Waterford to halt the Cork charge
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Cork v Waterford (tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, live on RTÉ2 & Sky Sports Arena)
PERHAPS the abiding image of last year's drawn All-Ireland semi-final was Austin Gleeson watching Conor Fogarty's 74th minute equaliser sail between the Hill 16 posts.
Despite producing an exhilarating first hour's hurling and leading for most of that time, Waterford were pilloried for putting their heads back into the shell and letting the Cats off the hook.
As Fogarty's effort landed to level the tie and set up a replay that Kilkenny would win, Gleeson, stood on his own 13', puts his two hands to his helmet. It was as if they knew the error of their ways there and then.
But as with most analysis, the end result sometimes doodles over the whole picture.
The Déise were widely praised for the man-for-man approach that allowed them to cause such strife for Kilkenny. It didn't account for the indecision in their defence, so used to operating with a spare man. Tadhg de Búrca looked lost at times and Richie Hogan profited, dropping off to score four first half points.
Waterford's inside forward line contributed little more than usual, either. Their performance was much more grounded in their middle-third endeavours and, as Brendan Cummins put in commentary that day, the Canal End goals looking like they were forty feet wide in the second half.
De Búrca's name has been the one on everyone's lips since he was sent off towards the end of Waterford's quarter-final win over Wexford for grappling at Harry Kehoe's faceguard.
Despite fighting all the way to the Disputes Resolution Authority, a case that dragged on until 1am on Friday and had the Wexford man's help, Waterford must have spent the last three weeks preparing to play without him.
Derek McGrath will no doubt have looked at the effectiveness of their man-for-man approach in last year's semi-final and considered the idea of going with it again.
But then he'll have the more recent and perhaps even more nagging memory of the Munster semi-final loss to a rookie Cork side less than two months ago, another occasion on which they operated for large periods without a sweeper.
Cork hurt them more inside than Kilkenny did last year, and would do so again if given the freedom. Between the rotating trio of Alan Cadogan, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan, they possess a pace and craft that has been so effective this summer.
Between them they have contributed 1-23 from play across the three games against Tipperary, Waterford and Clare, with Conor Lehane also punching in plenty from a deeper role.
His most noted contribution of the summer was on the puckouts against Tipp and while that tactic hasn't repeated itself, there's a focus on Anthony Nash's restarts that's reminiscent of the days of Donal Óg Cusack.
Nash has been outstanding all summer and was one of the biggest thorns for Waterford in the first meeting. Their half-baked approach to the sweeper system that day left free men and Nash spent the afternoon driving lasers into the hand of Mark Coleman and co.
Even Clare turfing his bag of balls out wasn't enough to stifle influence of a man who has thankfully emerged from the shadow of his penalty-taking style to be seen for the talent that he is.
So much of what's good about Cork can be traced back to that power source. In possession, they have been exceptional but they also haven't to work as hard for that primary ball as others.
That's allowed them to save fuel for the savage workrate they've displayed around the middle third. Waterford's policy of shooting on sight was so brilliantly disrupted in Semple Stadium by the pressure put on by the red shirts that Cork's win was only in doubt for a fleeting moment when Maurice Shanahan's goal levelled the sides on 45 minutes.
Waterford pushed right up on Kilkenny's restarts in that semi-final last year and had great joy out of that, but Eoin Murphy's restarts weren't of the same urgency. They may not be able to push up on Nash unless they employ the all-out strategy from start to finish.
The rawer lesson of what can happen when you leave that Cork inside forward line space to play in will more likely be what dictates their approach.
As efficient as they can be on their day, there are still issues over whether Waterford are getting the best out of some of the country's finest hurlers.
Shanahan may not necessarily be in that bracket but is a major physical presence for any defence to deal with, but it was only when he roamed deep around the middle in the first game that he saw any real ball.
Austin Gleeson's role is the subject of much debate. He was restored to centre-forward by the time of the quarter-final win over Wexford and looked more comfortable there than he had stuck out on the wing earlier in the summer.
Their average (excluding games against Offaly and Laois) of less than a goal a game in Championship under McGrath highlights one of the major issues they'll have against a more fluid and threatening Cork attack.
And yet for all of that, the Déise have plenty loaded in their favour. Revenge for the game eight weeks ago, and the need to bring a performance that they are well capable of to the big stage.
They are the ones with momentum this time, too. For that game they were sitting ducks, 11 weeks out of action from the end of the National League, coming in to face a side buoyed by victory over Tipperary.
That shoe is on Kieran Kingston's foot now as he tries to manage the five-week gap from the Munster final to this.
And then there's the relative youth and inexperience of the Cork side. Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Colm Spillane and Luke Meade were Championship debutants not three months ago. They've shown nothing to suggest that they'll struggle with the occasion but they'd do well to get performances out of them all.
Lastly, too, there'll be a mindset of ‘do it for Tadhg' among the Waterford players. Few things are as powerful as a feeling of having been wronged, even if you weren't.
If Waterford can match Cork's hunger for work around the middle, they have enough to shut the game down better and cut the Rebels' average score of 1-25.
