Monday 19 March 2018

'No-one in Cork saw the display against Tipp coming, they must back it up' - Curran

John Mullane, Waterford, in action against Ronan Curran, Cork. Guinness Munster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final, Cork v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Photo: Sportsfile
John Mullane, Waterford, in action against Ronan Curran, Cork. Guinness Munster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final, Cork v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Having played through all of their epic bouts with Waterford during the noughties, Cork's Ronan Curran was always left in a daze by the speed at which a flamboyant Déise side backboned by Dan Shanahan and Eoin Kelly attacked with.

If you weren't at the top of your game you'd be trampled on and that was what separated those classic encounters from many others of their genre; it was hurling at its best as they continuously duked it out in pulsating shoot-outs.

Apart from the modern-day Kilkenny and Tipperary rivalry, no two sides have been more compatible to consistent brilliance against one another but Curran, a two-time All-Ireland winner, isn't expecting a similar spectacle in Thurles tomorrow (4.0).

With confidence in the county on the floor after much time spent in the doldrums following their 2014 Munster final win, Cork's surprise defeat of provincial and All-Ireland champions Tipperary was "badly needed" but Waterford aren't your average side, and they offer a challenge which has proved Cork's kryptonite.

"I'll be totally honest, there was no-one down here that saw that performance against Tipp coming. They were absolutely brilliant, especially the young fellas. Everyone was down and out and it was one of those special games that just comes out of the blue," Curran says.

"Twenty young fellas delivered a whole-hearted display and it gave everyone a pep in their step around the place but they're well aware that once-off is no good and repeating it is the thing but they're well capable of that.

"With the few bad defeats over the years, you needed something fresh, you needed change and once you get two or three young lads driving it forward, they bring a new dimension to it. They offer something the opposition aren't prepared for and it sparks life into the panel.

"This will be completely different for Cork, however, because the Tipp game was a shoot-out which our forwards, who are good score-takers and speedsters, but Waterford will pack the defence."

As one of the finest centre-backs in recent memory, the three-time All-Star concedes that the role of the No 6 has "drastically changed" since he and Ken McGrath regularly provided the springboard for attacks from the back.

The implementation of sweeper systems means the centre-back can often be caught in limbo and you now have to be accustomed to playing any position in the backline with the emphasis on athleticism as much as intelligence and Curran is intrigued to see how they tackle Derek McGrath's unique style of play.

"It's always very hard to adapt if a team sets up defensive and bring the half-forwards and midfield back, it cuts out the space to the forwards. Anthony Nash's puck-outs were brilliant the last day though and he'd no bother finding the half-backs and midfielders," he says.

"That creates the space up the pitch if a few of them work out. I can see them trying the same type of tactic and seeing how the game goes and opens up. The midfielders were great the last day and he might try to use them even more."

As evidenced by the cluttered middle third last Saturday in Wexford Park as Davy Fitzgerald's Model side got the better of Kilkenny, that area has become a war zone and with McGrath often employing eight defenders and leaving four attackers up, Curran believes that battle will decide who meets Clare in the Munster final on July 9.

"That's where you win or lose games, if you win breaks and battles the tendency is that team wins. If Cork can win that dirty ball that they haven't been doing the last four or five years with the calibre of forwards they have, they'll have a great chance," he says.

A lot has changed since the titanic clashes which got hurling fans off their seats and former Rebel skipper Pat Mulcahy, who led them to Munster success in 2006, feels tomorrow's semi-final is a role reversal from the noughties.

"It's funny that the whole thing has shifted a bit because we always felt back then that if we turned it into a dour dogfight that we'd come out on top against Waterford's flair but Derek McGrath has battle-hardened them," Mulcahy says.

"They're willing to fight and have that toughness about them. Cork have a younger team and aren't as far down the road as Waterford. It'll be interesting to see how the young Cork forwards cope with being suffocated, it's going to be a big challenge for them.

"The Tipp game was the first time in ages that I saw the Cork forwards working in unison. In the past there would have been one or two working hard and then two more stepping up but they never did it as a unit. They are doing that now and won't shy away from that on Sunday."

Despite much fanfare on Leeside after their Premier victory, Mulcahy is a realist and doesn't have lopsided expectations for the current Rebel crop. In fact, he worries about how some aspects of tomorrow's game will unfold.

"Cork have improved massively from last year but they're not All-Ireland contenders or anything like that, they're not even Munster final contenders. Waterford are on year three or four of a four-year plan whereas Cork are on year one," he says.

"I'm not sure that Waterford will be as defensive as people are making them out to be, they reverted to 15 on 15 a little bit last year and Derek McGrath is working on a system that isn't as defensive and it'll be interesting to see what he comes up with this year.

"I think their physicality will be greater than Tipp's and Waterford will have the edge in that regard. They will get their match-ups right and I'd be worried about that. Mark Coleman is having a serious year but I can see someone like Austin Gleeson on him.

"I'd be more worried if I was Kieran Kingston about how Derek McGrath will look to isolate the Cork young guns. When we played Waterford in 2003 after unexpectedly beating Clare, the first 20 minutes they blitzed us and it is daunting for young fellas to come back into line and face a completely different test."

Consistency from Cork is the key; if Mulcahy sees that he'll be happy either way.

"Can they put two games of high intensity and quality together and dig out a win? If they can win by one point in a dour game it won't matter to them, it'll show we're here to stay and that they're genuine contenders. You'll learn even more about Cork on Sunday than Waterford, this really is the acid test for them."

Irish Independent

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