Analysis: Ruthless Rebels showed real promise in league opener

Éamonn Murphy reviews an entertaining clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where Cork hit Waterford for 5-22
Analysis: Ruthless Rebels showed real promise in league opener

Shane Kingston of Cork shoots to score his side's third goal despite the efforts of Waterford goalkeeper Billy Nolan and Conor Prunty. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

CORK needed to lay down a marker at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday.

That they did, with a haul of five goals, improved work-rate throughout the field and a number of outstanding displays, not least wing-back Tim O'Mahony, who was a powerhouse in defence but also hit two points and was directly involved in setting up 2-4. 

Mark Coleman was typically classy at centre-back, Luke Meade linked the play immaculately from wing-forward and corner-back Niall O'Leary was out in front so often he got fouled for two converted frees. A tally of 5-22 was clearly impressive, but Waterford's haul of 1-27 reflected what a high-scoring contest this was.

Niall O'Leary breaks out past Colin Dunford of Waterford. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Niall O'Leary breaks out past Colin Dunford of Waterford. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Of course, there have been too many false dawns in recent season to read too much into the result. Particularly after a wild run-in when the Rebels' last three scores were goals, a clever effort from Shane Kingston that wrapped up the win and a double from rookie Alan Connolly. Waterford finished with a flourish in response, picking off 1-3.

Indeed in the closing sequence, Patrick Horgan went for a sixth Cork goal, when he could easily have popped the sliotar over. A statement of sorts.

With the wind at their backs, Cork started with a pretty orthodox attack, Horgan the focus on the D with Jack O'Connor and Shane Barrett on either side. There was a decent supply of crossfield balls sent in, but Waterford's defence was resolute last season and they had bodies working hard to try and close off space.

Still, when Horgan was pulled back heading into the square it looked like we'd see a sin-bin/penalty call, and O'Connor flashed a goal chance wide. Green flags were on the Rebels' minds. 

Cork got the goal their approach deserved when Robbie O'Flynn buried a flowing team move involving Tim O'Mahony, Luke Meade, Seamus Harnedy and Darragh Fitzgibbon. 

Soon after, another marauding O'Mahony drive teed up Horgan, whose tight-angled effort was deflected. O'Connor was in the better position though he got the goal his movement merited in the second half.

Fitzgibbon was the most prominent figure at midfield, lancing over two points and hitting another two shots wide in that first half, though Déise number nine Calum Lyons blazed wide when he looked like rifling the net.

Luke Meade made a significant contribution from the half-forward line, linking up the play throughout. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Luke Meade made a significant contribution from the half-forward line, linking up the play throughout. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

With new number one Pa Collins in goal, Cork mixed their puck-outs, either short or outside the wing-forwards. The short restarts were worked through the lines, with Damien Cahalane, Mark Coleman and the excellent O'Mahony to the fore. Corner-backs Seán O'Donoghue, who was shown a harsh yellow card, and O'Leary defended tigerishly, which was encouraging.

Of the newcomers, Shane Barrett was the standout, carrying his fine form with Blarney and the Cork U20s last year over. 

Barrett clipped over two sweet scores, was fouled for a free and forced a 65 Horgan banged between the posts, one of the three the captain shot, summing up Cork's goal-threat.

This league is novel on a number of levels, not least because it's starting in summer; manna from heaven for a wristy, quick outfit like the Rebels. So the weather gods unleashed a volley of wind and rain on Sunday morning to remind us that as much as we love top-of-the-ground hurling on Leeside, you have to be able to mix it in all conditions.

That's one of the issues facing Kieran Kingston and the management, the perception that they don't have a group at their disposal capable of doing the heavy lifting to become a champion side. They'd an opportunity to knock Tipp out of the championship last November in a hurricane but despite leading in the last quarter, lost by four points. Outmuscled with the game on the line. Same old sceál.


Cork don't have a panel with the brute physicality of favourites Limerick so Kingston and co must come up with a formula that taps into the group's strengths: skill and speed. The difficulty with that approach is, aside from the outlier that was the Clare team of 2013, recent All-Ireland winners have had the brawn to match the brain.

For Cork, it'll all hinge on tightening up defensively and improving the work-rate in every sector of the field. In last year's league, Cork wanted to be more ruthless and rattled in 10 goals but still failed to progress to the knockout stages because of their vulnerability at the other end. The addition of Donal O'Grady to the backroom is a clear signal that a harder edge in defence is a priority.

We saw some evidence of that here.

This being the league, neither team had a full deck. The absence of Jamie Barron and Tadhg de Búrca seemed to limit Waterford more. 

For all the obvious positives, Cork won't be too happy with how readily Kieran Bennett (4) and Austin Gleeson (5) picked off distance points, while coughing up a late goal denied Collins and the defence the clean sheet they deserved.

Still, early days and all that. Roll on Tippeary next Saturday in Thurles.

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