Splitting the Posts: Water' to run farther
22:00, 28 Jul 2012
When it’s this close to call, you go with experience.
That’s how Waterford got past Clare this year, Limerick and Galway last year, and have reached as many Munster finals and All-Ireland semis as they have this century.
It’s that know-how when the temperature is up and the team is down — still being able to deliver. Think of John Mullane in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway — he demanded the ball from a teammate and cleft the posts in twain to send his side through. All after being bullied and quietened by Ollie Canning in the first half.
That’s Waterford, always getting back up. When Kilkenny smashed them in the 2008 All-Ireland final, they got by the Tribe and pushed the Cats in the 2009 semis. After Tipp pummelled them by seven goals in 2011, they still pushed through to an All-Ireland final four to trouble the Cats.
Now, after coming within seven points of Tipp, they are being somewhat dismissed. Yes, they scored just two points from play in the second half of the Munster final so we can’t find enough reasons to say they’ll do much more than beat Cork. But we suspect they will. No one bar Tipp or Kilkenny has beaten Waterford in the championship since Clare ended Justin McCarthy’s tenure in 2008.
Na Déise may win but not by much because, with these close rivals, it feels as if there won’t be any more than a puck of a ball between the sides. There rarely has been. Since 2002, the average winning margin over 11 championship games has been just 0-2. While the largest gap in any one game was five points when Cork won an All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park in 2005.
Waterford, on aggregate, are a single point ahead in that time, with the winning margins of each game since 2002 as follows: 1, 4, 1, 2, 5, 1, 3, 0 (draw), 3, 0, and 3 points. The most recent trend suggesting we may get more than 70 minutes from Sunday’s clash.
Waterford had a poor start to the year but have been building since and Michael Ryan seems to have settled on his team, with just one change coming at corner-forward where Thomas Ryan replaces Gavin O’Brien.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy, on the other hand, continues to tinker in what has been an encouraging first year in his second coming. The 14-point league final loss aside, it was a league of promise for Cork. The Rebels won close games against Kilkenny in the Páirc, drew in Thurles against Tipp before beating them with a late blitz in the semi.
JBM seemed to be building nicely but it is noticeable how some of the early-season bricks have been pulled out during the summertime. Darren Sweetnam has been a huge plus this year, Cathal Naughton was tearing up the league, while Conor Lehane seemed nailed on for young player of the year at one point. Of the three only Lehane starts on Sunday, and he is not quite playing at his previous level right now. Though that may change, of course.
That league final loss told Barry-Murphy that he needed to experiment with his elements for the team to catch fire — precisely what has happened. He changed six starters from the Kilkenny loss to the Tipperary one, and he has changed three of his 15 for each game since — against Offaly, Wexford and now Waterford.
On each occasion, two of the three has been in the back line, which means he may feel some bricks are floating in the foundation. Stephen McDonnell is back in at number three after struggling against Eoin Larkin’s physicality in the league final — so, for five games running, the number 3 jersey has been draped across different shoulders.
But to change is not always to move forward. If we were to play devil’s advocate and look at further tinkering, we might suggest that Eoin Cadogan has been their most successful full-back since Diarmuid O’Sullivan left the panel, and JBM has looked to make changes in the half-back line since Cadogan struggled at 6 against Tipperary. JBM will hope to have the correct arrangement.
There’s more change at midfield too. Whereas Lorcan McLoughlin and Sweetnam were once seen as the best options here — indeed John Gardiner might have felt he was before that — now debutant Daniel Kearney and Pa Cronin, previously centre-forward, will man the middle of the field. That in a position where Stephen Molumphy has been having an All Star year.
Cork must go for goals in a manner that didn’t against Tipp. Because while Wexford leaked three goals in eight minutes against the Rebels, a couple were naivety from the Model men; other than that, Cork have just another goal this season.
In a team that continues to make so many changes, there is the worry that players will go for their own scores in the hope that they either remain on the field, or retain their starting place.
At times it felt as if that — individual play — was a contributory factor in the loss to Declan Ryan’s side. Lar Corbett was happy to shovel off the ball in that game and the Munster final, and he can do that because he knows he’s under no threat for his place. It’s a manner of play we’ve become so accustomed to with Kilkenny (see Richie Power and Henry Shefflin in any game) and a willingness to work the ball leads to getting full value from it.
A balance must be found between taking scores and giving it to the man in the better position — whichever teams masters that will make a semi-final.
Waterford can’t claim to have come by goals any easier, with just two from two games in this championship. But Shane Walsh and Mullane look the most likely of any forward on the pitch to do so, with the possible expectation of Luke O’Farrell and Patrick Horgan.
Tom Kenny, Niall McCarthy and Seán Óg ÓhAilpín ensure there is plenty of experience on the Cork team but we feel that Waterford have more of the most outstanding players on the field. Namely Michael ‘Brick Walsh, Kevin Moran, Molumphy and Mullane — who saw them over the line against Clare.
For that reason, we’ll just about back the Decies.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @eircomSportsHub
Feel free to comment below