(originally posted on boards.ie)
Waterford could, and possibly should, have won this very strange minor hurling game played in Walsh Park tonight before a paying attendance of 2,707.
Waterford had first use of a very strong wind blowing down the field towards the town goal and had the best possible start. In their very first attack, Eoin McGrath (wearing the number 9 jersey allotted to Harry Ruddle in the programme) ran through the Cork defence and blasted an unstoppable shot to the net from over 20 metres. Cathal Curran and Michael Mahony followed up with excellent points to leave Waterford 1-2 to 0-0 ahead after just three minutes.
Any hopes that Waterford would settle down and drive on from this tonic start were quickly blown to shreds. Cork took over complete control in all sectors of the field. Their ball control was excellent, they were much more alert and sharper in their play and had a game plan – which they executed superbly – to overcome the facts that they were up against both a very strong wind and a physically bigger and stronger team. Their main ploy consisted of low, short balls into the forwards which were regularly collected with their markers yards behind, giving them plenty of space to plan and play their next ball.
By contrast, Waterford team fumbled and foostered all over the field, dropping balls from hand and unable to execute the most basic pickups. They stood off their men and allowed the smaller/lighter but much more committed Cork players to run around and through them. An example of the Waterford mindset was a defender hitting one sideline about six feet and then completely missing the next one.
Waterford’s main attacking ploy was booming puckouts from Billy Nolan which rained down on the Cork half backs. Those balls which they didn’t catch cleanly out of the sky were broken down and then hoovered up by alert and quick defenders. It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Cork had at least one extra defender, with one of the Waterford forwards withdrawn in a sweeper role. Playing a sweeper when Waterford had the assistance of a very strong wind didn’t make much sense to me, and points up the importance of being able to adjust a prepared game plan to prevailing circumstances and conditions.
Despite playing into the wind, Cork reeled off eight points in a row without reply to go 0-8 to 1-2 up by the 25th minute. Then, as if someone had tripped a switch, Waterford suddenly completely took over again and landed four points in a row to go in at half time 1-6 to 0-8 ahead. An important factor here was a change in Nolan’s puckout strategy, sending lower and more directed ball to the midfield area.
During the interval we reckoned that if Waterford could start the second half as they finished the first and dictate the terms of play they might have some chance. However, the first ten minutes of the second half was a complete disaster for them, with Cork again taking over in all sectors and rattling off five points in a row to go four up. At this stage a complete hiding looked in store for the home side.
Then, that switch was tripped again and suddenly Waterford took control again and essentially dominated territorially for the last twenty minutes. Faced with a desperate situation, key players decided that enough was enough and began competing for the ball and making it stick. An additional key factor was the introduction of Clonea’s Conor Dalton who put in a powerful last twenty minutes.
Unfortunately, Waterford were unable to translate their dominance outfield into scores on the board. Time and again they drove forward from midfield only to run into cul-de-sacs in front of the Cork goal. It didn’t help that Tommy Douglas, whom we would have looked to for a scoring edge, completely failed to get the grips with the game (and the ball) with the other corner forward Michael Mahony also failing to make any impact.
Waterford also failed to turn a series of scoreable frees to advantage. Having started well, freetaker Eoghan Murray went completely off the boil as the game progressed. He missed a free just before half time and two more, from in front of the goal, in the third quarter, on top of a straightforward shot from play which he hit badly wide. One wonders what the result might have been had Harry Ruddle, who did very well for De La Salle in the Harty Cup, been on the frees here. While Waterford did manage to raise a few white flags, Cork, with the aid of the strong wind, were able to match this at the other end to keep themselves 4-5 points ahead.
The game ended on a slightly farcical note when Waterford were awarded four close-in frees in a row. Billy Nolan came up to take the first two of these but his two well-hit shots were blocked out. Harry Ruddle took the third, with the same result, before Nolan came back up the field to take the fourth which he blazed just over the crossbar. The game ended on the puckout.
Apart from Conor Dalton, for me Waterford’s two key players in the second half were Cathal Curran (brother of the Brickeys’ Cormac), operating in the midfield area, and Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) in the half forwards. Both players won a world of ball and repeatedly drove at the Cork defence, with Montgomery notching two good points in the process.
Cork’s key players were their go-to man in the corner, Evan Sheehan, who hit four points from play and one from a sideline and their centre forward Matthew Bradley who also scored four from play. Their full forward Josh Beusang converted four frees and also scored one from play, as did midfielders Cian O’Mahony and Robbie Bourke and corner forward Liam Healy.
A lot of people in the attendance were condemning the Waterford players for their apparent lack of skills on the night, but of course they are much better than they showed here (and indeed they did demonstrate this in patches). Their big problem seemed to me to be poor mental preparation. They have to believe that they are much better than they showed tonight. If they can marry their physical size with their undoubted skills and, most important, the kind of drive or “cur chuige” that is required in championship matches, I would not write them off yet. Poorly and all as they played, they could still have won this game with the chances they created. They now go on to play Tipperary in Walsh Park.
Waterford: Billy Nolan (Roanmore) (0-3, frees); Conor Giles Doran (De La Salle); James Flavin (Ardmore); Darragh McGrath (Abbeyside); Donal Power (Passage); Eoghan Murray (Ballyduff Upper) (0-2, frees); Michael O’Brien (Geraldines); Eoin McGrath (Butlerstown); Harry Ruddle Redmond (Ballygunner) (1-0); Jack Prendergast (Lismore( (0-1); Dylan Guiry (Fourmilewater); Cathal Curran (Brickey Rangers) (0-1); Michael Mahony (Ballygunner) (0-1); Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) (0-2); Tommy Douglas (De La Salle).