One flat performance doesn’t make Waterford a bad team and they can still have a say if results go their way
Just when you thought their chance had passed, Cork saved their best for last as Waterford’s worst fears became a reality.
The Rebels took a long look at the man in the mirror before delivering an inspired display in Walsh Park, with Conor Lehane stating afterwards that the squad had some frank and honest words before “showing a bit of heart and fire in the belly”.
Their championship destiny now lies in their own hands, whereas Waterford are relying on others to stay afloat after a head-scratching performance with their flattest display in three years under Liam Cahill coming at the worst time.
It could bite us in the ass come half five tomorrow and the hurling Gods will need to be on our side, or the lofty hopes and aspirations of what could happen in 2022 – ending the 63-year wait for Liam MacCarthy – will turn to dust before the knock-out stages even commence.
As Waterford head to Ennis to face a rampant Clare side while also needing a favour from Cahill’s native Tipperary against Cork, everyone is asking how the main All-Ireland challengers to Limerick have found themselves in this predicament?
Well, that’s Munster hurling for you. You just can’t have your eye off the ball or you risk losing it all. I’ve been heavily reminded of my post-League final comments that Waterford’s panel depth is the best in the country and my prediction that this golden crop could be the evolution of the greatest team that we ever produced.
I still stand over that! This is an incredible squad, with one of the game’s best managers, and one flat performance won’t change that. Much like one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the opposite also applies.
We are known in the Déise as a gentle county and hyping up your own is a complete no-no. And that’s why Cork turned it around, they keep travelling in big numbers no matter how they are faring and never stop believing.
Waterford’s only job is to focus on beating Clare. They can’t get sucked into ‘what-ifs’ about the Clare line-up or what is happening at the same time in Semple Stadium. No matter what Banner men take to the pitch – with or without Tony Kelly – Waterford will have to deliver.
The returning Ian Galvin and young gun Shane Meehan will surely start and Brian Lohan is in an ideal position, as he can keep everyone on their toes for the Munster final while also trying to keep their boot to the floor and maintain valuable momentum.
If Waterford show up like they did last Sunday, that’s it for the season and Cahill was right when he stated that they were “like a car running on dirty diesel”.
There was no intensity or edge to their play and that’s not the Waterford we know under him.
The fundamentals of hard work, high levels of intensity and a high energy are non-negotiable but puck-outs have become a noticeable problem, with Jack Fagan’s return to the half-forward line a real possibility now with ball-winners needed.
Outside of Austin Gleeson, no one delivered what was expected last Sunday and Waterford have no choice but to show up and deliver or there will be a long summer watching on from afar.
It would be a disaster if Waterford exit at this stage and I know from my own career that the years aren’t long in passing. This team has a window of opportunity of two to three years to make hay and another year gone would be such a waste.
It would be a tough job to go back training next winter and start from scratch once again – even with a League title under their belts – but there’s no pressure whatsoever on Cahill if things don’t work out. The man has worked wonders.
But even if Waterford do the business, can Tipp hold up the other end of the bargain and overturn Cork? Tipp have an outside chance to qualify on score difference – although it is unlikely – and Colm Bonnar will just be eager to finish the year on a high.
Even if the Clare/Waterford result doesn’t go their way, a win for Tipp aids the Premier rebuild and if they bring the same work ethic to the table as they did last time out against Limerick, then they have a chance of finally getting a win and changing the narrative around the county.
Tipp supporters need to come out in force because Cork will be there in all their glory. The key for Kieran Kingston is whether what we saw last week was just a flash in the pan or if they can back it up and get their campaign firmly back on track.
The bit of devilment, working their socks off all over the pitch and mixing their style of play between long and short will need to be on show again and it’ll be fascinating to see if Tim O’Mahony is held back alongside the manager’s son Shane – and what role Patrick Horgan plays.
This is a situation which Cork would gladly have taken last Sunday but they’ll need more of the same. Anything less and Tipp will blow the championship wide open and send the Rebels packing.
But for me, it’s Waterford and Cork to prevail, with Limerick manager John Kiely breathing a sigh a relief at the Déise’s early exit.
I can only see Leinster going one way this evening. Anything other than victories for Galway and Kilkenny would shock me, with that pair booking their Leinster final date – and part two between Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin – while Westmeath should get the job done against an injury-ravaged Laois.
I can’t let the week pass without tipping my hat to Offaly. What a scene it was in O’Moore Park last Monday. I’ve never seen the like of it for a minor game and the Faithful were a joy to behold.
If they can properly invest in that group and really look after the next generation, the future is bright and it’s yet another step in the right direction as they continue to fight their way back.