No room for error in Thurles
It’s now down to six and who would have thought that the reigning All-Ireland champions Kilkenny would be in quarter-final action on Sunday? However, their defeat by Galway has added a new dimension to the Championship, writes Finbarr McCarthy
It also means of course that for the first time in four years there will be a new pairing in the final, with Cork, Waterford and Galway in the race for that spot.
Without actually setting the world on fire Cork have done what has been required of them since the loss to Tipperary, comfortable if unimpressive wins over Offaly and Wexford and now they face a side that Cork have not beaten in their last five championship meetings, admittedly two of these ended in draws.
The difficulty for Cork was their last two games lacked any great intensity, as much down to the quality of opposition as anything else, now they will need to go up a few levels for Sunday, as Waterford are a notch above what they have encountered since the Tipp game.
The other issue concerns the defence, in particular the full-back position, as since the league final mauling to Kilkenny, no one has claimed the number three shirt and while Damian Cahalane was not overly impressive against Wexford, we may see a change here again on Sunday.
Sean Og Ó h-Ailpín has also impressed in training, especially in a full scale match last Sunday morning and could replace William Egan whose form has dipped a bit in recent weeks.
Jimmy though is pleased with their preparation saying: “yeah we have gone well, the two week break between the games is a big help, we have trained well had a good game here over the weekend and we are really looking forward to Sunday.”
With Kilkenny and Tipperary on the other side of the draw, it affords Cork along with Waterford and Galway a huge incentive. “It does really but we are only focussing on Sunday and we are facing a side that impressed in the Munster Final and also a team we have not done well against in recent years.”
Waterford also have an advantage in terms of experience a fact JBM agreed with. “They do yes and good players as well, but look we are very happy where we are at, in terms of building a squad, we are learning all the time, we set a quarter-final as a minimum requirement, we are here now and we will see what Sunday brings, it will define our season really.”
The question for Michael Ryan, who to his credit has turned Waterford’s season around after a poor start, how will his players re-act to the defeat in the Munster Final, followed then by a thumping at Under 21 level, if he can get it right they will present Cork with a formidable challenge.
Ryan has the players at his disposal to put that loss behind them, look at their response to the 21 point mauling last year - they beat Galway next time out.
Mullane, Prendergast, Moran, Michael Walsh, Connors and Browne have all featured in wins over Cork and will relish the prospect of ending their season on Sunday, while Pauric Mahoney and Maurice Shanahan will also hope to put poor displays in the ‘park’ behind them for this make or break clash.
There is no doubt Cork will have to improve if they are to reach the semi-final, the key for Jimmy is “getting back up to the level of intensity we showed in the game against Tipperary, we will need to if we are going to win”.
One pleasing aspect for Cork has been their scoring returns, 24 points in each of the last two games, and three goals in the win over Wexford, but one thing is certain that the ‘Decie’ defence will be a bit tighter than that of Offaly and Wexford.
Luke O’Farrell’s form is excellent, Patrick Horgan is scoring freely while the Mc Carthy’s Niall and Cian bring aggression and scoring ability to the attack that has also seen Paudie O’Sullivan show some neat touches, not enough at times it must be said.
Conor Lehane has had a mixed few outings of late, but has still made an important contribution and could well do so on Sunday. He is after all still very young, a couple of quick early scores would settle him down, and his pace will also help, but Waterford will surely not let Tony Browne mark him, will they?
Okay let’s make a call on the outcome and despite Waterford having the edge in recent Championship outings, Cork can win. Tighten up in defence, Brian Murphy will keep tabs on Mullane, and with good quick and quality ball into the attack they are well capable of unhinging the Waterford rearguard, just as Tipp did in the Munster Final.
So Cork by four or five points, but we will leave the last word to boss JBM, who has certainly revitalised the squad as was very evident at training on Tuesday night saying: “apart from the defeat to Kilkenny we have had a good year, the support we have got has been brilliant and I am confident we can win and move on to the semi-final, because the players have worked very hard and we are ready and looking forward to Sunday.”
The words of a manager who has supreme confidence in his players.