At half time in this game I reckoned Waterford would need to score goals if they were to have any chance of winning it. Having played with a strong wind in the first half they were just one point ahead while tactically they were not at the races against a well-drilled Cork team. Donal Óg Cusack as usual repeatedly found men running into space with his puckouts, while on the Waterford puck out the Cork half backs time and again batted the ball down to waiting colleagues at midfield. The result was a stream of good low balls into the Cork full forward line and while the Waterford full backs did well to prevent their opponents getting into goal scoring positions, Pat Horgan and Luke Farrell in particular did knock over some nice points and would have got a few more were it not for poor shooting.
Waterford did not appear to be drilled to watch out for Cusack’s directed puckouts, even though it is a very predictable part of Cork’s game plan (more evidence of Davy Fitzgerald’s tactical inadequacies?). Another major problem was the placing of Ken McGrath at midfield, as he simply was not quick enough to stay with the Cork players darting all over the place. It seems to me that Davy is trying to force him out of the setup by bringing him on in the last five minutes of games and then playing him in a position where he has rarely played before and is too demanding for a player who needs to be brought back gradually. He was moved to wing forward at the start of the second half but by then his confidence was shattered and it was terrible to see the almost broken figure he seemed when replaced early in the second half. The County Board should ensure that one of our greatest warriors is treated better than this but of course they haven’t the gumption or the wit to do anything about it.
As has become almost typical with Davy in charge, Waterford really upped their effort in the second half. Stephen Molumphy moved to midfield (his best position) and with Richie Foley storming into the game Waterford broke Cork’s stranglehold in this area. Brick Walsh also really came into it, with the result that Cork were finding it hard to get good possession in the half forward line. Waterford also closed down the Cork half back line more effectively, with Seamus Pender and Maurice Shan doing some great work. Both of these also came close to scoring breakthrough goals but both had close-in efforts stopped by Donal Óg Cusack.
Without the kind of clean possession they had around midfield in the first half, the quality of ball Cork put into their full forwards after the break wasn’t as good. With the strong wind carrying the ball further, the full forwards also found themselves contesting the ball 50:50 with their markets a lot more, and the Waterford backs clearly came out better in these situations, to such an extent that Cork only managed seven points playing with the strong wind, and never once got a shot on Adrian Power’s goal.
At the other end, full forward Shane Walsh – restored to the only position where he can play at this level – wreaked havoc to clock up five points, and with John Mullane rowing in with his customary three points and Richie Foley again almost immaculate from frees (his late point into the wind from his own 65 was magnificent), Waterford deservedly got over the line. This game once again showed that if you allow Cork to play they can destroy you, but if you put it up to them they tend to disappear out of sight. They obviously wanted to win this game and threw in Ronan Curran, the two O’Connors, Cathal Naughton and Michael Cussen in the second half, but to no avail.
In goal, Adrian Power did appear to drop one high ball in the second half and gave away the ball a couple of times in the first half through misplaced passes, but otherwise did quite well and his long puckouts into the wind in the second half took a lot of potential pressure off his defence. I thought Wayne Hutchinson had a very good game, especially in the second half. We know he lacks pace, but he is stronger and better under the high ball than any of the alternatives, has good skills and ball control and uses the ball well, either to find a colleague or deliver good low ball to the forwards.
Noel Connors was okay on his return, but the real star of the show was Darragh Fives in the other corner – again especially in the second half. He is very skillful and a lovely striker of the ball but what really amazes me is his composure for such a young player. He never seems to panic and is very good at getting around opponents and giving passes to well-placed colleagues. He is also really good at hooks, blocks and flicks, using his long arms and quick hands to great effect. At this stage I see him moving from the status of good prospect to genuine contender for a permanent place on the team (although ultimately I would see his real home as being in the half back line).
In the half back line I thought David O’Sullivan did reasonably well on his debut. He certainly has filled out a bit since I last saw him, and he showed with one foray deep into Cork territory in the first half that he still has quite a turn of pace. As already mentioned, Brick Walsh really upped his performance in this game, and dominated the half back line after the break. Kevin Moran didn’t stand out (but then neither did his opposite number Tom Kenny) but he did row in with two good points.
I thought that Richie Foley vied with Shane Walsh for the man of the match for Waterford. He hit an awful lot of ball in the second half, most of it of high quality, while his mobility and ability to forage deep in defence adds to his value. Stephen Molumphy also benefited from his move to midfield in the second half.
Up front, Seamus Pender put in a hard working stint right through the game. Apart from one lovely point, Paudie Mahony had little enough impact on the game but he is definitely one for the future once he learns the ropes. Maurice Shanahan got one excellent point in the first half, but really came into the game in the second half, especially when he came out to wing forward when Ken McGrath was withdrawn, with Eoin Kelly going into the corner. Kelly, incidentally, made no impact, apart from one shot that went wide. Tomás Ryan came into the game late on instead of Paudie Mahony but likewise had no impact.
One might hope that Davy Fitz will have learned from this game that Shane Walsh can be very effective at full forward (he is completely ineffective anywhere else), that Riche Foley is a midfielder (and not a centre forward), that the only place for Stephen Molumphy is also at midfield (when Shane O’Sullivan comes back there should be a three-man midfield with Molumphy doing the foraging role) and Maurice Shanahan is a wing forward. However, it does not look to me as though Davy has any learning capacity.