WHEN Shane Bennett stuck the ball in the Cork net for Waterford’s second goal on Saturday evening, Sky Sports commentator Dave McIntyre said that the score would at least “keep Waterford within touch of Cork”.
Yet McIntyre’s co-commentator, Nicky English, was far more positive about Waterford’s chances at that stage of the game.
“They are back within four points now,” said English.
“They’ve had plenty of possession and again, we hear a bit of unrest from the Cork supporters.
“The two Bennett brothers are in the full-forward line. They’re on form and if Waterford could get enough ball into them, they could do a lot of damage.”
That had more or less been the main narrative up to that point of the match; Cork had always been ahead on the scoreboard but they still weren’t able to pull away; Waterford were still creating chances, especially goal chances, which left Cork slightly vulnerable heading into the last 20 minutes.
Over the following two and a half minutes, Cork manufactured four shots at the target, two of which they converted.
Cork looked to have another gear but when Waterford hit back with another point in the 54th minute, McIntyre seemed to be coming around to English’s way of thinking.
“With 15 minutes to go, Cork should have Waterford dead and buried,” said McIntyre.
“But that is not the case just yet.”
“Certainly not,” replied English.
“There is still only five points between the teams. Waterford are hanging in there and showing danger with the two Bennetts. Another goal for Waterford and this game is rightly in the melting pot.”
Cork though, soon emphatically put any notions Waterford, or anyone else, may have had about getting a result in this game. They had three points from their next three shots inside three minutes. When Patrick Horgan pushed the deficit out to nine points in the 62nd minute, Horgan had went for goal but his shot blazed a foot over the crossbar.
From the moment Bennett hit that second goal, until that Horgan point, Cork had created eight more shots at the target than their opponents.
Despite Waterford appearing to hang in there for long stages of the match, that period effectively summed up the game, and Cork’s superior ability to create, and take, those chances.
And Cork kept the numbers rolling; in the final 20 minutes, Cork outscored their opponents by 0-12 to 0-3.
Over the 70 plus minutes, Cork had 21 more shots at the target than Waterford (46-25).
Despite the match being a dead rubber, and being played out at a pedestrian pace for much of the last quarter, scoring 2-30 in any championship match is still serious shooting.
This was always going to be a tricky match for Cork but they couldn’t have done much more than they did; they won by 13 points and significantly boosted their scoring difference in the process.
A young Waterford team – which included just four starters from the 2017 All-Ireland final team – gave as much as they could, especially when compared to the surrender seven days earlier against Limerick.
Cork just had too much class for them, and while the game had the tone and temper of a challenge game in that last quarter, Waterford inexperience was more of a factor in that reality than any lack of spirit or fight.
This Cork side trades on class, pace and space and once it was afforded to them late on, they just did what Cork are capable of doing to any side in those circumstances.
For a finish, Cork were doing as they liked, without even playing as well as they would have hoped to.
And they still hit 2-30.
It’s always harder to measure numbers and statistics in that kind of a game but Cork led in all the key categories – scoring chances, puck-outs, hooks-blocks-tackles, turnovers.
Cork won the puck-out statistic 28-24 but Cork turned over possession on a host of those short Waterford puck-outs.
There was one stage in the second half when Cork turned over three of Billy Nolan’s short restarts within a handful of minutes.
Individually, Cork also had some impressive performances. Cork had six players with 14 or more possessions, while Waterford only had one player – Tadhg de Burca – with those numbers.
Daniel Kearney and the excellent Mark Coleman had the most possessions, with 18 each.
Darragh Fitzgibbon had a fine game when scoring three points from 15 possessions, while Luke Meade was also impressive from 14 possessions; Meade won six puck-outs, scored one point and had two assists.
Shane Bennett was excellent from 13 possessions, scoring 1-2, while also winning three puck-outs, but Waterford’s only other incisive scoring threat was Bennett’s brother, Stephen, who ended with 1-1 from play.
They did ask questions of the Cork full-back line but Waterford hadn’t enough players to trouble the Cork defence over the 70 minutes.
The contribution from the Cork bench was also impressive, with Shane Kingston, Tim O’Mahony and Conor Lehane filling their boots with six points from play.
O’Mahony’s two points from two shots showed how Cork will use him differently from now on, but it also underlined how much firepower Cork have in this team.
That was reaffirmed by Alan Cadogan, who made his first championship start since 2017; from ten possessions, Cadogan scored 1-2, while he played the cross in for Horgan’s goal.
Saturday evening wasn’t a blistering performance from Cork but it was never expected – or needed – to be.
Cork just had to get the job done.
And they emphatically did.