WHATEVER happens to the Cork hurlers tomorrow, the one thing that cannot be taken away from the panel is the way they have come together as a collective.
They appear to be a team going places and 2018 and 2019 are already seasons to look forward to for the fans.
That light that was at the end of the tunnel that was Cork hurling in early spring has developed into a full glare.
Former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness explained in his autobiography ‘Until Victory Always’ that while watching his side in a tough league match against Kildare in 2011 he started to see things coming together... “and what I noticed was that the distinction between the older lads and the younger crew was beginning the blur. They were becoming a team.”
The same can be said of Cork right now. Donegal did not win their All-Ireland that year. They did garner a first Ulster title for 19 years for the county that season, but they had set the groundwork firmly in place, and 12 months later they were All-Ireland champions.
Progress was not linear for that Donegal side. It rarely is for any team. Even Cork’s opponents Waterford are discovering this presently, as they have taken a knock or two towards what they hope will be an All-Ireland come September.
Very few sides go straight to the top. Usually, they must be steeled by the cold taste of defeat before they can stomach the trip into the ‘death zone’ where championships are won and lost.
Waterford have been lying stock-still in the long grass now for almost 10 months waiting for this Munster semi-final to come around. Of course, they would have been expecting to be playing All-Ireland champions Tipp, but Cork scuffered that when they scored 2-27 in a shoot-out with the Premier.
All Derek McGrath’s plans were essentially thrown out the window with that result, as he would have been devising plans to put the brakes on Messrs Callinan, O’Dwyer and McGrath. Instead, he has to attempt to de-rail the Cork speedsters Lehane, Fitzgibbon, Meade, Cadogan and Fitzgibbon.
One thing for certain is the fact that this will not turn into another score-fest in the manner of the Cork-Tipp game. Waterford will not let this occur.
They will have witnessed how Cork dragged the Mahers out of positions and ran them into submission. McGrath will have come to the logical conclusion that you must deny this Cork team time and space, because if you don’t they will pick you off all day long.
Waterford witnessed this first hand in the Division 1A league encounter in Walsh Park back in March, when Cork ran amok winning by 1-21 to 1-13. Crucially, only five of Waterford’s points came from play that day.
If Cork could somehow manage a similar shut out this time around then they would have one foot in the Munster Final. That is easier said than done against an attack containing the likes of Maurice Shanahan, Austin Gleeson, Stephen and Shane Bennett, Pauric Mahony and Patrick Curran.
The Déise plan will involve withdrawing his wing forwards and clogging up the centre of the pitch. Waterford will be hell bent on winning the middle eight battle, as they will be banking on Cork not being up for a dog-fight.
In fairness, this approach would make sense considering that Waterford have spent the past three years trying to perfect this style of hurling.
Sure, plenty of people east of Youghal have been pleading with McGrath to unleash the shackles and let the talented Deise hurlers, who walked to the All-Ireland U21 title last year, just hurl.
They were within a whisker of reaching the All-Ireland final last year with such an expansive approach, but this might be time for pragmatism, as they will not want to play Cork at their own game.
To counteract the congestion in midfield Cork may target Waterford full-back Barry Coughlan who got brutally exposed in last year’s Munster final. Kieran Kingston may unleash the match winner against Tipp, Michael Cahalane, a bit earlier this time. His ball-winning ability around the square could well be a game-changer.