Monday 18 December 2017

Rebel revival set to come to a halt

Munster SHC: Cork v Waterford (Thurles, Tomorrow, 4.0, Live RTÉ2)

Cork’s Conor Lehane won’t get the space he was afforded against Tipperary this time around against Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork’s Conor Lehane won’t get the space he was afforded against Tipperary this time around against Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

Cork have returned - that was the view confidently given following their fireworks display against Tipperary.

And because Cork are Cork, they, apparently, don't do mini revivals or fleeting periods of elite competitiveness.

They simply pull up a chair at hurling's top table and carry on the conversation as if they've never been away.

Which is fine, except, in hindsight, Tipperary may not be the great gauge of the fullness of Cork's rehabilitation and though the Rebels' victory was a fine one, it was delivered with certain important caveats.

Firstly, the style of match - lauded nationally - left plenty to the imagination.

Cork were able to hurl 15 versus 15, six backs and six forwards, with Tipperary.


No mean feat, certainly, but diametrically opposed to what they'll face in Thurles tomorrow, where the tactical part of Kieran Kingston's coaching brain will be more fully engaged.

Secondly, and most pragmatically, Cork's win simply put them in a Munster semi-final, the same point at which tomorrow's opponents, Waterford, as well as Clare and Limerick began their summer.

Few fancied Cork to be at this juncture, yet a defeat here would consign the losers to a shark-infested qualifier draw and thus vulnerable to the possibility of exiting the championship at the earliest available opportunity.

So while it would be unfair not to credit the silkiness and the balls-iness of the county's victory against the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard, it would be premature for any Corkonian to go looking for hotel rooms in Dublin on the first Sunday in September.

You couldn't but be impressed by the free-scoring performances of Conor Lehane (0-10) and Shane Kingston (1-4) that day but it didn't take longer to begin to wonder where they would find the same space or possession against a Waterford team who have had a longer lead-in to the championship than any of their All-Ireland rivals.

The Déise took what nourishment they felt they needed from the league, packed up in their own time and headed for home.

That came not long after Derek McGrath revealed he had taken a temporary leave of absence from work in order to more fully devote himself to the task of managing Waterford to the All-Ireland and in doing so, effectively admitted this would be his final year in the job.

All of which points to a team slavishly devoted to getting it done this year.

Naturally, a team brandishing so many youthful components as Waterford did in 2016 will be expected to improve this year but it's not always the case (see: Clare 2013 to present).

But Waterford's main shortcoming, their inability to craft goals against the best defences in hurling, shows signs of improvement.

The Bennetts, Stephen and Shane, plus Patrick Curran, are beginning to display the fullness of their potential.

Repeating the brilliant movement and finishing that lit up last year's Under-21 All-Ireland win should be sufficient for success in Thurles tomorrow.

ODDS: Waterford 8/13, Draw 9/1, Cork 17/10

VERDICT: Waterford

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