Kevin Moran in action for Waterford against Cork in the 2020 Munster SHC. The Déise are looking for a third win in a row over the Rebels on Sunday. Photos: Inpho.
Tomorrow (Sunday, May 9) – Pairc Uí Chaoimh 3.45 p.m. Allianz N.H.L. Div 1A Cork V Waterford
The long wait for a return to hurling ‘Elite’ action is over. Just three weeks from being allowed to return to collective training the opening shots in the 2021 hurling season will be fired this coming weekend with a full round of Allianz League fixtures. As pointed out in recent weeks, it will be the strangest League competition ever with no outright champions. A share of the title will not be a satisfactory outcome for anyone but it is unlikely that the competitive edge will be dulled where players are concerned, not least because the championship looms within two weeks of the final round of League games and championship selection will be based on League performances.
Drawn against Clare in the coming championship Liam Cahill will be happy that he will not be facing ‘The Banner’ in the League as would have been the case had he been drawn against any of the other Munster counties. As things stand the Waterford manager has a one hundred per cent record against Cork since taking over the reins at the start of last year and will be quite happy if he can maintain that record on Sunday.
Kieran Kingston, on the other hand, will be looking to this game on home soil to provide a confidence boosting win for his players having come in for strong criticism from supporters following the 1-28 to 1-24 championship defeat by Waterford last year. Cork did redeem themselves somewhat with a good win over Dublin in the qualifiers before going out to defending All-Ireland champions Tipperary in a very close game with a side that showed five changes in personnel from that which had lost to Waterford. With Patrick Collins likely to replace the retired Anthony Nash in goal it can be expected that the Cork lineout on Sunday will be very close to the fifteen that faced Tipperary in their last game.
What then of the Waterford lineout? This will be the first game since the All-Ireland Final loss to Limerick and while much has been written of the outstanding Limerick performance on that December day it is freely acknowledged that Waterford’s performance fell short of what had been produced in the earlier victories over Cork, Clare and Kilkenny and even the Munster Final defeat by Limerick.
In what was a strange interview after Christmas and before the second lockdown, Liam Cahill said that he was not happy with the attitude in the camp going into the All Ireland final. It was said that a training game a week after the win over Kilkenny saw the ‘B’ team beat the first choice side and he saw that things were not quite right. Dropping players then was not an option going into the final.
Now, we face into a new campaign with virtually the same panel of players with one or two deletions and additions, and from Sunday next attitude and performance will determine what fifteen lines out against Clare in the championship. That is what it is all about now.
In outlining the current panel last week we erroneously omitted Tourin’s Shane Fives. With Tadhg de Burca and Pauric Mahony presumably ruled out of contention for at least the early part of the League, if not all of it, there is a familiar look about the list of players available going into this year’s campaign. There are five League games, enough for the manager and his selectors to provide game time to every player on the panel. Regulations require that a list of 32 players be submitted as the official panel. It remains to be seen what changes, if any, will be made from the side defeated in the All-Ireland final other than that enforced by the departure of Stephen O’Keeffe and the injury to Tadhg de Burca.
An early two points from the Cork game with a home game against Westmeath to follow a week later would be enough to rule out any prospect of a relegation playoff. With that objective in mind, I would expect the selectors to field their strongest available team on Sunday. Given the late start to the campaign, resulting from the three month lockdown, fitness is going to play a big part where county team success is concerned. With collective county team training having resumed just two weeks from yesterday (Monday) players will have had their fitness levels closely monitored on their return and I have no doubt the results will play a big part where the team selection is concerned.
The Waterford team to face Cork tomorrow shows nine of the team that faced Limerick in December’s All-Ireland Final.
Assuming all are fit and well and players are applying themselves to the satisfaction of the management it will be interesting to see how the team will line out on Sunday. The goalkeeping position is between Billy Nolan and De La Salle’s Shaun O’Brien with Nolan the more experienced and likely to feature in the opening game. Team captain Conor Prunty and Shane McNulty are certain to fill their normal positions in the fullback line with Ian Kenny possibly being challenged by a fit Shane Fives for the other corner. The absence of Tadhg de Burca leaves a question hanging over the centre back position. We could see Iarlaith Daly straight in at centre back with Calum Lyons and Kevin Moran on the wings. Another option would be to introduce Shane Bennett straight into the halfback line, an area to which he is no stranger. One man however, who must come strongly into the reckoning and could fill any position in defence or midfield is Dungarvan’s Darragh Lyons whose contributions, when introduced off the bench in every championship game last year, were enormous.
Jamie Barron will certainly line out in midfield and could be partnered by Darragh Lyons while Conor Gleeson will also be seen to be in contention with Kieran Bennett. In attack, Stephen Bennett will be at full forward, Austin Gleeson at centre forward and Dessie Hutchinson in the corner. Jack Prendergast, Neil Montgomery and Jack Fagan all started in the All Ireland final and again will be strong contenders for places. It is in this area that the big calls will have to be made with Shane Bennett back in the fold and experienced players like Patrick Curran, Jake Dillon, Mikey Kearney, Colin Dunford, Mark O’Brien, Peter Hogan and D. J. Foran all putting on pressure for selection and others such as Billy Power, Kieran Power, Michael Kiely, Thomas Douglas and Ciaran Kirwan awaiting their chance.
Indeed, looking at the panel one would have to suggest that it is top heavy with midfield and attacking options with Kieran Power the only newcomer who could play in defence or midfield.
Abbeyside’s Conor Prunty will captain Waterford in 2021 after taking over the role from the injured Pauric Mahony in 2020.
LIVE ON TG4
As things stand it is unlikely that there will be opportunities to fit in challenge games. Performances in the League will see championship places secured or lost. The manager and his selectors are the ones watching the players in training and their selection will be based on what they see and not how players performed last year.
Cork were hurt by last year’s Munster semi-final defeat by Waterford and will be flat out for victory on Sunday. It was a far better Cork side that faced Tipperary than that which faced Waterford with Conor Spillane, Luke Meade, Declan Dalton and Rob O’Flynn on board and much the same line up can be expected on Sunday with danger man Patrick Horgan again leading the attack.
With or without supporters present, beating Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh is always going to be a big task and so it will be for Waterford on Sunday. The game is live on TG4.
NB: This preview was written before the team was announced on Friday night.
Report, reaction and analysis in Tuesday’s Waterford News & Star.