Don’t write off the Rebels - youth and veterans offer potent mix

The most disappointed supporters leaving Semple Stadium after the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals on Sunday week were from Waterford. Many left immediately after their clash with Cork, very dejected and they didn’t watch the second game between Kilkenny and Limerick.

The most disappointed supporters leaving Semple Stadium after the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals on Sunday week were from Waterford. Many left immediately after their clash with Cork, very dejected and they didn’t watch the second game between Kilkenny and Limerick.

I am not sure where the Déise go from here. With time almost up Waterford looked to be heading for a semi-final clash with Galway, but they had not reckoned on an impressive late rally from Cork. The easy way of summarising the result was that Cork had a decent substitutes benchmark, whereas their opponents was badly found wanting in this department.

Inter-county squads now have 26 players togged out for every game and all of them must be capable of stepping up to the plate when the need arises.

Waterford substitutes Eoin McGrath and Shane Casey had decent chances in the closing stages to make the game safe, but they fluffed two decent scoring opportunities.

Walsh a big loss

Unfortunately for the Déise they lost their full-forward Shane Walsh at a crucial stage, but neither McGrath nor Casey offered any threat to the Cork rearguard when introduced.

The result of games often comes down to individual brilliance or a missed scoring opportunity. Had Waterford taken even one of those late goal-scoring chances they would now be preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final.

However, it should never have come down to relying on those late scoring chances. The Déise, without ever being overly impressive, were in control for long periods in the second half.

Such was their dominance that the Cork selectors were forced into making a raft of changes, plus introducing some fresh legs. And that is where the Cork bench came up trumps.

I am puzzled as to why Cathal Naughton has not nailed down a permanent place on the Cork team by now as he made a telling impact when introduced.

The Waterford mentors were very slow to notice that he was placed on Tony Browne. At such a crucial period of the game it was unreasonable to expect Browne to match Naughton for pace.

By the time Waterford realised they had a problem the damage was done. Brown was withdrawn. It may well be the last time we will see this outstanding hurler in inter-county action.

It is truly a shame that he will now most likely leave the hurling stage without a Celtic Cross. Oh the unfairness of sport!

The introduction of Darren Sweetnam to midfield was another reason why Cork won. His ability to carry the ball at speed worked well against a tiring rearguard. Sweetnam is young, athletic and very mobile. He still has a lot to learn at inter-county level, but he is definitely a player of immense promise.

Perhaps most important of all, Cork owes its success against Waterford to a superb second half performance from Sean Óg Ó hAilpín and the introduction of John Gardiner. We thought Ó hAilpín’s best days were behind him, but no Cork player did more than the Na Piarsaigh clubman to secure this famous victory.

Defence looked more securre

John Gardiner may not have handled a lot of ball in the relatively short time he was on the field, but the defence looked a lot more secure with him at its heart.

The performances of these veterans should see them start against Galway. After all the players that Cork has used since the start of the year, it is ironic that they may now start the two old stalwarts for its biggest game of the entire year.

The result is a big setback for Waterford. Compounding the disappointment for followers was the capitulation of the county under-21 hurlers one week previously against Clare.

This side won the Munster championship as minors, so there were understandable expectations that 2012 might be a rewarding year at the higher grade.

The core of the current senior side is still good enough to keep the county competitive, but new players are required to make Waterford a serious force once again.

As for Cork, manager Jimmy Barry Murphy was smart enough to realise that a similar performance will not suffice against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. Cork, though, like Croke Park and the famous arena often brings out the best in its players. 

At least that is what all Cork supporters hope will happen on August 12. They will enter the game as underdogs, but one can never write off the Rebels at this stage of the championship.