Thursday 18 January 2018

Rush to write off Waterford makes no sense as absent big guns target replay

Waterford's Darragh Fives is close to a return from injury
Waterford's Darragh Fives is close to a return from injury
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

No sooner had Brian Gavin blown the final whistle in Thurles last Sunday than the consensus was expressed that Waterford had shot their bolt and Cork are automatically favourites for their Munster SHC quarter-final replay.

But if politics and sport have taught us anything in the past week then surely that's the kind of spin and bluster that should be distrusted.

Waterford, based on their recent history of injury, relegation and player turnover, went into the drawn game as rank underdogs against last year's beaten Munster and All-Ireland finalists.

Donegal were similarly written off as 'All-Ireland has-beens' up North and we all saw what happened in Celtic Park.

The Decies' relatively inexperienced side defied the pundits as they enjoyed a nine-point lead after 50 minutes.

Now it's being argued that they've no more aces up their sleeve; that the game plan and three teenage wild cards (Tadgh Burke, Austin Gleeson and Colin Dunford) played by Derek McGrath will not be as effective second time around.

There's also the usual guff about Cork "not being that bad again," as if the Rebels' rich history automatically means they can conjure up the form and cohesion that has, surprisingly, been markedly absent this year.

And another cliche tossed out was that a second game will suit both teams and help them get up to full championship pace.

Another game may indeed sharpen them both up, but at what cost?

Jimmy Barry-Murphy has already pointed out that the replay and tighter schedule is "the price we have to pay for our performance."

The truth is that both teams can improve on Sunday week and the rush to write Waterford off, in particular, is far too simplistic.

For a start, they have men to come in. Midfielder Shane Sullivan was heartbroken to miss last Sunday's game through suspension.

He was particularly aggrieved at what he felt was an undeserved one-game ban from their relegation play-off with Dublin, so frustrated that he seriously contemplated taking his case to the DRA after his initial appeal failed. His return to midfield for the replay is particularly timely as Waterford will be without the injured Eddie Barrett for the next six to eight weeks.

Two more who missed out last week, Stephen Molumphy and Darragh Fives, could be back in two weeks. Fives is one of the best young wing-backs in the country, and he can also play midfield.

Army officer Molumphy, one of Waterford's on-field generals, is versatile and gives them options in the centre and in attack.

Jamie Barron and Maurice Shanahan will not be back in time but Waterford could have three experienced men back fighting to start.

There was a theory they lacked goalscorers and are too dependent on Pauric Mahony's free-taking but, in these pages last week, Dan Shanahan stressed how the key to getting goals now is 'movement', revealing that they had worked particularly hard on that since losing to Dublin.

Their improved movement clearly discommoded Cork's defence, and the notion that they lack goalscorers was firmly shredded by last year's All-Ireland minor-winning centre-back Gleeson, who raised a green flag on his Munster debut with a piece of outrageous skill that few may surpass this season.

Cork can improve for the replay and it will be easier for them, given their sluggardly start and how many of their starting forwards underperformed, with Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan the only exceptions.

The Rebels may not have the same volume of injury victims to return but dual star Eoin Cadogan is one and, significantly, he was a late addition to their bench last Sunday after passing a fitness test on the run-in.

The performance of some of their substitutes last week also gives them some encouraging options.

Bill Cooper, who led Youghal to a county intermediate title last summer and was recalled to the panel on the back of that and his performances for Cork IT in the Fitzgibbon Cup this year, made a huge impression when he came in.

Beside Cadogan on the bench were some other significant subs who were not used. Conor O'Sullivan and Paudie O'Sullivan were reportedly ready after long injury lay-offs but neither was 'sprung.'

Some positional changes are also likely in the Cork attack, given how effective Pa Horgan was when moved to the '45', and the need to get Seamus Harnedy more involved.

Bottom line? Waterford played well and let a decent lead slip, Cork didn't, but clawed their way back into it. The Rebels certainly have more room for improvement, but that doesn't mean Waterford can't repeat or improve their performance either, and they have a great recent replay record against Cork.

Both sides looks set to make changes in personnel and tactics in this fascinating tussle – which is still very much in the melting pot.

Irish Independent

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