Thursday 23 November 2017

Classy Cork fire warning shot to All-Ireland rivals

Cork 0-23 Waterford 1-15

Cork's Damien Cahalane grapples with Waterford's Maurice Shanahan
Cork's Damien Cahalane grapples with Waterford's Maurice Shanahan
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The focus after Tipperary were upended last month centred far more on why they malfunctioned rather than how Cork made it happen.

It wasn't deliberately disrespectful but it would still have irritated a Rebel squad who never believed they were much behind the leading pack over the last few seasons.

Daniel Kearney of Cork in action against Patrick Curran of Waterford Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daniel Kearney of Cork in action against Patrick Curran of Waterford Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

They remained convinced all along that various tweaks would make a huge difference, a theory which is now backed up with solid evidence.

For some reason, Cork's win over Tipperary didn't sway the markets, which sent them into yesterday's game as outsiders against opposition who were reputed to have packed every egg into the June 18 basket from the moment the Munster draw was made last October.

Surrendered

So when Waterford surrendered a 10-point lead and lost by three to Galway in the Allianz League quarter-final in early April, it was portrayed as part of a broader Déise strategy involving a long, uninterrupted approach to the Munster Championship.

Colm Spillane of Cork leaves the field after being shown the red card by referee Barry Kelly Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Spillane of Cork leaves the field after being shown the red card by referee Barry Kelly Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Nobody suggested that Waterford threw the Galway game but after reaching the league final for the previous two seasons, their departure at the quarter-final stage didn't cause any angst among their supporters.

Neither, one suspects, did it unduly concern the camp.

The wisdom of that policy will be very much under scrutiny now after a defeat which despatched Waterford further down the championship pecking order than in either of the last two seasons when they reached the Munster final.

An 11-week gap between their league exit and becoming the last team to enter the All-Ireland race left them vulnerable against opposition that had won a terrific contest with Tipperary four weeks ago.

Apart from the psychological lift derived from beating the All-Ireland champions, that game provided Cork with a game-hardness that Waterford failed to match yesterday.

With the exception of the final 15 minutes of the first half, Waterford were a step behind Kieran Kingston's driven forces. Their touch wasn't as good, they had to work harder than Cork for their scores and even when they pounced for a goal which brought them level in the 46th minute, it didn't give them the impetus to press on.

Instead, Cork outscored them 0-5 to 0-1 over the next 12 minutes, establishing a lead which saw them home safely.

Even the dismissal of Cork corner-back Colm Spillane on a second yellow card in the 62nd minute brought no appreciable change to a pattern where Cork's pace and energy were the dominant influences.

Having to play the last 13 minutes, including five of stoppage time, with 14 men on a boiling hot afternoon should have greatly added to Cork's workload but they never allowed it to discommode them.

Indeed, there were times during the run-in when it appeared as if they had the extra man.

Their rapidly-soaring confidence would have been boosted considerably by the sight of Austin Gleeson, 2016 Hurler of the Year, being replaced in the 63rd minute.

Apart from scoring two points, the day largely passed him by, a turn of events that greatly reduced Waterford's prospects of booking a third successive Munster final appearance.

Lining out in the half-forward line, Gleeson drifted further back in an effort to play himself into the action but it never quite worked as his indifferent form from the league carried into the far more important summer action.

He wasn't the only Waterford man who couldn't get their efficiency up to expected levels.

The Bennetts - Stephen and Shane - started well but didn't maintain it; veterans Michael Walsh and Kevin Moran found it difficult to play their way into the game and even top-scorer, Pauric Mahony, who hit 0-4 from open play, will be disappointed, having shot four wides.

There were times too when the Waterford defence struggled to match Conor Lehane's pace, Patrick Horgan's poise and Seamus Harnedy's power.

Dividends

Harnedy's hard running at the Waterford defence yielded rich dividends while Lehane, whose participation was reportedly in doubt because of an ankle injury, carried on from the excellent form of the Tipperary game, scoring 0-4 from open play.

Harnedy and Alan Cadogan were denied goals shortly before half-time by two wonderful saves from Stephen O'Keeffe. His block from Harnedy has to be a leading candidate for save of the year as the Cork No 14 shot from point-blank range.

Two late points brought Waterford level (0-10 each) at half-time, a position which looked quite promising for them, given that it was their first competitive game for so long. They would hoped that 35 minutes of furious action would have cleared the rustiness for the second half.

However, it was Cork who made early inroads after the break. They moved four points ahead after 42 minutes before a Pauric Mahony point and a goal by Maurice Shanahan levelled it up.

Cork were now facing a real test and their response was so impressive that it left their supporters convinced that All-Ireland glory is no longer a mere possibility.

Granted, they will face better-constructed challenges than what Waterford offered, but there's growing evidence that they are capable of improving further.

There have been serious questions marks around the defence for quite some time, ones that weren't answered against Tipperary who took them for 1-26, while also missing a number of goal chances. Cork's security was tighter yesterday.

After a shaky opening, the full-line found their bearings while half-backs, Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis and, most especially, Mark Coleman sorted out most of the problems that came their way.

Coleman has developed into one of the best wing-backs in the business and there could be a lot more to come from the Blarney man, as his experience levels rise.

Cork's defensive load was eased somewhat by Waterford's ploy of playing two men in the full-forward line which didn't work to any great degree.

Even late on, they didn't push up in an effort to unhinge the Cork full-back line and instead remained loyal to the policy of trying to establish dominance further out.

It has succeeded quite often in the past but not this time as Cork's relentlessly work ethic ensured they won a lot of good possession in the middle third.

Wins over Tipperary and Waterford, both of whom contested the last two Munster finals, will send Cork confidence soaring as they being preparations for a first provincial decider with Clare since 1999.

Unlike previous years when their bench wasn't all that strong, they now have back-up forces who can slot in comfortably as the need arises.

Waterford have long been regarded as having a deep talent pool too but, for whatever reason, no remedial action was taken until the 47th minute yesterday, while Patrick Curran and Jake Dillon weren't deployed until quite late on, by which time Cork had effectively sealed the deal.

Scorers - Cork: P Horgan 0-10 (7f, 1'65), C Lehane 0-4, S Harnedy 0-2, D Fitzgibbon, M Coleman, M Ellis, B Cooper, A Cadogan, M Cahalane, L O'Farrell 0-1 each. Waterford: P Mahony 0-5 (1f), M Shanahan 1-1 (1f), A Gleeson, Stephen Bennett, J Barron 0-2 each; Shane Bennett, K Moran, B O'Halloran each.

Cork - A Nash 7; S McDonnell 6, D Cahalane 7, C Spillane 7; C Joyce 7, M Ellis 7, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 6, D Fitzgibbon 7; L Meade 6, C Lehane 8, S Kingston 5; A Cadogan 7, S Harnedy 9, P Horgan 7. Subs: M Cahalane 7 for Kingston (55), D Kearney 6 for Fitzgibbon (60), L O'Farrell 6 for Meade (60), B Lawton for Lehane (68), D Brosnan for Cadogan (72).

Waterford - S O'Keeffe 8; N Connors 6, S Fives 6, B Coughlan 6; C Gleeson 6, T de Búrca 7, Philip Mahony 6; J Barron 7, K Moran 6; A Gleeson 5, Pauric Mahony 7, Stephen Bennett 6; M Shanahan 7, M Walsh 5, Shane Bennett 6. Subs: T Ryan 7 for Stephen Bennett (47), B O'Halloran 6 for Shane Bennett (54), D Fives 6 for S Fives (58), J Dillon for Gleeson (63), P Curran for Walsh (66).

Ref - B Kelly (Westmeath)

Irish Independent

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