THIS was a crucial Division 1A national hurling league clash, but there was very little to warm the hearts on a bitter cold day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
Pointless Waterford arrived needing to move out of relegation territory. Cork, meanwhile, were looking for a second victory and hoping to take a step closer to securing a quarter-final berth.
After a sub-standard display by both teams, and watched by a decent crowd of 10,445, the visitors eventually took the spoils. They made such hard work of it though, despite having an extra man for over 45 minutes, after Cork lost captain Seamus Harnedy to a red-card for an altercation with Barry Coughlan 25 minutes in.
The game was so disappointing as a spectacle, not helped by the poor quality of sections of the pitch. Hopefully, this will bear no resemblance to what we expect to see from these sides down the road. After all, it was the All-Ireland finalists and the All-Ireland semi-finalists on view. Are counties serious about the league?
At this stage you would imagine so, with just one round left to play.
Yesterday’s outcome leaves Cork and Waterford rooted to the bottom of the table on a pair of points each. The Rebels face a daunting task to get a result against Tipperary in Thurles next Sunday. This will be their third away fixture, and already they are up against it as they have been beaten in the other two (Wexford and Clare).
Before any sliotar was thrown in yesterday, you’d have had a fancy for Cork, particularly as they were at home, and it was neighbours Waterford who were in town. And the fact Cork already won against the Cats on Leeside.
The sending off had a big bearing on the match. Prior to that, it was competitive, and the sides were deadlocked seven times. It was 1-7 apiece. Waterford then outhit Cork five points to two for the remainder of the half to leave them with a three-point advantage at the break.
However, in that opening 35 minutes plus, Cork relied heavily on Patrick Horgan for scores. He registered 1-7 (finished with 1-10) and Conor Lehane clipped the other brace. They were further rocked when the Midleton man was forced off at half-time with a hamstring problem. For the second week in a row they found themselves without two of their best forwards.
We saw the previous Sunday against Clare how limited they were in attack when Alan Cadogan and Lehane cried off. Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan were the only starting forwards to see out yesterday’s contest. They need greater depth up front and a few more leaders to step up.
With a view that stronger panels are required for the new championship structure, management have used the league to give game time to the fringe players and the focus has been on performance as against results. But, they are in a different situation at the present time, retaining their top-flight status has become priority.
We all know what Galway achieved from operating out of the second-tier last year, but Cork, they have now suffered three losses on the bounce and that affects self-confidence. Getting back to winning ways is paramount. They were fortunate to be only five points behind at the full whistle, and this was mainly due to a wasteful Waterford who shooting was terribly erratic.
They should also have put away a goal or two. There were times when in front of the posts they couldn’t put the ball over the bar. Okay, they were victorious, and as a result maybe the Déise will build a bit of momentum going forward. Their final outing is at home in Walsh Park against Clare, where nothing less than a win will suffice.
The same will be said for Cork, their backs are to the wall. It is hard to read much into yesterday’s defeat because they struggled to impose their game plan due to the extra defensive cover in the Waterford rear-guard. Puckouts weren’t always finding a man either. One positive was the return of Mark Coleman, who is fit again.
And the impact of substitute Shane Kingston who forced a splendid save from Stephen O’Keeffe late on.
Understandably, John Meyler expressed his disappointment afterwards. When they return to training tomorrow night, there will be plenty to work on.
Tipperary, who are on six points, played out a thrilling one-point loss to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park yesterday. They are in a must-win situation as well next weekend if they are to make the last eight.
Their Fitzgibbon Cup contingent too will be available.
Watching Jason Forde and John McGrath in the third level final on Saturday, they are both in absolute flying form. In particular, their combination play was eye-catching. They lined out at full and corner-forward respectively with McGrath captaining his side to glory.
Forde notched 1-10 and his consistency from placed balls was noteworthy. Barry Heffernan too impressed at wing-back.