The Christy O'Connor column: Stats show Rebels did well to hang in until the sending off

The Christy O'Connor column: Stats show Rebels did well to hang in until the sending off

Cork’s Mark Ellis and Austin Gleeson of Waterford contest a high ball at Croker on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

WHEN Austin Gleeson displayed his conjuror’s magic for the second time in a minute to score his goal in the 59th minute on Sunday, Derek McGrath ran down the sideline, jumping and hollering before kicking a sideline flag about ten feet into the air.

A Jamie Barron goal a minute earlier had plunged a dagger into Cork’s ribcage but Gleeson’s strike felt like the rapier thrust to Cork’s spirit. 

McGrath knew it. And so did all his players. This game was over.

Cork had struggled throughout to get their main forwards into the game. They couldn’t break Waterford’s sweeper system. 

A man down, and five points behind, Cork needed a goal but they hadn’t even created a single goal chance up to that point. Waterford had Cork, and the game, by the throat but the last 12 minutes was about more than just slowly squeezing the life out of Cork; Waterford could also, finally, spread their wings, cut loose, and enjoy themselves.

Cork had initially responded superbly to the sending off of Damien Cahalane in the 51st minute by hitting three points on the bounce. 

Cork finally appeared like they were breaking free from Waterford’s clutches. They looked like they could have the legs to sprint for the line but such a sudden jack-knifing of the match buried that platform and torpedoed Cork’s confidence. 

The two goals also gave Waterford the momentum, breathing space, and comfort, to drive for the line.

It always felt like Cork were chasing, always trying to establish a fluency and rhythm that Waterford never allowed them to generate. And yet, the sending off did completely change the game. Cork’s security blanket at the back was gone. Waterford were able to go man-for-man up front and when the Cork defenders followed their men out the pitch, the space was vacated for Waterford to cut Cork apart, especially on the overlap and with runners coming at pace.

Waterford clearly made a conscious decision to push more men forward, especially Barron, who ended with 2-1. Darragh Fitzgibbon had done well for long periods of the second half but he struggled to physically and athletically match Barron. It was similar to the experience versus youth match-up between Mark Coleman and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh; Coleman made 17 plays but Walsh just physically ground him down.

Cork could have sat a sweeper back after Cahalane was sent off to force Waterford to gun them down from long-range but Waterford would have still had the option to push up on a sweeper with the extra man. 

Mark Ellis did sweep back at times after the sending off but he was still playing further up the pitch, and not sitting as deep as he would have otherwise been, to limit the Waterford goal threat. 

They went supernova in the last quarter but Waterford created eight more scoring chances over the 70 minutes (42-34), which nobody would have expected.

Waterford made it the type of game they needed to make it to win the match. For a finish, Cork were reduced to bombing the square hunting for a goal but Darragh Fives ate up whatever dropped, fetching three high balls out of the clouds in the last few minutes. Cork brought in Michael Cahalane at half-time as an option for any aerial bombardment but he was restricted to just one possession. 

The only goal chance Cork created was a Lehane effort in injury-time which Stephen O’Keeffe saved.

The trend was set from early on when Cork just couldn’t get their marquee forwards on the ball. In the opening 30 minutes, Alan Cadogan, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane were limited to just three possessions. Patrick Horgan had picked up the slack with three points from play, and two assists, while Shane Kingston was also productive from even more limited possession, scoring one point and being fouled for three frees.

Waterford largely shut down Cork on their long puckout. They gave Cork the short puckout but most of those second deliveries were landing in Darragh Fives’ zone. 

When Cork did go long, they only won eight of 22 of their puckouts in the Waterford half. Lehane was never the outlet for Nash that Cork hoped he would be because Conor Gleeson was stuck to him like a leech. Gleeson was outstanding. 

The only time Lehane got any traction in the match was in a 10-minute period after half time but he still only converted one of three shots in that spell. Lehane finished with two points from eight shots.

Cadogan scored two points but he only had three possessions in the game before being taken off. In the second half, Harnedy scored a point and was fouled for two frees but he was limited to just four plays in that half. Horgan was limited to just three plays after the break but two of those were points and Horgan really led the charge throughout.

Waterford had a greater range of scorers. They had 18 scores from play, as opposed to 12 for Cork. The Waterford bench made an impact too, with two points and one assist. 

Apart from Horgan, Waterford had all the standout performers. Darragh Fives was outstanding from 22 plays. Kevin Moran was heroic from 16 plays, scoring four points from seven shots. Barron was massive from 17 plays. Despite the damage Horgan did, Shane Fives still played well.

Austin Gleeson was poor in the first half but a genius is always capable of breaking a game apart with a couple of massive plays. As well as his 1-2, Gleeson also had a hand in three more scores, including the killer pass for Barron’s goal.

The conjuror eventually cast his spell to knock Cork out.

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