Unbeaten Rebels still have huge work to do ahead of Munster final rematch with the Banner

Unbeaten Rebels still have huge work to do ahead of Munster final rematch with the Banner
Shane Kingston impressed against Waterford. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

THAT certainly wasn’t vintage Cork.

Unless the Rebels’ trademarks this summer are going to a ridiculous number of wides and sloppy defensive passing to cough up cheap points.

Had Cork lost yesterday in Thurles those elements of their display would have been the reasons. They’d 17 wides to Waterford’s seven and a number of them were inexplicable. Patrick Horgan fluffed a couple of frees and Conor Lehane nearly took out the umpire – who still had to signal for Hawkeye, bizarrely – when a goal was on.

Darragh Fitzgibbon had his quietest outing since his breakthrough last summer and at the back, Colm Spillane, Seán O’Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan and Chris Joyce just gifted points to Waterford with sloppy distribution. What was alarming was this echoed the second halves of the Tipp and Limerick draws.

Anthony Nash, Colm Spillane and Tom Devine watch the sliotar dropping in the goalmouth. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Anthony Nash, Colm Spillane and Tom Devine watch the sliotar dropping in the goalmouth. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

For all those negatives, Cork move on, unbeaten in seven Munster championship outings across two seasons to defend their provincial crown against Clare, probably in Thurles, on July 1. While the Banner are building momentum, Cork generally play well against them – ongoing payback for the 2013 All-Ireland final loss.

Ultimately Cork got the job done by upping the gears in the closing stages, tackling with more ferocity and moving the sliotar with greater urgency. Bill Cooper was a pure warrior in the second half, while Chris Joyce and Mark Coleman provided a platform.

Bill Cooper battles Jamie Barron. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Bill Cooper battles Jamie Barron. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Shane Kingston and Seamus Harnedy fired brilliant scores in the last quarter, and Conor O’Sullivan’s introduction after 44 minutes, eventually, swung the balance.

The Sars’ corner-back is experienced as loose man in defence, having excelled in the role in 2013 and in the 2016 qualifier against Dublin. His composure and passing range directly led to four points and he also made a full-stretch block when Tom Devine was clear.

This was a game where John Meyler’s side were expected to win with ease but instead found Waterford in defiant mood.

Waterford had no chance of progression into the All-Ireland series yet plenty to play for, in Brick Walsh’s last outing. For much of the contest, they hurled with a hunger Cork simply couldn’t match. It looked like it was done and dusted when Tommy Ryan nailed a goal in the last quarter. Though only a goal in arrears at that juncture, the Rebels were huffing and puffing and the belief was draining out of the crowd with every misplaced ball and groan-inducing wide.

Waterford’s sweeper system has caused Cork team’s problems time and again and no doubt was a factor in all those misses. 

In the early stages crossfield deliveries in front of Lehane, who started full-forward, and Kingston were paying off, but once Derek McGrath sat his half-backs a bit deeper, Cork’s forwards were swallowed up and their decision-making became suspect. Kingston tried to feed Cooper for a goal chance when an easy point was on and the midfielder had to bust a gut to try and reach the sliotar ahead of Ian O’Regan.

With a 15-day break since their last game complacency shouldn’t have been an issue but both the players and many in the crowd of 14,737 seemed to think just by showing up Cork were going to win.

Mark Coleman scores from a sideline cut. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Mark Coleman scores from a sideline cut. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Hopefully, the best from this group of Rebels is to come in the Munster final and beyond. At times they’ve been devastating, lightning pace and clever off-loads helping to maximise their multiple scoring threats. Yet that hasn’t been on a consistent basis over 70-odd minutes and was only in evidence here at the death as they struck the last four points.

The management have a few decisions to make about the starting 15 before they face Clare.

There is still a slot up for grabs in attack where Luke Meade, for all his energy and unselfish running, doesn’t chip in with too many scores.

In defence, Conor O’Sullivan proved his worth and as Clare often withdraw a forward there is a temptation to start the veteran ahead of O’Donoghue the next day. Eoin Cadogan didn’t do anything wrong at wing-back, though Mark Ellis will still probably get the nod on July 1 if fit.

Meyler and his selectors Fraggie Murphy and Donal O’Mahony must have been delighted to see Joyce hurl up a storm in the second half after a few off-key showings, while Coleman was dazzling at wing-back in the fourth quarter.

Coleman, Fitzgibbon, Kingston and panellists Tim O’Mahony, Jack O’Connor – a late sub yesterday – and David Griffin are in action against on Wednesday, when Cork are raging favourites in the Munster U21 semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

After this escape to victory they won’t take the Déise lightly.

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