Cork v Waterford: Talking points ahead of Munster hurling battle at Walsh Park

Éamonn Murphy looks ahead to the provincial showdown on Sunday afternoon where defeat will see Cork knocked out
Cork v Waterford: Talking points ahead of Munster hurling battle at Walsh Park

Mark Coleman captains Cork in Walsh Park on Sunday. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

KEY BATTLES

There are a number of match-ups that will shape Cork’s chances of leaving Walsh Park with a victory on Sunday.

Seán O’Donoghue excelled on Dessie Hutchinson in the league final, minimising the touches and impact of Waterford’s most clinical forward, while expecting young gun Shane Barrett to curb Tadhg de Búrca’s enthusiasm was unrealistic. The selectors face some big calls.

Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford shoots to score a goal. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford shoots to score a goal. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

O'Donghue is the Rebels' best performer this season and will be on Hutchinson again but even with Seán Finn for company in the last round, the Déise gunner slammed over 0-5. They have multiple threats though, from Patrick Curran to Stephen Bennett to Austin Gleeson. Every single Cork defender will need to be on his toes.

Cork might look to put their most physical forward, Seamus Harnedy, on de Búrca and Barrett will be better off closer to goal, as he was out of position against Clare at midfield.

The middle third will be a battleground again and Cork desperately need Darragh Fitzgibbon to find his early league form and Mark Coleman to dictate the tempo, whether that’s at wing-back or midfield. Anthony Nash this week suggested Patrick Horgan should be brought out to 11 to get on more ball but would that work with bodies everywhere tackling and harassing? 

He's named there, per the official list, but whether he starts in that berth is another thing.

RECORD BREAKER

Horgan, now 34, quietly drew level with Joe Canning as the top-scorer in the history of championship hurling with his 0-10 against Clare. If his free-taking wasn't uncharacteristically off, he'd have surpassed Canning's cumulative haul of 567 in Thurles two weeks ago.

Hoggie has scored 22-482 or (548 points) for Cork prior to this summer’s championship and then added 19 points over the two games to date to tie up Canning's record. Henry Shefflin is third in the list on 27-484 (565) in 71 games. 

Who knows what the future holds for the Glen sharpshooter given his age and longevity but he pilfered three points from play the last day at Semple Stadium, Cork's best forward aside for impact sub Connolly who starts this time out. 

Even if he never gets his Celtic Cross, he'll be assured of a place in hurling history.

ATTITUDE

The Rebels need to go down fighting even if their championship season does come to a premature close.

Cork hurling is associated with a swagger bordering on arrogance, a self-belief that can fuel All-Ireland wins against the head. We've seen little evidence of that in recent weeks. 

Defensively, the full-back late did well against Clare. O’Donoghue and Niall O’Leary were immense and Rob Downey settled after the first quarter. U20 Ciarán Joyce enhanced his reputation given the circumstances in a first championship start at centre-back. 

Stephen Bennett under pressure from Ciarán Joyce. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Stephen Bennett under pressure from Ciarán Joyce. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Cork are just too easy to score against from distance though. Waterford will fancy their chances of putting up a tally close to 30 points on home soil. And they carved out goal chances repeatedly in the league final. 

Changes in personnel and tactics are all well and good but the starting place for any Cork revival would be attitude. They’ve been outmuscled repeatedly. Fitzgibbon went to centre-forward against Clare and Coleman to midfield but the issues are less about where the players line-up and more about how they work as a unit.

Throwing a curveball at Waterford might be on the cards even if the team released on Friday night was pretty straightforward. Tightening up the gaps down the middle that were so costly in the league final is the priority.

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