Waterford have the confidence and ability to prove league final wasn’t a one-off

Injuries undermining both teams tomorrow but Cork have too big a gap to bridge in five weeks

Séamus Harnedy is an injury concern for Cork’s showdown with Waterford.

Séamus Harnedy is an injury concern for Cork’s showdown with Waterford.

 

Injury is casting a long shadow over tomorrow’s Munster semi-final. The loss of Pauric Mahony is huge for Waterford, as his free-taking and workrate make him a serious contributor. If, though, there is a doubt over Séamus Harnedy, the leader of Cork’s forwards, on top of their best defender Lorcán McLoughlin’s absence, that evens things up considerably.

This is taking place just five weeks after Waterford’s big win against the same opposition in the league final. I don’t believe that the differentials change that much between league and championship and if Waterford were 10 points better just over a month ago, it’s hard to see how that gap can be bridged.

Cork are fielding much the same players that Waterford held to a draw in last year’s first round and although they won the replay easily, the opposition has significantly improved in the last 12 months.

It will be interesting to see how Waterford approach this. Will they continue to drop players back and work really hard around the middle, tactics that proved very difficult to play against in the league? There was a hint from Derek McGrath that they might play a more positive formation. Although neither Cork nor Tipperary were able to handle the way Waterford played in the league, McGrath might feel that to be successful in the championship they may have to be more orthodox.

Waterford are a very exciting team with huge potential and mightn’t be seen at their best for another couple of seasons. There’s another crop of minors under Austin Gleeson’s generation and they’re close to coming through so it’s only getting better for them and in McGrath they’ve a very clever manager.

Cork though are struggling. They look as though they’ve yet to recover from the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Tipperary.They got to the league final but their closing performances weren’t convincing: losing a big lead to Tipp, being contained by Wexford, lucky not to have been well beaten by Dublin and then getting well beaten by Waterford.

It’s hard to imagine how they could have remedied all of these problems in a few weeks.

Even though they have injuries in defence with Christopher Joyce out for the season and McLoughlin for a number of weeks, the return to the panel of Brian Murphy says a lot about the problems they have at the back. Not alone have Cork not kicked on from last year but they have if anything slipped back and no exciting new players are coming through.

I think Jimmy got a huge amount out of them in 2013. They were ahead in an All-Ireland final when time was up. It’s looking now like a tremendous feat of management and that maybe they’re not as good as they looked. The shine has gone off them.I’ve high hopes for Waterford in the future and they’re already on that journey but they could also go a long way this year and I think they can resolve the free-taking issue in Mahony’s absence and take the first step tomorrow.

Closing the deal

In the drawn Leinster quarter-final, Dublin were in the winning position and didn’t close the deal. It’s becoming an Achilles heel – it even happened the under-21s during the week – and was evident against Cork in the league semi-final. Last week there were a few point chances at the end to give them the cushion of a two-point lead but they didn’t take any, including a simple free. That has to be a worry for Dublin this afternoon.

They weren’t clinical enough either and not just in their finishing. The handpasses at the back were sloppy and nearly got them into big trouble a couple of times.

Moving Liam Rushe into the forwards has been a worthwhile experiment but it didn’t work for Ger Cunningham last week. The intention was to get Chris Crummey on to Jonathon Glynn and that was a success for Dublin but it left Conal Keaney at centre back, which can’t have been part of anyone’s plan for the season.

Cyril Donnellan did a lot of damage as a result and had enough possession and created enough chances to sink Dublin but he didn’t finish the job, which sums up Galway. I had worries about Keaney even at wing back in Croke Park never mind centre back. It meant that neither of Dublin’s two best centre backs, Rushe and Crummey, were actually playing there.

Rushe needs to be central and he spent the game at wing forward as a puck-out target. He’s too important to be a peripheral figure and I’d move him to centre back today. It doesn’t have to be a big U-turn, just a horses-for-courses switch, assuming Ger Cunningham wants to continue with Crummey man-marking Glynn.

The tighter pitch in Tullamore may also suit Dublin better than Croke Park, given their physical strength.

Instead of kicking on after Joseph Cooney’s goal, Galway went asleep and it woke up Dublin. Galway showed some worrying traits: they were prone to fouling and their workrate wasn’t good enough.

Joe Canning came into the match with a hand injury but even so I was disappointed with his contribution. Anthony Cunningham and his selectors also left Johnny Coen on Mark Schutte for far too long. Galway have to get their match-ups right.

It’s almost impossible to call but even though the pitch doesn’t suit them, I’d be much more wary of Galway this week. If they create the same amount of chances, they’ll win.

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