Saturday 20 January 2018

Gleeson central to Waterford's big drive

Waterford's Austin Gleeson in action. Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford's Austin Gleeson in action. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Cork had been told before the Munster quarter-final clash with Tipperary that they would concede 1-26, they would have assumed they were heading for the All-Ireland qualifiers before the end of May.

They would also have feared a sizeable beating, since Tipperary scored 0-22 in the corresponding tie a year earlier and still won by nine points.

The difference this time lay in Cork's attacking enterprise. Confused last year by a sweeper system that was alien to them, their plans misfired, resulting in them scoring only 13 points.

That figure was reached in 31 minutes four weeks ago, after which they added 2-14 to take the total to 2-27.

Waterford boss Derek McGrath looked on, no doubt amazed by the amount of time and space afforded to Cork all over the pitch.

It was as if Tipperary believed that whatever Cork did, it wouldn't be enough. Indeed, that would probably have been the case if Tipperary didn't squander several goal chances.

Those misses, combined with a failure to counteract Cork's runners, gradually shaped a game which, for all its excitement, lacked the ferocious intensity expected in the championship.

It will be very different tomorrow. Waterford's approach is based on compressing space as much as possible, getting lots of players close to the point of action and driving forward in numbers.

It's attritional and demanding but they are well used to it by now. It's not a game favoured by Cork, who will do all they can to turn it into an open contest and utilise their exciting attacking runners in the form of Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston, Luke Meade and Alan Cadogan, who scored 1-16 from open play between them against Tipperary.

Doubts remain about Cork's defensive solidity, but then Waterford have not been all that secure this year either. They conceded more than Cork in the 1A campaign, before being hit for 2-22 by Galway in the quarter-final.

A key issue for Waterford is how Austin Gleeson performs. Last year's Hurler of the Year had an indifferent league, never coming close to reaching the great heights of 2016.

He didn't look as fine-tuned as usual but presumably the hard work since early April will have sorted out that. Waterford need him on maximum power if they are not only to win tomorrow but also advance on recent years when they lost to Tipperary in two successive Munster finals.

"We didn't have the right frame of mind for the last few years - that's all it was. We zoned in on what we needed to do and we did it," said Lehane after the win over Tipperary.

They will need to be even more focused tomorrow. Even then, they might come up short against a Waterford team who believe their time has come.

Irish Independent

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