Do Cork need to make some big changes after the defensive disaster against Déise?

Derek Daly wonders is it too late for the Rebels to shift Ciarán Joyce to six and Rob Downey to full-back for championship
Do Cork need to make some big changes after the defensive disaster against Déise?

Waterford’s Jack Prendergast tackles Cork's Robert Downey. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

BEING in the league final was supposed to be a positive for Cork hurling.

It doesn’t feel like it right now though.

Cork ended up losing Saturday night’s final at Semple Stadium to a brilliant Waterford team by six points, although it felt like more — a late Robbie O’Flynn goal putting a bit of gloss on the scoreboard from a Cork perspective, but no one will be kidding themselves.

This was a good trimming.

You would have to wonder how much damage a defeat like that can do to a side just two weeks out from their championship opener against All-Ireland champions Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

A lot of the positives built up in their impressive league campaign got washed away with the tidal wave that Waterford hit them with in Thurles.

It was extremely noticeable to anyone watching that when Cork tried to run straight at the Waterford goal they invariably got crowded out of it with the move often breaking down.

Cork’s Tim O’Mahony runs at the Waterford defence. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Cork’s Tim O’Mahony runs at the Waterford defence. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

It was also extremely noticeable that at the other end this was not the case. When Waterford broke through, the Cork defence seemed to open like the Red Sea.

Memories of the 2013 All-Ireland final replay sprang to mind, or even last year’s All-Ireland. Cork were cut open far too easily. Going on Saturday night’s display then you have to wonder as to whether anything was learned from last August’s defeat to Limerick.

There is bound to be considerable debate, once again, as to whether Mark Coleman’s best position is actually centre-back. While being at six allows him to be Cork’s playmaker while in possession, you have to question whether he is the best man to hold the middle from a defensive viewpoint.

It would seem common sense to deploy Coleman in midfield while having a more natural centre-back like Ciarán Joyce anchoring behind him, but clearly having Coleman there is an integral part of Cork’s set-up, at least in the management’s thinking.

It is highly unlikely that Kieran Kingston and his managerial team will abandon their principles just two weeks out from the beginning of the Munster Championship.

Instead, it is more likely that we will see some switches in defence, with maybe Rob Downey going back to full-back, or the likes of Niall and Dáire O’Leary coming back into that line, but we can expect Coleman to remain the fulcrum for the Limerick game.

This wasn’t the first time that Liam Cahill has done a number on Cork side in a national final.

Waterford’s set-up was spot on, and you could see that they intentionally moved the ball to bypass Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon, which had the effect of limiting the duo’s influence on proceedings.

Another big feature of the game was that Cork struggled to contain the Déise’s puck-outs, regardless of whether they went long or short.

Waterford scored four points off of the first four short puck-outs that the Cork attack allowed Waterford to work out. And while scores from their short restarts dried up in the middle third of the game, they worked a treat again later in the game as they engineered three points late on from short Shaun O’Brien puck-outs to help see the game out.

And it was not as if Waterford were struggling to win the ball when they went long either. I made it that 2-6 of their impressive tally of 4-20 originated from long deliveries deep into Cork territory.

Cork, meanwhile, only scored two points from Patrick Collins’ long restarts. That was the difference between the teams right there.

Waterford’s Tadhg de Burca and Calum Lyons with Shane Barrett of Cork battle for the sliotar at Semple Stadium. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Waterford’s Tadhg de Burca and Calum Lyons with Shane Barrett of Cork battle for the sliotar at Semple Stadium. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

It is not a night that Cork hurling fans will be looking back on for long, but nonetheless, there were some positives, such as the impressive manner in which Erins Own’s Robbie O’Flynn took the fight to Waterford, even on a losing cause, with him scoring an impressive 1-3 from play. 

IMPACT

Shane Kingston again showed what a great impact he offers off the bench. Once more, his father will have to decide whether the three points he notched on his introduction was enough to warrant a start the next day, or whether his ability to be an impact sub is worth keeping in reserve.

Sean O’Donoghue had a good outing, on his return, keeping Dessie Hutchinson relatively quiet, while Robert Downey, Tim O’Mahony, Ciarán Joyce and Shane Barrett had their moments.

So, no first league title since 1998. Instead, Cork got another tough lesson about life at the very top. They now have just two weeks to show whether they can learn from these hard lessons.

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