Spillane’s defiance summed up a change in attitude from the Rebels

Spillane’s defiance summed up a change in attitude from the Rebels
Waterford's Patrick Curran and Colm Spillane of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

A DEFENDER scoring a point always draws loud applause. A corner-back not noted for scoring is bound to raise the decibel level higher. A defender levelling one of the opposition with a shoulder first is likely to lift the roof off the stand. 

Colm Spillane's late point on Sunday did but the manner of it - Spillane drove Philip Mahony back into the ground before nailing the score - largely encapsulated Cork's performance; they pushed Waterford back all afternoon through sheer intensity and desire to secure their Division 1A status.

After dominating the match, the worry for Cork heading into the last five minutes was that they hadn't put Waterford away. Cork only led by two points but there was a purpose and an intent about them all afternoon and they emphatically underlined that attitude with four unanswered points to close out the match.

Cork started and finished like a train but there was an impressive consistency to their display throughout. They created 36 scoring chances but limiting Waterford to 26 scoring opportunities was just as satisfying. Waterford don't possess Tipperary's firepower but almost halving the number of scoring chances coughed up from last weekend's defeat was an satisfying statistic in the circumstances.

Cork were ahead in all the main stats categories. They made more hooks-blocks-tackles, forced more turnovers-in-possession (9-8) while they also won more ruck ball. They won the puckout stat 29-21 but the devil was in the detail; Cork won 12 Waterford puckouts, whereas Waterford only secured four Cork puckouts.

The best score of the match came off a Cork short puckout from Anthony Nash in the 59th minute. Eoin Cadogan gave it back to Nash and Cork strung three neat passes together before Bill Cooper got on the end of the move to nail the score. Cork almost got a goal from a similar play two minutes later. The space had opened up by then after Maurice Shanahan's sending off but the quality of their stick-passing underlined how slick Cork can be when their confidence is up.

Stephen Bennett is challenged by Bill Cooper. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Stephen Bennett is challenged by Bill Cooper. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Cooper had one of his best games for Cork. From 23 plays, he scored four points and had assists for three more. Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon ran the game at midfield in the first half when making a combined 31 plays, and scoring and engineering seven points in that half.

Cork have had more impressive scoring returns in this campaign (they hit 1-24 against Kilkenny and 1-21 against Tipperary) but this was Cork's best attacking display by a distance because they married it with a really solid workrate. Overall, the Cork forwards made 73 plays, their highest combined play count in this campaign.

One of the most satisfying elements of that statistic is that some of the less heralded names set the tone early on. Michael Cahalane had an excellent first quarter while Dean Brosnan was really impressive for the first three quarters, making 14 plays, scoring three points and winning a converted free.

Of the 19 points Cork hit from play, Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan only contributed four of those scores. Cork's big guns not shooting the lights out (Seamus Harnedy didn't score) adds even more value to those other 15 Cork scores from play.

There were positives everywhere for Cork. Nash was excellent again. One of Waterford's primary tactics was to use Tom Devine as a focal point on the edge of the square but Eoin Cadogan physically matched up to him. Devine did create a goal chance early on, which Nash saved, while he had another half goal chance in the second half, but Devine was restricted to just seven possessions throughout.

Cadogan holds off Tom Devine. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cadogan holds off Tom Devine. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Tim O'Mahoney also had a decent match at centre-back, making 19 plays, which included winning three Waterford puckouts and having one scoring assist. Just as importantly, O'Mahoney looked more physically imposing than he had been in other matches this spring.

The wind was a factor in the match but Cork also showed good tactical sharpness, especially in the second half. Over half of Cork's scores throughout came from distance to avoid their sweeper systm. Tadgh de Burca is always hard to keep out of the game but Cork did limit his influence in the second half by trying to play around him as much as possible. De Burca made 17 plays in the first half but just nine after the break.

Cork were up for the match. Waterford were too but they were down two of their three biggest names - Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran.

In a recent column, Ger Loughnane said that Derek McGrath's primary approach throughout the league, especially in the regular round of games, was to avoid morale sapping defeats. "If his team lose, but are competitive, he is happy enough," said Loughnane. "Waterford went into the league with zero intention of trying to win it. You could say the same about Cork."

Loughnane was right but four successive defeats was a concern for Cork. The loss to Tipperary was even more distressing considering that Cork were highly motivated to win that match. Losing that game in the manner in which they did - the paucity of the performance, combined with Tipperary creating 50 scoring chances - was surely even more worrying for management with the potential damage another defeat, and relegation, could have done to Cork's confidence ahead of the championship.

Meyler and his team needed a performance on Sunday. They got it but Cork still have some work to do; Waterford created seven goalscoring chances; Cork lost 19 balls played into their attack; their shooting could also improve.

Yet Meyler will still be happy that Cork have achieved what they basically set out to do in this league; blood new players, broaden the panel.

And avoid relegation.

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