'Forget about scoring difference, Cork just need to win'

'Forget about scoring difference, Cork just need to win'
Limerick's Cian Lynch with Michael Walsh of Waterford last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

HE doesn’t always get it right.

He sometimes gets it completely wrong but, there are still times when you have to hand it to Ger Loughnane, and acknowledge his sharp and incisive hurling insight.

On the Monday after the league quarter-finals in March, when Galway, Dublin and Waterford joined Limerick – who had already qualified – in the semi-finals, Loughnane made a number of bold predictions, most of which have come to pass.

“My belief is that this year’s Leinster championship will be way ahead of its Munster counterpart,” wrote Loughnane in his column. 

“The bottom line is that some of the teams in Munster are nothing special.

“In Munster, with so many poor defences, you’ll have high scoring games but games that aren’t of great quality. 

"To me, Leinster will be the province to watch because it will be ultra-competitive. 

"I can see one-sided games in Munster, and dead rubbers as it peters out at the end.” 

 It’s not as if Leinster has produced brilliant matches – it hasn’t. 

Dublin were extremely poor in the second half against Kilkenny. 

There was a lot of hard-hitting and raw physicality in the Galway-Wexford game but it still didn’t produce anything like the quality expected. 

Conor McDonald under pressure from Daithí Burke. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Conor McDonald under pressure from Daithí Burke. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Kilkenny and Dublin easily disposed of Carlow. Dublin-Wexford was a draw but it wasn’t exactly a free-flowing classic.

Four teams are still desperately fighting for three spots in Leinster and, while it’s a similar scenario in Munster, the lack of quality in the southern province has been a major disappointment.

Whatever happens this weekend in Leinster, the three spots still won’t be decided until the final day next weekend. 

There is still a huge amount to play for in Munster but, depending on results this weekend, the top three spots could be decided with one round still to play.

The disappointment has been so acute, primarily because everyone was expecting a similar level of spell-binding drama from 2018. 

That certainly hasn’t happened but there has been a complete reversal of all trends from 2018.

Unlike last year, teams haven’t been getting an early run on the opposition and stretching ahead with big leads. There was just one away win in Munster last year but five of the six matches played to date have been won by the away team. Yet the biggest change is the amount of big defeats. 

Last year, there was only two games where the margin of defeat was by six points or more. But that margin has been exceeded in five of the six games played to date.

It would have been almost unthinkable before the Munster Round Robin began to believe that a team could lose two matches by an aggregate margin of 38 points. 

But that’s how ugly it has been for Waterford in their last two matches.

Why has it happened? Is Loughnane right, are some of the Munster teams who were hyped up beforehand ‘nothing special? Have ‘some poor’ defences been exposed?

Tipperary have been operating on a level above anyone else. 

In that same piece in March, just two days after Dublin had beaten Tipperary in a league quarter-final, Loughnane said that ‘it suits Tipp’ to go out of the league at that stage. 

Pádraic Maher is back to his best. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Pádraic Maher is back to his best. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

He referenced Tipperary getting to league finals in 2017 and 2018 and how successive defeats “mortally wounded” them. 

“But Tipp will go into the championship now,” wrote Loughnane “without any mental scars.” 

Tipp have been inflicting mental scars on the opposition this time around but, while they have looked machine-like to date, much of that is also down to the opposition; Cork, Waterford and Clare were all atrocious on the days they played Tipperary.

There are still far more reasons for such a flat Munster championship than just Tipperary looking to be ahead of everyone else. 

Waterford appear to be a team in turmoil while there were other stages throughout this summer when sides looked too hung up on tactics, strategies and formations as opposed to coming to the battle with the raw desire and savagery required to win any Munster championship game.

This evening’s Cork-Waterford match has a strange dynamic in that it’s effectively a dead-rubber. 

Much of the narrative since last weekend has centred on how Cork may do a number on Waterford to hike up their scoring difference, which could yet be decisive if three teams end up on the same number of points.

Yet Cork can’t – and shouldn’t be – distracted from anything other than ensuring that they win the game. Because thinking about winning big is irrelevant.

Mike Casey out ahead of Patrick Horgan. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Mike Casey out ahead of Patrick Horgan. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Cork will be thorough and professional but – as has been the case throughout this Munster campaign – the tone and temper of the game will be decided by what the other team brings to the battle.

Waterford have nothing to play for, and yet they have everything to play for. The team and management has got such stick this week that, if the players have any pride, they have to try and salvage something from the wreckage of this campaign. 

Moreover, the road to 2020 has to start this evening.

“Waterford need to win Saturday night to restore belief from the public in the team, and to get the supporters behind them for next year,” said Paul Flynn on Newstalk’s Off the Ball show on Tuesday evening. 

“It’s important too for the players that they play well. It’s important for Paraic Fanning that they play well. That’s heart-breaking but from Waterford’s point of view, it’s about showing a bit of energy and belief. 

"Whatever happens, happens. But those things have to be on show.” 

Waterford have no form but nobody can predict what might happen in this championship. Cork just need to make sure that the unthinkable doesn’t happen for them. 

And that they just get the job done.

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