And if Pauric Mahony can match Patrick Horgan in the dead ball war, then it's Waterford that will meet Galway on the first Sunday in September.
Man of the moment
KIERAN Kingston took Horgan off the frees for a while in their Munster opener against Tipperary to try and squeeze that bit more out of him in open play. He hit four points from play against the now-dethroned All-Ireland champions, and followed it up with 0-10 in total (eight from dead balls) in the provincial semi-final clash between these two. With a brilliant haul of 0-13 in the final, he surpassed Christy Ring's record to become Cork's all-time record scorer, having hit 12 goals and 268 points in the Rebel colours. His accuracy is something that Pauric Mahony will have to match at the other end if Waterford are to stand a chance.
Cork (possible): A Nash; S McDonnell, D Cahalane, C Spillane; C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman; B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon; L Meade, C Lehane, S Harnedy; A Cadogan, P Horgan, S Kingston
IT isn't broke so Cork are highly unlikely to want to fix it. The Rebels have gone with the same starting 15 for their three Championship games so far and there is perhaps an issue about a lack of depth to their squad. Michael Cahalane, Luke O'Farrell and Daniel Kearney are the options that Kieran Kingston prefers to go to when the legs start to tire.
Waterford: S O'Keefe; S Fives, B Couglan, N Connors; C Gleeson, D Fives, Philip Mahony; J Barron, K Moran; Stephen Bennett, Pauric Mahony, A Gleeson; M Shanahan, M Walsh, Shane Bennett
THE Tadgh de Búrca saga has dominated the build-up but with the Déise sweeper's final avenue of appeal to the DRA having been exhausted unsuccessfully on Thursday night, there will be at least one change for Derek McGrath's side. It's widely expected that Darragh Fives will move back and assume de Búrca's role, although Austin Gleeson has also been tipped for the sweeping position in some quarters. Otherwise it will be as you were.
Cork tactical take
NOT only have they shown an invention throughout this thrilling campaign, but the Rebels have shown an adaptability when things haven't gone exactly to plan. Isolating Conor Lehane and feeding him puckouts was pivotal against Tipperary – but they've gone short a lot of the time in the two games since. Anthony Nash's restarts are one of their most powerful weapons and if Waterford fail to pressurise them better than they did in Thurles, they will struggle. The Rebels also got great joy that afternoon from the relentlessness of their workrate in the middle third, with Waterford's policy of long-range shots severely disrupted.
Waterford tactical take
AFTER the way their first battle of the summer went, the onus is on Derek McGrath to find something different. The first key question is whether Tadhg de Búrca is replaceable. He is key to their defensive system and a lot is going to fall on Darragh Fives' shoulders if he is indeed the man to step into those big shoes. But there's more than that to fix. Waterford haven't been overly impressive in the Championship barring in spells against Kilkenny. Their lack of presence on the inside line allowed Cork to force mistakes in the middle third back in June, safe in the knowledge the Déise forwards were looking to shoot on almost every occasion. They will need to stretch Cork much more defensively.
Damien Cahalane v Maurice Shanahan
IN the image of his father, former Rebel footballer Niall, Damien Cahalane is a defender that seems to thrive on the big challenge. Took on Maurice Shanahan man-for-man in the first meeting and it was a fascinating battle throughout. Cahalane was physically able for the Lismore forward and shaded their first half encounter. Shanahan got a bit more joy when he came deep in the second half, though there was little Cahalane could have done about his fortuitous goal. Waterford need a big game out of Shanahan inside.
THE blistering sunshine that visited Thurles back in June will be notable by its absence around Croke Park tomorrow afternoon. There are scattered showers forecast but it should still feel relatively warm by Irish standards, considering we had a summer one day there a month ago.
Last championship meeting
2017 Munster SHC semi-final: Cork 0-23 Waterford 1-15
DESPITE having beaten the All-Ireland champions in their first round game, Cork were still viewed as underdogs heading in to meet Waterford.
But they blew that tag to pieces with a superb display in which they only really looked threatened when Maurice Shanahan's 45th minute goal drew the sides level.
That made it 1-12 to 0-15 after the Rebels had opened a deserved four-point lead at the start of the second half, and their confidence wasn't knocked.
Cork finished strongly despite the 62nd minute loss of Colm Spillane to a second booking, finishing with ten different scorers to take a significant step on the road to an unlikely Munster title.
Who's the ref?
James Owens (Wexford)
BOTH sides will be plenty familiar with the Wexford man's style in big games. Owens, who refereed the 2015 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Galway, manned the Munster final between Waterford and Tipperary that year, and was in the middle as the Déise let the Cats off the hook in last year's drawn All-Ireland semi-final. Was also in the middle of Cork's gripping first round win over Tipperary this year, where he let the game flow. Expect much of the same here.
Cork (-2) Evs
Draw (-2) 11/1
Waterford (+2) 10/11
Maurice Shanahan 13/2
Shane Bennett 7/1
Alan Cadogan 8/1