Waterford back on track in new era, Cork face plenty problems again and De Búrca stars after injury

It was a contrasting day for managers Kieran Kingston and Liam Cahill.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

KIERAN KINGSTON HAS had his share of Waterford moments, Liam Cahill has had plenty of Cork encounters.

They crossed managerial paths yesterday, a Halloween evening in Thurles the weirdest starting point for a championship either would have experienced.

Ultimately it was Cahill who worked his brand of magic again in a fixture when facing a team clad in red and white. For all of Cork’s progress in underage matters in recent years after a state of hurling decay that had set in, their rebound has not culminated in major success.

2018 saw Tipperary upset them in an All-Ireland U21 final, 2019 saw Tipperary steamroll them in an All-Ireland U20 final. Cahill was at the helm for both, he moved across county borders last winter to take a senior job with greater pressure. His coaching sidekick Mikey Bevans came with him and this was a reward for their move.

Yesterday a couple of uncomfortable trends were ended for Waterford. Their first win after nine championship setbacks, a run that stretched back to August 2017. In Munster specifically this was their first victory since June 2016, ten fruitless provincial appearances since then.

“It was really about the now and concentrating on beating that Cork team on the field of play,” outlined Cahill.

“These fellas have been questioned in the past, they might have used it as private motivation but we’re just looking forward now.

“Just delighted to be in a Munster final, that was the prize on offer today. We knew we had to hurl well to have any chance of getting over the line against Cork, so really happy for the players for the way they’ve looked after themselves in the lockdown, to come back in that physical condition.

“It’s a credit to them and to the S&C team for all the work they’ve done.”

For Kingston it was another significant day against Waterford. In 2017 it was their win over a Deise outfit that saw their Munster title dreams take flight and a loss to the same team that August which thwarted their All-Ireland hopes.

His second spell in charge for the championship trail began with familiar opponents, last January’s league meeting would have informed that Cahill’s charges, while changed, were still effective.

“I said beforehand I didn’t really know where we stood but today we didn’t bring the performance from training,” reflected the Cork manager after.

“The way we were going in training we didn’t bring it to the pitch today. Over the course of the 70-odd minutes I think we didn’t deserve to win the game.

“When you look back on it we lost more than our fair share of those (50-50) balls and that’s disappointing. From our perspective, we have a game under belt, we have to regroup, see what the draw brings and see what we can learn from today.”

patrick-curran-and-tadhg-de-burca Jubilant Waterford players after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

If Waterford’s team have been robbed of stalwarts through experience and injury, there was a twist of irony in the presence of the game’s dominant performer. Tadhg De Búrca tore his cruciate in September last year in a club game. A typical GAA calendar would have left him struggling to hit full speed for championship in the summer but 2020′s shift away from the routine afforded him extra time to properly recuperate.

He seized that chance with a masterclass of defensive awareness and covering, his hand a magnet for the sliotar. Cork’s striking in the second half was questionable, raining in deliveries that he fetched repeatedly while clearly in good form, yet it could not detract from his impact.

“Ever before I came to Waterford he was a guy I was looking at every summer as one of the key back men in the country,” said Cahill.

“To come back from the injury he had twelve months ago to that kind of form is credit to the man himself.”

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liam-cahill-celebrates Liam Cahill and his coach Mikey Bevans. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Locating form has become an urgent requirement for Cork. There is a lot for them to get their head around from this game with a qualifier date looming either next Saturday or the weekend after if they are fortunate to get a bye in tomorrow morning’s draw.

What is clear is that a team which won two Munster titles in 2017 and 2018 before challenging subsequently in All-Ireland semi-finals, has not kicked on and instead slipped back. The May 2019 win over Limerick is their only truly satisfactory championship performance since.

Shane Kingston had a productive first-half yesterday, popping over a good pair of points to retrieve some of the deficit before half-time and Seamus Harnedy burst to life for a spell in the third quarter. But overall there is little sign of the attacking burden placed on Patrick Horgan being eased. He shot 1-8, snapping over five points from play, but there were parallels that could be drawn to Tony Kelly performance’s with Clare last Sunday. Having one leading light facilitates defensive plans in focusing their energies on that primary danger.

Injuries removed Colm Spillane and Aidan Walsh from the starting side beforehand for Cork, they pitched youngsters Sean O’Leary-Hayes and Daire Connery in for their championship debuts. Robert Downey was the third member of last year’s U20 team involved, an injection of freshness to a team selection that has been accused of staleness.

They desperately missed Darragh Fitzgibbon as well, the midfield creator who knits together so much of their attacking play. Robbie O’Flynn’s suspension removed another useful option. Mark Coleman’s deployment there was interesting though, he was frequently involved in dictating the play and reinforced the theory that he can thrive in a middle role.

mark-coleman-dejected A dejected Mark Coleman after Cork's defeat. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But ultimately Cork were chasing this game from the moment that Kieran Bennett put Waterford ahead in the 13th minute and the winners were not trailed again. Cork lacked the second-half structure to wipe away that deficit. They got within four points on a couple of occasions yet their usage of possession was really poor and they were unable to break Waterford’s stranglehold in the half-back line.

In the opening quarter Cork hit five points from 13 shots and it was as if once they didn’t get a strong foothold on the scoreboard early on, their hopes became frayed and their gameplan was in disarray by the finish. This was not a day where Stephen O’Keeffe was required to produced a shot-stopping exhibition.

Consider all the recurring charges levelled at Cork in recent years about work-rate and digging out tight games, this was not an afternon that dispelled them. Their club campaign may have been more intense that most this year and they were lacking a couple of key figures but that cannot explain this away. For a team locked in a cycle of setbacks, this looked another damaging outcome.

Waterford are in a more buoyant mood. They had enough personnel absences to bemoan as well. If Pauric Mahony’s loss looked an issue when Stephen Bennett missed a couple of early frees, the Ballysaggart man steadied sufficiently to have hit 0-12 by the end and as Cahill pointed out afterwards, Bennett’s usage of the ball in a withdrawn second-half role was excellent.

There were lots of other plus points. Calum Lyons was terrific at wing-back, adorning his display with 1-2. Jamie Barron’s form was redolent of that which pushed him into the Hurler of the Year frame in 2017. Dessie Hutchinson has created expectations with his blinding club form for Ballygunner and was peripheral in the first quarter but he finished with 0-3 from play. His control, striking and movement in spinning into space mark him down as a brilliant addition to their forward ranks.

Cahill is hopeful Conor Gleeson and Iarlaith Daly could return before 15 November to swell their ranks further with Darragh Fives facing a longer lay-off. He spoke afterwards about the step up needed in the Munster final and how mistakes will be punished. 

But that’s a good situation for Waterford to be facing into, they’ve had enough setbacks since 2017 to enjoy this turning point as a new era begins.

For Cork the uncertainty has returned and the problems are stacking up.


The42 GAA Weekly is here! Join hosts Shane Dowling and Marc Ó Sé as they preview Tipperary v Limerick, Donegal v Tyrone, and the rest of the weekend’s action:

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Fintan O'Toole

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