(originally posted by Giveitfong on boards.ie)
Despite the poverty of their overall display, were it not for some terrible shooting by Waterford and Seamus Prendergast’s deflected shot going the wrong side of the post, for all Cork’s fancy play this game still could have been very close at the end. Three of Shane Casey’s misses are simply unacceptable at this level and Pauric Mahony was also guilty of some bad misses.
The poor shooting was itself one symptom of Waterford’s very poor first touch and striking on the night, in contrast to Cork’s sharpness in these areas. There are two normal explanations for poor touch and striking. One is that the team hasn’t been doing enough hurling on the training field. The other is that the team just wasn’t psychologically up for the game.
The latter explanation seems the most obvious to me, as also reflected in the team’s lack of physicality and alertness, as they repeatedly gave Cork the freedom of the park to do what they liked with the ball. It is virtually a law of nature that if you allow Cork to play, they will do precisely that. The best way to beat Cork is to get stuck into them, as they tend to have a lot of flashy players with no real stomach for a physical battle. Players like Pa Cronin and Cathal Naughton are notorious for disappearing out of games when the going gets tough, but nobody was getting up close and personal with them tonight. And their newcomers should have been given an appropriate welcome to the world of senior intercounty hurling but this didn’t happen.
Not having the team in the proper frame of mind is itself a poor reflection on the team management. What was even more worrying was further evidence of the lack of any tactical or strategic approach to how the game should be played. Cork were playing to a well thought-out plan and everyone knew what to do with the ball when they got it, no matter where they got it. Of course it was easy enough to put this into effect given their good touch and striking and the amount of freedom they were allowed, especially in the first half.
Waterford, by contrast, seemed to be making it up as they went along. Their poor touch frequently meant that they were under pressure most of the time when in possession. They usually passed the ball just to get out of trouble, whereas Cork were much more creative with their passing. Waterford, by contrast, were generally inclined to just hit the ball upfield and hope for the best.
The clueless nature of the Waterford performance was never more in evidence than when Eoin McGrath replaced Shane Walsh at the start of the second half. This meant that Waterford had no target man near the goal in the third quarter, but despite this, the Waterford outfield players kept driving high balls into the goal area where they were gobbled up time and again by Cork’s bigger and stronger defenders. You would imagine that the mentors might have told the players going out for the second half: “We’re bringing on Eoin McGrath for Shane Walsh at full forward, so play low balls into the corner to stretch the defence, and don’t be lobbing high balls in”. But there is no evidence that such basic advice was given.
Things did improve a bit when the penny finally dropped and the selectors moved Seamus Prendergast into full forward, but after he went off and Waterford ended up with an even smaller full forward line when Tomás Ryan came in, the outfield players continued to hit long balls into the goal area rather than try to open things up by playing down the wings.
Of course, it is hard to take seriously a management that appears to think that Eoin McGrath has anything to offer at this level, and it must break the other players’ hearts to see him either starting or coming on as a sub.
One is always wary of picking on individual players when the whole team is playing poorly, and I would be particularly slow to criticise the full back line, given the amount of quality ball being sent on them, especially in the first half. My concerns about Iggy O’Regan’s lack of physical presence were borne out again as he failed to make himself big for any of the three goals and actually turned is back on Cathal Naughton for the second. If he had saved even one of the goals, it would have made Waterford’s task in the second half much more manageable. In the second half, he also opted to belt a ball he had collected on his goal line out over the sideline, rather than taking on the incoming forwards as Adrian Power would have done.
We had two wing backs playing tonight who both lack pace and are unable to win their own ball in the air, and Cork certainly exploited this. It also meant that Waterford didn’t have the platform to control the game in the middle of the field, although things did improve in the second half when Cork slackened off somewhat.
Like in Dungarvan the previous week, the one bright light was provided by Gavin O’Brien, who appears to have the priceless knack of making scoring look easy. However, what was the point of taking off Martin O’Neill to make way for him and leave Eoin McGrath on the field? At least O’Neill is capable of offering a scoring threat, something you would never say about McGrath, and being twelve years the younger, surely O’Neill has more long-term potential which needs to be nurtured.
I felt rather sorry for Shane Casey tonight, as he did win an amount of possession and could easily have had four or give points. However, at this stage his self-confidence appears to be at an all-time low.