Cork would be foolish to underestimate the threat of Waterford on Saturday

Cork would be foolish to underestimate the threat of Waterford on Saturday

Cork hurlers Daire Connery, Damien Cahalane, Patrick Horgan and Anthony Nash with the new yellow Cummins All-Star sliotars, which will be used in the championship this winter. Picture: Kevin Cummins

SATURDAY: Munster senior hurling: Waterford v Cork, Thurles, 3.30pm. Live on Sky Sports.

BOTH Waterford and Cork would have been happy with the outcome of the draw when it was made some time back.

Both will believe that they can beat the other, and will certainly not have any fear going into this game.

Since 2002, these two have built up quite a rivalry and have produced some classic games in the process.

Given the timing of the championship, nobody really knows what to expect, but it will be a surprise if, by the end of this provincial quarter-final, one of the two will have had things all their own way.

Waterford have a league win under their belt in Walsh Park eight months ago over their rivals, but that should have little or no bearing on what transpires here.

Both sides will be going in without key players, and that could have an impact.

In Cork’s case, it is Darragh Fitzgibbon and his industry and energy around the middle of the field that will be missed. He has become a key player in this Cork set-up, and replacing a player of that calibre is never easy.

The same could be said where Waterford’s Pauric Mahony is concerned. Firstly, he’s the team captain, a very dangerous forward, and the team’s free-taker.

It could be said that the absence of one cancels out the other, but both are big losses.

The return from injury of Tadgh de Burca is a big positive for Waterford, and his availability again will release Austin Gleeson up into the attack. Gleeson has not been as prominent in recent times as he was when he burst on to the scene, but a return to his best form could spell trouble for the Cork defence.

Philip Mahony is another Waterford absentee this time, and he was a key player for his side as well.

However, there is a lot of experience in this Waterford team, in the form of Shane Fives, Stephen Bennett, Jamie Barron, and Kevin Moran, while Conor Prunty is another important player.

Cork have had a few worthwhile challenges behind them in recent weeks against Clare, Galway, and Wexford, and the form of some players was very positive during the course of the club championships on Leeside.

Some are questioning this Cork team’s ability to cut it at the time of the year we are at, perceiving them to be a more top-of-the-ground, summer team.

That remains to be seen, of course, but this is a fairly well-balanced unit containing some of the best forwards in the country when they perform at the top end of their game.

However, that has not been happening as much as is required and the onus of responsibility falls too much on Patrick Horgan. We all know what Conor Lehane, Seamus Harnedy, and others are capable of — but they must be more consistent from game to game.

Seamus Harnedy. Picture: Éoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Seamus Harnedy. Picture: Éoin Noonan/Sportsfile

The team needs more consistency within games too, sometimes going for lengthy periods without registering a score.

There is a perception too that there is not enough stability at full-back or centre-back, and that there are no automatic choices in those positions.

Tim O’Mahony needs a position on the team that he can call his own. Simply put — is he a defender, midfielder, or attacker? In saying that, a player of his versatility is well worth his place on the team.

Replacing Fitzgibbon in the middle of the field won’t be easy — and could there be a place for one of the very exciting newcomers in the frame, Daire Connery?

There are plenty of other young players coming into the equation too that will be challenging for starting slots, but do you take a gamble with these fellows in these winter months?

The belief is that there won’t be wholesale changes to the starting 15, and that’s probably the right way to go for starters.

In all the games in this championship, it’s very much a trip into the unknown because of the year we have had.

There is no form guide, and the absence from the competitive arena for such a lengthy period decrees that.

Neither side are overly fancied in the overall scheme of things, but a win here can open up a lot of avenues.

The confidence you’d get from winning would be a nice platform going into the Munster final, where they would be underdogs again.

The thinking from this quarter is that Cork will prevail, and that is based very much on the belief that, as a unit, this Cork attack is far more potent.

If that proves to be the case and Horgan leads again by example as he always does, they should be good enough to reach a Munster final. And that, for starters, would be a big positive.

It won’t be easy, but it’s a Cork vote.

Verdict: Cork.

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