THE Cork hurlers' season hangs by a thread after an utterly frustrating defeat to a fire-up Waterford at Semple Stadium.
They head into the qualifiers with the odds stacked against them to get back into the race for Liam McCarthy.
Kieran Kingston's charges only lost by four points in the Munster semi-final but they were undone by familiar failings.
There were some new faces involved, rookies Dáire Connery and Seán O'Leary Hayes starting ahead of the injured Aidan Walsh and Colm Spillane, but this certainly didn't feel like a step forward. The newcomers were under pressure, which wasn't surprising when only Patrick Horgan, Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston came close to hurling to their best, but the question for the selectors now is whether to give youth its fling in the backdoor.
Jack O'Connor, Deccie Dalton, Billy Hennessy and Brian Turnbull all came on in the second half, with Dalton nabbing a point and Hennessy doing well at wing-back. Darragh Fitzgibbon and Eoin Cadogan were injured this weekend and Robbie O'Flynn suspended, so we can expect changes in the backdoor.
Overall, Cork didn't hurl with the required intensity and Waterford, under new manager Liam Cahill who enjoyed great success against Cork with Tipp underage team, used the ball with greater purpose. Big issues to sort at training this week.
The Déise relished the tag of underdogs with a place in the provincial decider up for grabs and Cork's work-rate wasn't anywhere near the required level in championship, especially at this time of year. Waterford were dominant aerially, with Tadhg de Búrca plucking the sliotar out of the sky time and again, while the Rebel rearguard coughed up a host of frees.
Cork are in the draw on Monday morning, where they'll either be paired with Laois or get a bye into the second round. Clare will face either Dublin or Wexford.
Whatever two counties emerge will take on the losing provincial finalists in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
The Rebels were Munster champions in 2017 and 2018 but are carrying some heavy baggage from harrowing defeats at Croke Park to Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny in recent years.