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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019

5 talking points as Cork and Waterford chase a hurling league title

The showdown is in Semple Stadium tomorrow at 4pm.

Cork's Lorcan McLoughlin and Waterford's Pauric Mahony.
Cork's Lorcan McLoughlin and Waterford's Pauric Mahony.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

1. Shadow boxing before the championship?

Cork and Waterford will point their team buses on Sunday morning in the direction of Semple Stadium. It’ll be a journey they’ll be repeating five weeks later when a Munster semi-final assignment presents itself. Can we expect some shadow boxing in Sunday’s dress rehearsal?

Over the last ten league finals, there have been four instances where the fixture has been repeated in the subsequent summer’s championship. All incidentally involved Kilkenny, they defeated Tipperary three times to repeat their league final victory and in 2011 overturned their league final loss to Dublin in the Leinster final.

There’s plenty at stake for both sides on Sunday but the championship engagement will still be on their minds.

Derek McGrath Waterford manager Derek McGrath Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Chance for a national crown

Of course the prospect of the championship shouldn’t overshadow the prize on offer tomorrow. Waterford have only won two league titles – way back in 1963 and more recently in 2007.

Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh is the only survivor from that team that saw off Kilkenny eight years ago while Shane O’Sullivan came on as a sub in that game. A national senior accolade is not to be scoffed at by their young and precocious team.

Cork’s won’t want to pass up this chance either. Jimmy Barry-Murphy has managed Cork to a hurling league crown before but that was back in 1998 in his first spell in charge. None of the current players have hurling league medals with final losses to Kilkenny (2012) and Galway (2010) fresh in their minds. A shot at atonement dawns.

General view of Michael Walsh 29/4/2007 Michael 'Brick' Walsh before the 2007 hurling league final Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

3. Waterford’s rapid progress

Counties always hope that their golden underage teams can go on to shine at adult level. The reality can be more bracing and certainly last summer sunk the hopes of Waterford hurling fans. They coughed up a winning position against Cork, were well beaten in the replay, did overcome Laois before being ushered to the championship exit door by Wexford.

Factor in the league relegation and 2014 would not be fondly remembered. But the rapid recent progress achieved by Derek McGrath’s squad makes Waterford the most eye-catching tale of the 2015 league.

They currently have 14 U21′s on their panel, including six members of the 2013 side that ruled the All-Ireland minor landscape. But inexperience has been no barrier to success as they clinched promotion before taking the scalps of Galway and Tipperary in a knockout setting. A league title would cap a remarkable run.

Daniel Kearney with Colin Dunford and Shane OÕSullivan Action from last year's Cork-Waterford clash Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. Cork’s defensive makeup

Jimmy Barry-Murphy lauded his Cork players for their character in fashioning an improbable comeback in their semi-final against Dublin. But he wasn’t happy that they got themselves into such bother in the first place, having to retrieve a 12-point deficit.

The amount of scores Cork are conceding is a problem. They’ve conceded six goals in their seven league games to date but it’s the average of 20 points per game that they’ve shipped which is the greater concern. Waterford may have been operating in Division 1B but have only conceded an average of 13 points per game in the same time frame.

Cork have lost Christopher Joyce (cruciate) and Conor O’Sullivan (left panel). Suddenly defensive options look thin on the ground and Lorcan McLoughlin admitted this week it’s a concern. Aidan Ryan is the leftfield inclusion at full-back tomorrow and Barry-Murphy knows his rearguard needs to solidify before the summer.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

5. The scoring battle between Horgan and Mahony

There’s an array of attacking talent on view on Sunday but the game could likely be distilled into a shootout between Cork’s Patrick Horgan and Waterford’s Pauric Mahony. To date in this year’s league Horgan has amassed 2-80 while Mahony has 1-79 to his credit.

Last summer’s two-game Munster championship saga between the two counties illustrated both players worth to their teams. In the 1-21 apiece draw in late May, Horgan fired 0-12 and Mahony grabbed 0-11 with both notching nine placed balls.

A fortnight later Horgan hit 0-10 (five frees) and Mahony struck 0-5, including four placed balls, as Cork defeated Waterford 0-28 to 0-14.

Tomorrow they will be key operators once more.

Patrick Horgan and Shane Fives Patrick Horgan in action for Cork against Waterford last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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