Analysis: Fired-up Cork hurlers won the war against Waterford to save the season 

Tactically the Rebels excelled at Walsh Park and also delivered some glorious scores but this Munster championship victory was built on work-rate and attitude
Analysis: Fired-up Cork hurlers won the war against Waterford to save the season 

Cork's Shane Kingston and Robert Downey at the end of the win over Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

CHAMPIONSHIP hurling is war as much as it is sport.

Cork embraced that at long last and were rewarded with a rousing victory in enemy territory. They now head to take on Tipperary next Sunday with the chance to grab third place in the provincial round-robin, provided they apply themselves the same way.

This was a different team to the side pushed around by Limerick and Clare in the opening games of the Munster series. Waterford were raging favourites, Cork written off but instead, the Rebels were defiant and inspirational, on and off the pitch.

Kieran Kingston and Pat Mulcahy were passionate and vocal throughout. Kingston was yellow-carded by referee James Owens but he pucked every sliotar with the players and they responded.

Defensively Cork hit everything that moved and weren’t afraid to cough up frees. Damien Cahalane and Seán O’Donoghue held Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson to a point from play each. Ciáran Joyce, just 20, was a bulwark at centre-back, supported by Rob Downey.

In the middle third, Cork secured possession on the decks and in the air, with Luke Meade’s restoration key to the balance of the team, and Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon were to the fore. Robbie O’Flynn and Conor Lehane hoovered up a dirty of breaks and collectively Cork tackled in that zone with an intensity we haven’t seen up to now.

Waterford's Carthach Daly is tackled by Cork's Shane Kingston. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Waterford's Carthach Daly is tackled by Cork's Shane Kingston. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

In attack, Seamus Harnedy and Lehane shot 0-8 between them from play but more importantly were eager puck-out options. Alan Connolly grabbed two goals and also earned two frees under long deliveries in the opening stages when Cork were slow to get motoring.

Tim O’Mahony was introduced as a second target at the edge of the square in the second half against the wind and it paid off richly, even if he didn’t score himself. O’Mahony was terrific in that role at U21 and for any back, he’s a serious handful.

Tactically, the underfire Cork selectors got their defensive match-ups bang on but also ensured the sliotar was given earlier into the forwards. With Patrick Curran drifting out, Joyce was able to sit in front of the D and even though Tadhg de Búrca had the same latitude for Waterford, Cork angled their passes regularly to go around him.

As a consequence, Cork raised two green flags and could have added another two goals.

Beyond tactics though, this win was forged in work-rate, honesty and attitude.

Walsh Park was tight, tense, claustrophobic, the fans hemmed in on every side, a fitting setting for what could have been the Rebels’ last stand. The opening exchanges were tetchy, pockmarked by frees, and when Waterford moved 0-6 to 0-2 up against the wind the portents were ominous.

Instead, Cork sparked to life, utilising the breeze to pick scores from distance, including a monster from keeper Patrick Collins, before Connolly pounced for a goal on the rebound after scorching runs by Fitzgibbon and O’Flynn: 1-6 to 0-6. Waterford responded with the next five scores, 1-10 to 1-6.

Instead of doubting themselves, Cork fronted up once more. There were ‘Rebels, Rebels, Rebels’ chants echoing across the game, the faithful in the 10,986 inspired by the commitment of the players. 

Cork put the squeeze on Waterford’s puck-outs before half-time, yielding points for Fitzgibbon on the move and Lehane, with Coleman, Meade and Joyce mopping up, to the fans' delight. The half-time whistle sounded at 1-12 to 1-11, advantage Cork. There was a sense an upset was on the cards and coming down the stretch those supporters in red really made themselves heard.

HISTORIC

They also got to witness history, as Patrick Horgan is now the all-time championship top scorer. He started the season 19 points behind Joe Canning, lancing over 0-9 against Limerick and 0-10 against Clare, followed up by four frees at Walsh Park. His longevity, consistency, ability from play and placed balls, dedication and sheer talent mark him down as one of the best to ever pull on the red geansaí.

Of course, he’s still without a Celtic Cross, despite making his debut in 2008, and now 34, time is not on his side but his place in the pantheon of Leeside legends is assured regardless.

Leesiders have been especially cranky over the past six weeks – the league semi-final comeback against Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Chaoimh seems like a lifetime ago – but it was hard to blame them. Where did the pace, aggression and confidence that carried the team to an All-Ireland final last summer go? The provincial series was always going to be a bearpit, and Cork giving up home advantage didn’t help, but Corkonians expect a bit of fire and fury, not be outhurled and outworked.

Waterford icon Dan Shanahan said in the build-up: “When you mix it with Cork they seem to wither a small bit.” 

They made a mockery of that with their season on the line. Same again at Semple Stadium now…

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