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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Cathal Noonan/INPHO Waterford celebrate last month's Allianz League final win.
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The 5 key factors that will decide Cork and Waterford's Munster hurling clash
The two counties will go head-to-head at Semple Stadium.

1. Pauric Mahony’s absence

Mahony’s leg break was a sickening blow not only to the player himself, but to Waterford’s championship prospects.

To dismiss the Ballygunner man as just a free-taker is an injustice to his wider hurling abilities, because Mahony was Waterford’s main attacking fulcrum during their successful Allianz Hurling League campaign.

He filled the number 11 position perfectly, drifting away from opposition centre backs to slot over long-range scores and bring teammates into play.

Manager Derek McGrath must now decide who will fill the attacking void and he has surely considered the prospect of moving Austin Gleeson from the half-back line. 

Gleeson scored this stunning goal on his championship debut against Sunday’s opponents in Thurles last year:

hockeyhurlingshinty5 / YouTube

Switching Gleeson may be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, however, as McGrath will be reluctant to tinker with a strong half-back line unit that also contains Tadhg De Burca and Philip Mahony, Pauric’s brother.

Waterford to have options up front but Mahony has settled brilliantly into the playmaker role and his loss lengthens the odds on a Waterford win.

2. Brian Murphy’s return

Murphy is one of the finest man-markers of his generation and he enjoyed some phenomenal battles with former Waterford star John Mullane, who rates the Cork defender as one of his toughest ever opponents.

Mullane was sent off in the 2004 Munster final following an off-the-ball tussle with Murphy:

Conor Ryan / YouTube

Waterford still managed to win one of the greatest Munster finals of all time and Mullane apologised to his fellow county folk in an unforgettable post-match interview:

mactoreality / YouTube

Murphy has stepped away from the Cork panel twice before but his return will bolster a Cork defensive unit shorn of injured pair Christopher Joyce and Lorcan McLoughlin.

Murphy will be 33 next month but his club form with Bride Rovers is as consistent as ever and there’s a feeling that Cork manager and namesake Jimmy-Barry isn’t bringing him back simply to make up the numbers.

3. Impact of Allianz Hurling League final on both counties

Waterford left Semple Stadium buzzing on 3 May after collecting a third Allianz Hurling League crown.

The manner of their ten-point victory over Cork suggested that Derek McGrath’s surprise packets were primed for an assault on summer silverware.

But Pauric Mahony’s injury is a significant blow to Deise hopes of a performance similar to the one that floored the Rebels almost five weeks ago.

hockeyhurlingshinty5 / YouTube

Derek McGrath has been forced into an attacking rethink while Cork have gone about their business quietly behind the scenes.

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The Leesiders are never as dangerous as when they’re quiet and bar injury concerns, we’ve heard barely a murmur from JBM and co. since last month’s Semple setback.

With a fully-fit Mahony on board we would have tipped Waterford to win again but now we’re not so sure.

4. Noel Connors v Patrick Horgan

Just one of many intriguing match-ups all over the pitch but this one has extra significance.

Horgan is one of Cork’s main ‘go to’ men but he has consistently found Connors a tough opponent.

In the League final last month, Horgan failed to register a score from play as Waterford’s former Allstar Connors produced another man-marking masterclass.

Noel Connors and Patrick Horgan Cathal Noonan / INPHO Waterford's Noel Connors has had the upper hand in battles with Cork's Patrick Horgan (15). Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Jimmy Barry-Murphy may be tempted to deploy Horgan in a roving commission, thereby freeing him from the confines of the corner, where Connors will be waiting.

Will Cork simply allow Horgan to walk into the Connors lair again, or will they come up with a tactic to force the Waterford defender into areas of the pitch where he’s far less comfortable? Surely the latter will apply.

5. Will Jimmy Barry-Murphy demonstrate tactical nous?

While the notion on going 15 on 15 with your opponents will bring on some misty-eyed romanticism, hurling has moved on to a point where tactics play a key role, even if Kilkenny boss Brian Cody would have you believe otherwise.

Cork supremo Jimmy Barry-Murphy has been accused of tactical naivety in recent years and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Despite being carved open in the 2013 All-Ireland final, Cork were cruelly exposed by Clare in the replay, when dropping an extra man behind their half back line would have prevented them from being opened up by direct lines of running.

And looking at the final two minutes of the first game, Cork had chances to wind the clock down rather than presenting Clare with that crucial final possession:

MarcasOCallanain / YouTube

Cork did win last year’s Munster final but were badly out-thought and out-fought by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.

And in another big game of significance, Cork were found wanting by Waterford last month as Derek McGrath’s astute thinking helped to win the day.

Even when McGrath was winning Harty and Croke Cups with De La Salle, he was a coach that placed a heavy emphasis on tactics and defensive solidity.

McGrath-managed teams are difficult to break down but when they attack, they do so in waves and Cork must find a way to neutralise free-running dynamo Colin Dunford, who was superb in the League final.

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