SINCE the commencement of this season’s Munster SHC, everybody and anybody has had their say about Cork.
The lack of aggression, the need for greater work-rate, and a better collective team effort all formed part of that narrative.
Much of the criticism was justified and the bar needed to be raised much higher heading down to Walsh Park against the team perceived to be the main challenger to Limerick’s stranglehold on the provincial and All-Ireland crowns.
Well, we all know what transpired over the 70 minutes, this time the Cork hurlers had their own say, they had the last word.
They are not out of the woods yet in terms of reaching the All-Ireland series but at least they have given themselves a chance. When it mattered most, when everything was on the line, when their backs were up against the wall, they delivered.
And they did so in such a manner that they have put the spring back in the steps of their supporters It all comes down now to what happens in Thurles against Tipperary and what happens to Waterford against Clare in Cusack Park.
It all makes for a super Sunday of hurling at the two venues with the entire year riding on the outcome for Cork, Waterford and Tipperary, despite the fact that the latter have lost all of their three games to date.
As the game aged it was evident that Cork’s confidence was beginning to grow. Tactically, defensively and offensively things were heading in the right direction, the subs worked a treat and as a unit, we were seeing something that had been missing in all the big games since the All-Ireland final.
It was a joy to behold, the response each time that Waterford seemed to be getting a grip on matters, especially when they forged four clear at a critical time in the opening half when Cork were aided by the breeze.
Some superb points followed from Darragh Fitzgibbon, Seamie Harnedy, Mark Coleman, and a booming effort from Patrick Collins.
Fitzgibbon got the last point of the half to send Cork in, leading by the bare minimum but it was a score of huge psychological significance, coming back out to play against the breeze.
The management made a big call in replacing Patrick Horgan after just 39 minutes but it worked the oracle. Tim O’Mahony came into the edge of the square and his presence had the Waterford defenders at sixes and sevens.
It provided Cork with more of an aerial option, coupled with Alan Connolly’s effectiveness.
Shane Kingston’s earlier arrival was another success and his appetite to get stuck in was illustrated when he was back in his own full-back line at one stage fighting and foraging for a ball that could have gone anywhere.
A lot more Cork players ran themselves into the ground than had been the case in previous encounters. Fitzgibbon exhibited the effectiveness in his play that we all know that he is capable of, Coleman scored a brace of very influential points and had his best day of the campaign.
Ciarán Joyce continues to grow in stature and a game like this will boost his confidence levels all the higher.
Conor Lehane more than justified his recall, Connolly’s eye for big goals was seen in all its finery again while the man from Gortroe, Seamie Harnedy rolled back the years to illuminate the proceedings all through. On this day in this old ground, he was simply majestic.
The entire bunch made a contribution, the defence was far more tuned in and Collins provided plenty of assurance behind them. People might ask why this type of performance wasn’t forthcoming before now?
But now it’s all about this defining afternoon in Semple Stadium next Sunday against a Tipperary team that remains in the equation.
If anything, this could even be a greater test of Cork’s credentials because, despite their losses, Tipp have shown that they could trouble any team. More of the same will be required, probably a lot more.
The fire that would have been extinguished with a loss last Sunday is now still burning.
Through the ages, Cork and Tipp encounters in the white heat of Munster championship hurling have provided us with memories to last a lifetime.