Shane Stapleton casts an eye towards Cork and the Deise's clash
An interesting fact: the last time Waterford won the All-Ireland, they climbed much the same obstacles in much the same way.
Level after 70 minutes against Kilkenny, check; needing to put down Cork, check; having to account for Galway, check.
History has a way, doesn’t it? That most recent triumph was back in the 1959 All-Ireland hurling championship, providing perhaps a warped parallel for what could come 58 years on.
All three teams named above must fall by a Deise sword for this great famine to end. So as to match what Tom Cheasty did in the final year of the fifties — gliding past Marble defenders who were akin to “dying wasps”, as Micheal O Hehir put it — en route to the Liam MacCarthy.
Galway, the current Leinster champions, were then playing for the first time in the Munster championship. A minnow then; a shark in waiting now.
Famous TV chef Julia Child had a great line which said “don’t crowd the mushrooms”. Now that Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade have appeared overnight, as only good young Cork hurlers can, they’ll want room against the Deise.
That’s something that they’re unlikely to get against Derek McGrath’s side. Whether the centre-back sits or a full-time sweeper is employed, Waterford will be flooding the middle and hoping to squeeze the life out of the Rebels.
Not that it’s a young Cork side in the overall sense; the average age of the side is 24.5 years. Indeed, ten of those who started the Munster final win over Clare also walked in the parade for the All-Ireland semi-final of 2014. So this is not new territory; no more so than it is for a Deise side playing a fourth semi-final in the three seasons since.
When the teams met in Munster 2017, an experimental Waterford side had collapsed in a league quarter-final against Galway and would face an 11-week gap to the Munster semi-final — with a couple of rounds of club in between.
Cork had Tipperary up first and were hopping off the sod by the time they shocked the Decies.
“The guys had two weeks of club championship so the cocooning of players was going to happen anyway because the seven-week run-in was seven weeks because there was no championship game because we were in the semi-final already,” Derek McGrath told WLR FM recently.
“What I would look back on forcefully and say is that in my four years involved we prepared as well as we ever did in terms of our training camp. I would wholeheartedly stand over those particular claims.
“I left Fota Island on the Sunday morning to go to some match, maybe Limerick and Clare, and I left with a sense of satisfaction that we were really ready for this game.
“Indirectly between the two weeks or 10 days before the game, I think we leant on the fact that we had gone so well in Fota that we over-talked it to the fact that it became ingrained that all we had to do was turn up on the field.
“We said to ourselves in a lot of our team talks, ‘Jesus if we can reproduce what we did in Fota…’ so psychologically we almost played the game in Fota.”
The script has now been flipped. This time Cork face into the same five-week gap that saw them sundered by Tipp in August three years ago; Waterford have 160 minutes of action under their belts since then.
In the throes of ash this Sunday, the match-ups are going to be crucial. Can Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan and Noel Connors hold Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan?
Has Conor Lehane’s ankle recovered fully, and therefore will he reach peak Conor Lehane?
McGrath found a great mismatch in isolating Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh on Willie Devereaux early on during the Wexford win, with the Stradbally man having a direct hand in five of the first eight scores — and it would’ve been six of nine had another Pauric Mahony free gone over. Perhaps the experience of Brick could discommode novices Coleman or Colm Spillane.
Can Cork afford not to man-mark Austin Gleeson? Conversely, when a danger-man floats from centre-forward and is followed, it can destabilise a defence. It’s a quandary for Kieran Kingston.
Both managers will have to accept that a Gleeson, Lehane, Horgan or a Jamie Barron will weave magic at some point. Fair play to them, and move on.
With the Deise likely to regain their bounce as Mayo did on Bank Holiday Monday, and their deep-lying player intending to mire the Rebels attackers in traffic, this should be a very different game from Munster.
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