NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE FINAL CORK V WATERFORD .

Before I preview the big match I must mention my horse running in the last at Punchestown today [Saturday ] in the 6 10 . His name is John Ross Culllinan and we think a bit of him but he will need the run this time so therefore no bet. I hope he can finish in mid division with a view to winning later on in the campaign and the all conquering Willie Mullins and Ryanair have the hot favourite  [Nambour] and he is the one to beat and there is also good word also for the J P McManus owned After Rain. Speaking of rain, if the expected two inches come  between now at race time we might be a non runner as my fellow prefers better ground.

Cork v Waterford.

Firstly, there is an awful lot of nonsense being spoken about Cork’s intentions towards this final. Let’s put that to rest straight away. Cork will be trying for their lives, as will Waterford. Yes, both teams will be reviewing the game afterwards as to how they will be better able to deal with each other for the Munster Semi Final but that is an aside from the business at hand on Sunday. Some Cork supporters have been making noises about missing one or two players but I feel the team they have selected cannot be improved on that much whereas  I have a suspicion that it will be us [Waterford] that will have a little up our sleeve for the Munster game as regards possible changes and a finessing of our tactics.I am talking  primarily here about  Darragh Fives and Stephen Daniels who could easily be figuring come the big day  in five weeks time. You can also add in Shane Bennett .

Our full-back line will be the same one that started every game this year. Barry Coughlan has come under a lot of scrutiny so far in the campaign and in my opinion has done very well. In the modern game, full-back has become a difficult position to play. Look at all the Division I A teams and the top division 1B teams, every one of them has had problems with the full-back this year. Paul Murphy for Kilkenny, Conor O’Mahony and Paul Curran for Tipperary, Richie McCarthy of Limerick ( roasted against Dublin), Cork, Clare, Galway and Wexford have no recognised full-back going into the championship as we speak, dare I say it but Waterford are more secure in that position than any of the other top teams, and with Noel Connors and Shane Fives in the corners, it has become a solid full-back line.

The half back line have been solid all year long. Tadgh De Burca has been very impressive at centre back, he is a very versatile player and can play wing back or play as a sweeper as he did against Tipperary. Seamus Harnedy will more than likely start at centre forward for Cork, like Brendan Maher did for Tipperary, he will probably try to drag Tadgh out the field. If this happens we are likely to see him dropping back into a sweeper’s role with Jamie Barron picking up Harnedy and playing as centre back as he did against Tipperary. Philip Mahoney and Austin Gleeson will again play the wing back positions, both have had excellent campaigns so far this year and will need to be at their best again on Sunday. Ozzy is a very exciting young talent and has the ability to play anywhere on the field and in my opinion he is best utilised in the forward line, his willingness to run with the ball and his natural striking ability would make him an extremely dangerous player from the half forward line up. With the type of system that we are playing and with Fives and Daniels ready to come back, I feel moving Ozzy to the forward line will only strengthen our team come the Championship. Philip Mahoney is another extremely versatile player. He could play anywhere in the half back line, full-back or in the midfield area, in my opinion he is one of the best defenders in the game at present.

Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran will again start centre field on Sunday and they are developing a great understanding and rapidly turning in to one of the best midfield partnerships in the country. I never had any doubt about Jamie Barron and I believe he will become one of the top midfielders in the game over the next few years. Small but brave with fantastic technical ability, he has great vision and is a fantastic link player between the half backline and forwards, he can also score and is a very good defender as he showed when going back centre back against Tipperary in the semi-final. Kevin Moran was back to his best in the semi-final and his ability to run at defenders is a great asset to this Waterford  team. With  Aidan Walsh and Daniel Kearney likely to start centre field for Cork, this should be a great battle and one which I believe that Waterford will win, and from here I think we will build a platform to go on and win this final.

Our gameplan is predicated on our half forwards and at least one or even two of our inside line  dropping deep, especially Brick and there is a huge demand on those  to cover a vast amount of ground and also forage for possession which is very energy sapping. That is why our substitutions are so vital and Tom Devine will play a pivotal part here , as he has done in the last few matches. His strength, power, agility and no frills attitude really upsets the opposition, his hurling is not bad either. Brick and Bennett are our go to men from our puckouts and will win their share of them and therefore setting up our attack with Dunford in particular running from deep. The latter remains our most potent threat for goals and he has some knack of being in the right place at the right time, he has so much much pace and a good turn on him and will take on anybody. Bennett’s role rather stifles his undoubted threat for the net as he is asked to play too far away from the posts but he is growing in confidence all the while and with this rather questionable Cork rearguard he could really prosper this time. Maurice had a super game the last day and he really blossomed in the second half from the right wing forward position winning loads of possession and scoring two points whereas the Brick suffered slightly inside playing the lone wolf role, much the same way that Bennett had done previously against Galway. That is without doubt the toughest position to play in our system and yet if Dunford had been spotted when one on one late on in the Tipp game he would have went to town on them but we went for two or three long range efforts instead which went wide. I would love to see Bennett playing a more orthodox forward role with a semblance of support and in those circumstances he can get goals, much like Dunford, those two could be our key men Sunday. Of course we will be looking to Maurice and Jake for points to go with our customary other  long range efforts. Pauric Mahoney has been fantastic on the frees for Waterford this year, but something that has  often been overlooked is his contribution from general play. He put in a massive shift against Galway and Tipperary and has become a vital player for us.

While both teams are likely to be short a few that would probably start come championship time, this is a great chance for players to nail down a championship start. Cork go in as the bookies favourites – which  is due more to the ignorance of the media rather than any in-depth hurling analysis,  this is a 50-50 game, make no mistake about it. A lot has been spoken about Waterford’s defensive style of hurling, but what the hurling pundits seem to ignore is that Kilkenny have been doing this for 10 years or so, Tipperary did it last year in the all Ireland final and  Clare play the same system all the time. When trying to explain Waterford’s rise this year, lazy pundits have put it down to a new defensive system devised by Derek McGrath, which of course is rubbish, there are some seriously talented young players in this setup and it was only a matter of time before we began to see the results. Cork will be a massive test for this team on Sunday, they have some of the best forwards playing the game at present and one of the best midfields behind them, so it will take a big performance from Waterford to be crowned league champions by 5 o’clock Sunday evening. I am betting that this will be the case.

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