McGrath: We might go down but we're building towards summer
Waterford 1-20 Cork 1-15
Such is the fickle nature of the hurling world, the fact that Waterford contested the All-Ireland SHC final and performed with credit seemed to have been totally overlooked as they sought their first league win of the year.
With two points now on the board after dismissing 14-man Cork, that's unlikely to change as a relegation battle looms. But while all may not be rosy in the Déise garden after a victory they were "desperately looking for", manager Derek McGrath is fully aware of the bigger picture.
Summer is at the forefront of his thoughts and while demotion to Division 1B is not part of their script, it will not change their approach should it materialise in the next two weeks.
"I don't think we're the worst team in Ireland. We might go down but we're building towards the summer like all of the other teams and that's not just language to defuse a possible relegation battle and how you feel," McGrath said afterwards.
"All of the teams are building towards the summer but I think that some teams are able to do it a bit better than other teams because of the personnel that they have at their disposal."
The straight red card shown to Seamus Harnedy in the 25th minute for a nasty altercation with Barry Coughlan where the Cork skipper dropped his knees onto his opponent had a huge bearing on the game and allowed Waterford the luxury of leaving Austin Gleeson free in defence.
The scoring ability of the 2016 Hurler of the Year adds more potency to the Déise attack but his defensive qualities and the ability to drive forward from half-back at every opportunity - knowing that he is being covered by sweeper Tadhg de Búrca - is also a huge asset.
Often a player with his natural ability can do as much damage on the scoreboard at wing-back as wing-forward and the Mount Sion maestro fired over two long-range points as well as bursting out with ball at crucial junctures in the closing half. For McGrath, it's a balancing act.
"He's a player that likes to go forward from the back if that makes sense. We just like to get him going forward if we can, but that might mean coming from the back, that sounds an oxymoron.
"Today he was wing-back doing a really good job on Bill Cooper earlier on in a more instructional role, conceding a bit of space but tucking in and doing his job too. I think if we can keep it simple with him for a while it'll be a help to all of us.
"There's more powerful forward units than us right now but we'll build towards getting what we can out of our lads in terms of the best policy going forward and we won't be stirred on it, you have to be pragmatic enough to realise that."
One thing is certain, the sweeper system is here to stay and while De Búrca was outstanding again in his positioning and distribution, Patrick Horgan's 20th-minute goal saw the Glen Rovers man effectively take three Waterford defenders out of the game with one flick from a long delivery. Food for thought for McGrath.
Horgan was ploughing a lone furrow in the Rebel attack, however, as Noel Connors tied up Alan Cadagon in the other corner much like last year's All-Ireland semi-final. With Conor Lehane possibly facing some time on the sidelines with the ankle injury which forced him off at half-time yesterday and Harnedy unlikely to see further league action with a possible two-match ban hanging over his head, it's worrying times for Cork boss John Meyler.
Much was said and written about Walsh Park not being conducive to Waterford's style in the past week, but the current state of Páirc Uí Chaoimh with sand, divots and holes making the South Stand side dangerous and almost unplayable, is not helping Cork's free-flowing style.
The question must be asked how a redeveloped stadium opened just over six months ago is missing its most important ingredient - a suitable playing surface - but Meyler wasn't offering any excuses and lamented the fact that their defence was cut open on a number of occasions, most notably for Mikey Kearney's exquisite first-half goal where he expertly flicked the ball past Eoin Cadogan en route to goal.
With the over-reliance on Horgan rearing its ugly head once more, Meyler insists there's serious work ahead. "We need to spread the weight on the forwards. We saw that in Clare and we saw that in Wexford as well. We've a mountain of work to do. Every game is a big game and you're just being found out in 1A and bits and pieces. If it's working, it's working fine and if it isn't you're in trouble," he said.
It was nip and tuck in the opening quarter with the sides level at 0-6 apiece and when Horgan batted to the Waterford net it looked like the home side might kick on only for Kearney - who caused Tim O'Mahony a lot of grief in his role at centre-forward and looks a fine acquisition - to respond in superb fashion.
The sides were level at 1-7 each before Harnedy was dismissed in the 25th minute and the Déise kicked on through the unerring accuracy of Pauric Mahony to open up a three-point half-time lead, 1-12 to 1-9.
Had Waterford converted a handful of their many scoring chances upon the resumption the game would have been over as a contest but instead the Rebels hung onto their coat tails and drew level in the 49th minute, 1-13 each, before the extra man told.
With Waterford creating overlaps in the middle of the park and Gleeson surging forward at every opportunity, Mahony converted a hat-trick of placed balls before substitutes Stephen Bennett (two) and Stephen Roche tagged on points as they totally shut Cork out at the other end.
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