Rebel confidence at an all-time low as Waterford's blanket defence causes huge problems

Rebel confidence at an all-time low as Waterford's blanket defence causes huge problems
James McGrath of Waterford in action against John O'Rourke and Michael Shields. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Barry O'Donovan

Football analysis

WHEN after 45 seconds of the game Waterford had all 15 of their players inside their own half of the field it took on the feeling of a long night.

Still we’d hardly have guessed quite how long and edgy it’d become, that Cork would score only five times in the first half, fall behind early in the second half, fall behind again with 10 minutes to go and really need a helter-skelter seven minutes of injury time to get out of Dungarvan with the year and this project still just about on track. Cork wanted to get on the right side of a tight game but they wouldn’t have expected it here. Cork needed a show of cohesion but left with another kind of ragged performance, even more unsure of themselves and lacking in conviction than before and with only the sense that they’d dodged a really unwanted bullet by the end.

Waterford came with a plan — basically parking the bus with 14 players in front of their goals as often as possible — which they carried out extremely effectively, slowed the tempo of the game and enjoyed long spells of controlled possession with their extra numbers in defence always able to find a free white jersey. Cork looked a team ready for championship but a completely different championship game, like a side that’d done all the physical preparation but hadn’t expected to be asked these type of questions yet. 

Colm O'Neill tries to evade Thomas O'Gorman. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm O'Neill tries to evade Thomas O'Gorman. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It’s a challenge to find space to play in such crowded spaces but there are ways of dealing with it and Cork managed to miss every target there. They didn’t impose their game early on, weren’t sharp with handling or ball movement. 

They weren’t clinical in taking chances that might have killed the game — two missed one-v-ones at the start of the second half for Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan stand out. Both actually came off assists from long balls won in the air by Peter Kelleher, a tactic which was neglected both before and afterwards. 

Peter Kelleher in action against Ray O’Ceallaigh of Waterford. Picture: Matt Browne/SportsfileMF
Peter Kelleher in action against Ray O’Ceallaigh of Waterford. Picture: Matt Browne/SportsfileMF

They didn’t move the ball fast enough, didn’t spread the play from side to side enough and time after time shifted possession sideways across the field with short handpasses without running in behind players to break holes or taking any Waterford players out of the game. Cork turned over ball or took poor shot and pass options or looked rushed on the ball and generally just struggled with ideas on how to break down the defensive structure from very early on. 

They didn’t kick scores from distance either, at least not until the last ten minutes and of their key players in attack, Mark Collins couldn’t find room to get on ball, Paul Kerrigan got on ball but couldn’t find room to make things happen and Colm O’Neill couldn’t find room to get any shots away (he ended up scoreless from play) - John O’Rourke was the brightest attacker in the opening three-quarters of the game for Cork with three points from play. 

The intensity of tackling and hunting in packs seemed off as well, as Waterford managed to work the ball upfield and find runners whenever they needed to; Cork pressed up but never quite enough or with the aggression necessary. Aidan Walsh was gone by the 10-minute mark to another injury. Cork were sloppy to leave in the goal Waterford were always going to need to spark a shock, a free dropping short and not dealt with by goalkeeper or defence.

That’s an awful amount of factors to go wrong together and if the notion of a genuine possible shock started to spread at some stage of the second period (for lots of the first half there was still a feeling Cork might pull away at any stage with a goal or two), more than anything it was Cork’s inability to take control of the game that was startling, that they weren’t able to do whatever was necessary to shift the dynamic of the match from Waterford’s plan. 

Peadar Healy and management would be worried that they couldn’t think their way around a problem on the field and that they were so easily unsettled by a very game, quite impressively confident but ultimately limited Waterford. There was very little to analyse about what Cork were trying to do as a defensive or attacking unit as they were basically reacting to Waterford’s set-up and chasing the game throughout. There wasn’t a midfield battle as most kick-outs went short on both sides. 

Cork shifted players forward all over the field when in possession. They funnelled back with their men when Waterford attacked and tried to leave one defender sitting at all times. Yet there was a sense of belief and purpose in what Waterford were trying to do. Cork lacked that willingness to shape the game but had the extra quality that made the difference.

In the end, with a Cork crowd that’d expected a handy boring evening brought to life by circumstances, some guys stepped up. Alan O’Connor came in and offered a huge presence, fetched kick-outs in the air, made tackles to turn over ball, won two hop balls at vital times towards the end and generally gave off an air of defiance, that this wouldn’t be happening with him on the field — he was bellowing to his teammates at one stage towards the end.

Donncha O’Connor came in and immediately brought a purpose to the attack. First ball in, he turned and shot against the post but it sent a message that he would take shots on; he scored two huge scores from play and took responsibility as leader. 

Kerrigan kicked a lovely point, and to be fair for a night where not everything came off he still scored 1-3 from play.

Paul Kerrigan holds off Tommy Prendergast and Brian Looby. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Paul Kerrigan holds off Tommy Prendergast and Brian Looby. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Mark Collins boomed a point from the right wing as Cork finally pushed up to good effect. Cork had kept going and kept stubbornly trying to do something to win the game even if it wasn’t often the right thing.

It was a funny feeling at the final whistle, the worthiness of the win from that last 10 minutes where the crowd got behind the team faded into the reality, a one-point escape from disaster raises more negatives than positives. 

The year rolls on but Tipp will be very different. Cork will need to be very different too.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

jerseywarslogosml
votetextheader

jerseysformpu
echolive

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more