Cork look real contenders while Waterford are mere pretenders
Nicky English: The sense of expectation surrounding Wateford was left disappointed
Cork’s Stephen McDonnell vies with Waterford’s Shane Bennett at Semple Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
For a match with such a brilliant championship atmosphere and sense of expectation about what Waterford would deliver, this ended up as a disappointment. They looked in trouble from an early stage and maybe the heat and conditions got to them after such a long break without a competitive match, but they never got to grips with it.
Cork, on the other hand, showed a level of energy and, especially, pace and will now be All-Ireland contenders. I was a bit reticent about that after the Tipperary match and may have underestimated them but even if they didn’t particularly improve on that showing they reproduced the enthusiasm and spirit.
The younger forwards might not have had the type of day they enjoyed last month but they were again hard working and always ready to attack the ball. On this occasion the more experienced players, especially Séamus Harnedy and Anthony Nash in goal, whose puck-outs were exemplary, really stood out.
Waterford, though, laboured under assumptions that were all based on last year and how they had played in Thurles against Kilkenny and they turned out to be a pale shadow of that. Since the calendar year came in 20 years ago, teams have to be up and at it in the league and if you’re not, you’re going to struggle to turn on a switch for championship.
That’s how it turned out. When you see Kevin Moran flattened by a Bill Cooper shoulder you see the difference. The problem for Waterford is that if you can’t turn on the switch for league and then championship it’s going to be even harder to do it for the qualifiers.
Mark Coleman for me epitomises what Cork are now about: he’s young and he’s new and has no inhibitions whatsoever. He’ll attack the ball, has beautiful touch and expresses himself freely in possession. By contrast, Austin Gleeson, who played on him for a while, looked particularly lacking in energy and sharpness apart from one great pick-up and score.
I’d also put in a word for the medical team, who produced Conor Lehane fit after a worrying ankle injury just a week ago and got him out on to the field where he again contributed seriously impressively – which was a major contributory factor to the win.
He was marked by a below-par Tadhg de Búrca, who wasn’t at his imperious best. His touch wasn’t 100 per cent and some of his deliveries were poor. In general, the team looked like it hadn’t played in nearly three months.
Even when they got the match back in play in the second half with a slightly fortuitous goal by Maurice Shanahan, Cork responded immediately.
When a team is living off scraps they can’t afford to be missing chances and even players such as Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron were shooting decent chances wide. They might have had a penalty in the second half for a foul on Maurice Shanahan but that doesn’t change the fact that they were distinctly second-best all afternoon and lucky that Cork didn’t score goals themselves thanks to fine saves by Stephen O’Keeffe.
And on a day when it was particularly hard to concede frees, Waterford managed to give away silly ones. For instance, Séamus Harnedy, who again showed great presence in the Cork attack, lost a chance in the first half but with the danger over or greatly reduced, a defender needlessly gave away a free.
On that point I thought Barry Kelly let too much go. Referees are there to enforce the rules rather than help to create a spectacle.
It’s worth underlining that the key to how Cork play is their pace. It’s serious and they maintained it all the way through. By the final quarter I thought Waterford looked worn out.
It’s also worth making the point that Waterford have shifted their reliance on sweeper defence in the past year or so but it’s not having the anticipated impact on their attacking play. It really needed Shane and Stephen Bennett to step up to a higher level but this didn’t happen.
They needed Patrick Curran to have more of a planned impact than coming into the game in the 65th minute – by which stage the Bennetts had both been taken off and it wasn’t as if they were being replaced by newcomers to the panel.
We’ve now seen all of the teams in this year’s championship. My view is that the early indications that it would be a high-scoring season have been confirmed. Cork scored 2-27 the last day and 0-23 this time – but could have had more.
Against that, Waterford managed just 1-5 in the second half and on an afternoon when Galway were taking Offaly for 0-33, that won’t be an adequate return.
Cork have the scoring potential to live in this environment. I know of old the signs with them. They have a young team that isn’t intimidated by anyone and really importantly they’ve got the Cork public on their side, and those crowds will create a fantastic atmosphere at their matches.
I imagine quite a few teams in the qualifiers will be hoping that Cork go on to win the Munster championship because it’s a shot to nothing for them. Even if they lose, the decision has been made to play the All-Ireland quarter-finals in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and I can’t see any potential opposition wanting to walk into that in a month’s time to take them on.