THERE was plenty to like about Cork’s performance at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, even if the game itself was fairly routine.
They shot 2-30 and could have added at least another goal, with Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan looking every inch the deadly duo they were in the previous victory over Limerick. Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman were pure class on the ball but covered a lot of ground and tackled hard without it as well.
With Eoin Cadogan, Mark Ellis, Bill Cooper and Seamus Harnedy manning the critical central positions there’s a much more solid look to the Rebels than there was last month, though Waterford did threaten for goals sporadically and pilfered two. Luke Meade operated extremely efficiently in a play-making deployment dropping deep, while rookies Niall O’Leary and Robert Downey were decent again.
There’s genuine competition for places in the squad now. Deccie Dalton nailed 0-2 off the bench in the Gaelic Grounds but didn’t get a run this time, while Shane Kingston was really hungry on his introduction, to the tune of 0-3 and a goal chance he was fouled for.
John Meyler and his selectors were able to keep Conor Lehane back until the second half and Tim O’Mahony got a chance in the middle after starting the Tipp match at centre-back and lobbed over two fine scores.
The major caveat is the poverty of the opposition. This was no throwback to the classic jousts between the rival counties back in the mid-noughties.
Unlike last season, when Waterford went for broke and rattled Cork, there was never the slightest hint of an upset or drama this time.
The Déise were completely outgunned and even though they eked out goals were still ultimately 13 points off the pace. Those green flags, along with commendable work-rate in the first half, meant Cork were only three points up with 20 minutes to go.
This wasn’t a close encounter for the Rebels though because they never looked like losing. They duly picked off a highlight reel worth of scores from play in the last quarter, only interrupted by an Austin Gleeson sideline. That the 2016 Hurler of the Year was reduced to a second-half cameo said it all about Waterford’s dreadful campaign.
They now haven’t won a championship encounter since the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, which hinged on a red for Damien Cahalane. While under Derek McGrath they were sometimes frustratingly defensive they’re now a shadow of that driven and organised outfit.
Waterford, Pauric Mahony aside and he was suspended, never possessed elite forwards and it’s hard to see how they drag themselves back into contention in 2020. Manager Paraic Fanning is under savage pressure but that’s not Leesiders’ concern.
Cork are still in the hunt for a third successive Munster title, though the priority for the Leeside faithful is, of course, getting to Croke Park and delivering. Bar the obvious importance of the result and improving the scoring difference, we didn’t learn a huge pile in relation to that.
Those goals conceded will nag them and they wouldn’t want to be leaving corner-backs O’Leary and Seán O’Donoghue, who to their credit attacked every delivery sent in across the second half, in so much space if they were marking Shane O’Donnell and Peter Duggan. Ennis next Sunday will be a very different experience.
This had the feel of a league game rather than raw championship.
The Banner might have been putrid against Tipp and don’t have a good record against Cork – losing five times in championship since the 2013 All-Ireland replay – but it's all on the line for them. Waterford had nothing to hurl for.
You couldn’t see Meyler, Fraggie Murphy and Donal O’Mahony making any alterations to the line-up, even if Kingston was lively enough to merit a start. Aidan Walsh, a thrilling fetch to set up Daniel Kearney’s point aside, was peripheral but his heft will be needed in the opening exchanges at Cusack Park.
Cahalane, Chris Joyce and Stephen McDonnell are all experienced and good enough to come into the defence but there’s a decent blend of pace and height in the current combination. At times against Waterford they were a bit open, but by tracking markers and flooding the middle third that was always going to happen.
The ideal template was revealed in outworking and outhurling Limerick and more of the same would be enough to beat any other side in the country. Tipp are clearly the team to catch right now but if the Munster final is an Old Firm showdown it’ll be on at the Páirc.
What a prospect that would be. There's a savage battle ahead at Cusack Park first.