John Horgan on hurling: Cork must address ongoing issues before facing Limerick 

Rebels will be looking to take the positive from the league campaign but the manner of their defeat to Waterford was alarming
John Horgan on hurling: Cork must address ongoing issues before facing Limerick 

Cork's Sean O'Donoghue was one of the only Rebels to impress in the league final loss. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

THE credit that had been banked by the Cork hurlers as a result of a very positive showing in the group stage of the national hurling league and the semi-final victory over Kilkenny was reduced in their final loss to Waterford.

That’s not saying it can’t be restored again when the Munster championship swings into action on Easter Sunday against Limerick but there is work to be done before that game, one that might well have a huge impact on how the rest of the season sorts itself out.

Anybody glancing at the scoreline from the final game in the secondary competition might be of the opinion that this was a cracking game, just two pucks of a ball in it at the final whistle but in truth, Waterford were the far superior outfit.

Waterford registered a similar tally in both halves, 2-10 in the first followed by another 2-10 in the final 35 minutes.

Waterford have been banging in goals throughout the league campaign, 22 in seven games and they could have had one or two more in the final.

The two first-half goals, arriving within 60 seconds of each other were game-defining moments and Cork were on the back foot for most of the rest of the contest.

Carthach Daly of Waterford is tackled by Darragh Fitzgibbon and Ger Millerick of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Carthach Daly of Waterford is tackled by Darragh Fitzgibbon and Ger Millerick of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Many had predicted a narrow Cork victory beforehand on the basis that Waterford were minus some key players, players who will have a major role to play in the championship, Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron and Pauric Mahony, a late sub on Saturday night.

However, their panel is as deep now as it ever was and any significant absentee is replaced by a player of equal competence. In fact, you might say that Waterford now have the best panel of players heading into the championship.

Cork took too many wrong options, too many passes not ending up where they were meant to go and Waterford capitalising fully on those mistakes.

Cork did score first but thereafter Waterford moved over into the driving seat and whilst both teams scored 24 times over the 70 minutes, Waterford’s ability to nail the goals illustrated the difference and posed the questions that need to be addressed before Limerick arrive on Leeside in less than two weeks.

Not enough Cork players impacted on the proceedings on Saturday night, the consistency that is required over the entirety of a game wasn’t there again and that will have to be a whole lot better in the Munster arena.

To be fair to the management, they were not slow to make changes and Shane Kingston’s half-time introduction for Alan Connolly was a positive and he will be a definite starter next Sunday week.

Robbie O'Flynn ended the game very well and a return of 1-3 was good going even if Waterford were as good as home and hosed when some of those scores were delivered. But scores at any time in a game are a positive.

The withdrawal of Conor Lehane after 47 minutes might have been surprising to some people because he had posted two fine points and is surely going to be a championship starter given his experience.

There are some big decisions to be made now by the Cork management before the Munster opener against a Limerick team that had absolutely no interest at all in the league and who have been quietly planning behind closed doors in the Gaelic Grounds for the past number of weeks.

This championship opener was always going to be huge for Cork since the schedule of fixtures were released.

But it’s even far more important now because of the fact that it’s the only game that will be played at Pairc Ui Chaoimh by Kieran Kingston’s men.

Munster is a minefield and having three games instead of two at away venues is going to be a considerable ask.

It probably would have been better to be going into the championship with a league title in the bag after getting into one.

But at the same time, that competition will fade significantly when much bigger assignments have to be undertaken.

RESET

Kingston was right in saying that Cork will need to press the reset button now and take the learnings from last Saturday night’s loss. "In a way, we might learn more from tonight than other games in the league."

And that may well prove to be the case.

The expectation levels that had been put in place by some supporters as a result of a very positive run-up to last Saturday night might dip a little now and that’s no bad thing.

This is a young Cork team and there will be setbacks along the journey. But the ability to overcome them and move forward quickly will be very important.

The concession of four goals was the main negative from this league decider and addressing how to ensure such a happening does not occur again will have to be prioritised when the championship preparation intensity from tonight onwards to next Sunday week.

While the loss to Waterford was very disappointing, the league has produced a number of positives, new, young players getting their opportunity, players being used in different positions than what might have been their more natural berths.

All that has to be taken into account now and harnessed in such a manner that the right combination must be in place to face Limerick and the spine of the team right down the middle is the one best suited to cope with the demands of the county that has been head and shoulders above the rest in the past few years.

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