can hold their heads up high.
For those of us that looked to see experiments with the midfield pairings in recent months we can now all go back in our boxes.
Cork's dynamic duo of Darragh Fitzgibbon and Bill Cooper are surely now in the top two or three central pairings in the country - such was the performance given by both.
Fitzgibbon sits deep, looking for ball and protecting the back while Cooper gets stuck in to anything that moves in the middle third. Both can score from distance and both are brilliant link up players. Superb double-act at the heart of the side.
Up front all seems almost rosy in the garden as Cork put in another hugely credible display at the business end of the pitch. First and foremost the return of Alan Cadogan has brought a new sense of purpose to the front six with players all buzzing to be a part of the flow up front.
Last weekend Cadogan was again really good with Patrick Horgan again the commander-in-chief in the scoring stakes. Aidan Walsh had a much quieter evening than the two that went before and was substituted on 41 minutes by Shane Kingston, who did everything in his power to secure a returning starting berth - something I think he may have managed for next weekend. At the half-back line Luke Meade, Daniel Kearney and Seamus Harnedy did well without standing out. Meade and Kearney bagged a point a piece while Harnedy got three but could have had more.
All told, the half forwards will look to add to their reputation next time round with the likes of Conor Lehane, Tim O'Mahony and Robbie O'Flynn all there to take up the slack if needs be.
Cork's willingness to put in the hard yards is what makes this team better than many of the ones around them and if they can keep the work ethic that John Meyler insists upon week after the week they will take some stopping this time round.
Next Sunday, Cork will head to the Banner County to take on a Clare side that have been facing the wrath of their fans and past players for their lack of effort on the pitch.
Clare's players have been challenged on their ability and willingness to put in the hard work in recent weeks and that may well generate a reaction this Sunday that Cork will need to deal with.
Cork have all the attributes to win this game against Clare and in so doing book a place in the Munster Final where they can go for three provincial titles in-a-row, however, they may still find themselves on the shelf watching the rest of the All Ireland series play out - such is the tightness of the table.
Clare need to win and hope Limerick get something from their game with Tipperary - anything less than that and Cork will join Tipp and Limerick as the three going through with the results this weekend deciding who plays in the Munster Final.
Cork will need to be wary of the backlash that is sure to come from a side with nothing to lose this weekend. Cork need a good start, a solid middle and let their bench do the talking late on, and if they can do all three they will likely take on Tipp in the showpiece game.
Verdict: Cork by five or more.