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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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New test for young guns, sweeper puzzle, League gamble - Cork-Waterford talking points

The counties lock horns at Semple Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

CLARE’S MUNSTER SENIOR hurling final opponents will be revealed in Thurles tomorrow afternoon.

In the second provincial semi-final, old rivals Cork and Waterford lock horns at Semple Stadium (4.0), with a place in the 9 July decider on offer for the winners.

Derek McGrath with Kieran Kingston Rival managers Derek McGrath (left) and Kieran Kingston. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It promises to be a fascinating encounter at the Field of Legends and Cork already have an impressive victory over Tipperary under their belts.

Waterford haven’t played a competitive fixture in 11 weeks but manager Derek McGrath will hope that his decision not to place too much emphasis on the League will bear fruit with a strong summer campaign.

Here, we take a look at the main talking points ahead of the game…

To sweep or not to sweep?

Waterford defender Tadhg de Búrca. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That is the question for Waterford manager Derek McGrath.

The sweeper system is one he’s favoured in recent seasons, with Tadhg de Búrca fulfilling the role in an extremely capable manner.

But Waterford showed what they could do when going more expansive against Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and replay.

Indeed, retreating into their shells in the closing minutes of the drawn game against the Cats was cited as one of the main reasons why they didn’t win the game.

With the finishing line in sight, Waterford attempted to protect their lead, when a little more ambition would surely have accounted for Brian Cody’s men.

The general consensus suggests that Waterford will play an extra body in defence on Sunday, in an attempt to minimise the space for Cork’s potentially lethal forwards.

Waterford won’t want to be drawn into a shoot-out with Cork, a trap that Tipperary fell into at the quarter-final stage.

Semi-finals are simply about winning, as the old saying goes, and McGrath will look to ensure that by deploying a sweeper.

Will Cork’s Jekyll and Hyde nature resurface?

Michael Ryan and Kieran Kingston Tipperary manager Michael Ryan (left) congratulates Kieran Kingston following the Munster quarter-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The problem with Cork for a while now has been inconsistency.

They tend to follow a good performance with a pretty bad one.

A gritty, backs against the wall qualifier victory over Dublin last year was followed by a tame exit to Wexford.

In 2015, they beat Clare but were crushed by Galway.

In 2014, a Munster final victory over Limerick was followed by a trimming at the hands of Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.

You get the picture. Kieran Kingston has consistently referenced Cork’s inconsistency throughout the season, and the challenge to eradicate it.

Victory against Waterford would help to disprove the doubters in this regard, but following up that stunning Tipp success with another big scalp is a major challenge.

League meeting provides encouragement for Cork

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

One of the more eye-catching results of the Allianz League campaign was Cork’s 1-21 to 1-13 victory over Waterford at Walsh Park.

The Rebels produced arguably their best performance of the spring to strike a psychological blow ahead of the summer.

Waterford would have anticipated meeting Tipperary in a Munster semi-final but now it’s Cork, and they’re forewarned.

On that occasion, Conor Lehane, Luke Meade and Bill Cooper (1-12 between them) were Waterford’s tormentors-in-chief.

On the day, Cork had 12 different scorers contributing to a healthy tally and that high score is an obvious reason why Waterford will look to keep it tight on Sunday.

Both teams finished with three wins from five outings in the group stages of the League but their interest in the competition ended with quarter-final defeats.

Early season shocks provide extra motivation

Derek McGrath dejected Waterford boss Derek McGrath wears a pained expression during last year's Munster final defeat against Tipp. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Both sides are eyeing a Munster final shot at Clare next month but there’s a huge incentive to avoid the qualifiers if at all possible.

Defeats for last year’s All-Ireland finalists Tipperary and Kilkenny have sent the ‘big two’ hurtling towards the back door and it’s a minefield that Cork and Waterford will be anxious to avoid.

Reaching a provincial decider also provides a safe passage to the last six of the All-Ireland series and that’s a huge prize on offer.

Waterford have contested the last two Munster finals, losing both to Tipperary, while Cork are chasing a first appearance in a provincial decider since 2014, when they beat Limerick.

Their paths didn’t cross in championship 2016 but two years ago, Waterford beat Cork in the Munster semi-final, just five weeks after slaying them in the League decider.

Waterford League gamble to pay dividends?

Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

Derek McGrath put huge store in the Allianz League in 2015 and 2016.

Two years ago, they won the competition and last year, they were beaten by Clare in a final replay.

This season, McGrath fielded an experimental starting 15 against Galway at the quarter-final stage and while they got into a winning position, the Tribesmen came back in the final quarter to snatch a three-point win.

Ironically, Waterford finished the game with something more closely resembling a championship 15 but from the start, McGrath fielded just five players who started the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Kilkenny.

Eleven weeks have passed since the Galway game and that long lay-off is an obvious concern for Waterford.

Cork, in the meantime, have had a championship game under their belts, and a huge one at that against Tipperary.

Any kinks in their game may have been ironed out while Waterford must hope they hit the ground running and reach championship pitch immediately.

Could this finally be Waterford’s year?

Patrick Curran and Adam Farrell lift the trophy Waterford were Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 champions last year. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

No All-Ireland senior title since 1959 represents a massive famine for Waterford hurling.

But they were minor champions in 2013 and a star-studded side swept to U-21 glory in 2016.

The hope now is that Waterford can go on to achieve big things at senior level and they have been knocking on the door in the past two seasons, reaching All-Ireland semi-finals on both occasions.

Winning a first Munster title since 2010 would provide the ideal platform for a genuine crack at the All-Ireland title but there’s no guarantee that the big one will follow, even on the back of such impressive underage glory.

Recent history is littered with examples of counties who achieve big things in the underage ranks but struggle to repeat that in the senior grade.

It may be another few years before these Waterford players mature and reach their peaks but in a wide-open race for All-Ireland glory this year, the Déise will feel they’ve as good a chance as anybody else.

Kilkenny and Tipp, last year’s All-Ireland finalists, have shown frailties already this summer and when Clare won the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2013, they roared through the back door to claim the big September prize.

The feeling is, however, that if Waterford harbour genuine hopes of ending that long wait, they’d be better served going the direct route.

New challenge for Cork’s young guns

Ronan Maher and Conor Lehane Conor Lehane is an injury concern for Cork. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cork fielded five Munster senior championship debutants against Tipperary - Colm Spillane, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade.

It was a game that couldn’t have gone much better for the quintet while another debutant, Michael Cahalane, came off the bench to score a crucial late goal.

The challenge now is to build on that solid platform and back up the Tipp win with more big displays.

Coleman, Kingston and Meade were particularly impressive against Tipp, while Colm Spillane’s display also caught the eye of our hurling analyst Tommy Dunne. 

Cork’s ‘front foot’ defending allowed them arrow excellent ball into Cork’s forward line, with Kingston and Meade combining for 1-7 from play between them.

Conor Lehane was the star turn, however, with a haul of 0-10 and his fitness is critical to Cork’s hopes.

At the time of writing, the Midleton player was rated at 50-50 to start the game but if he does, and Cork’s rising young stars step up to the mark again, the Rebels have every chance.

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