First of all, congratulations to the Waterford team and the team management which put out a side which was highly motivated, well drilled and organised, and played with a high level of skill. This was indeed a great boost to all Waterford hurling followers. The newcomers did themselves proud and while their decision-making and shot selection were not always the best, these are issues which will improve with experience.
We should have been further ahead at half time, but after Austin Gleeson's wonder goal and Waterford's follow-up points, if Cork had not got their rather fortunate goal when they did, it is doubtful if they would have come back the way they did. However, as they gained momentum, with ten minutes left I would have been quite happy with a draw. In those ten minutes Waterford dug deep to stem the tide, with Brick Walsh an enormous calming and defiant influence, as he repeatedly won possession and carried the ball out of defence. Those who have been telling me that he is finished got their answer here.
The big pluses for Waterford were not only the tremendous debut performances of Austin Gleeson and Tadhg de Búrca, but (to my mind) best-ever championship performances by Brian O'Sullivan and Páuric Mahony (who I thought should have got the man of the match award).
For all the good work the mentors did before and on the day, they will readily acknowledge that they made some mistakes which need to be rectified for the replay. Cork obviously had worked a lot on sending good low ball at every opportunity into Alan Cadogan. He was on fire on the day and I don't think there was much Barry Coughlan could have done in the situation. Cork also gave a good supply to Conor Lehane in the second half and on another day he would have punished us more.
Part of the problem here was that Stephen O'Keeffe (presumably following instructions) persisted in hitting puckouts out to the left in the second half, targetting Pauric Mahony. While the latter did win a couple of good balls, for the most part Cork dominated on these puckouts which put them into a position to feed Cadogan and Lehane. One of the reasons Waterford were able to stem the tide was a switch late in the game to sending puckouts down the right hand side (again, I presume O'Keeffe was acting on instructions).
Overall, Waterford won just three of nine puckouts sent down the left, while they won seven of ten puckouts sent down the right. Aidan Walsh is particularly strong under the high ball, and the instruction for the replay should be for O'Keeffe to keep his long puckouts away from wherever Walsh is located. Waterford also made good use of short or directed puckouts during the game. There were ten of these in all, and in most cases they retained possession from the follow-on plays following these puckouts.
Waterford should also have put a man-marker on Patrick Horgan when he moved out the field in the second half. I would have deployed Tadhg de Búrca for this task, moving Noel Connors onto Cadogan and switching Coughlan/Fives to the right corner.
Waterford's substitution policy in the second half went seriously awry. With several players suffering from cramps, at least one substitute should have been kept in reserve as an injury replacement. We ended up with 14 effective players on the pitch and ran the risk of further aggravating Austin Gleeson's injury by leaving him on the pitch. He, rather than Shane Walsh, should have been taken off when Seamus Prendergast came on.
The replacement of Colin Dunford was also a mistake, in my view. Ray Barry did not make one play following his introduction. Dunford had made eight plays by the time he was replaced, and while most of these were in the first half, his good run and pass had led to a Waterford score shortly before he was taken off. While his option-taking and shooting were poor, he was still causing a lot of problems for the Cork defence.
The Waterford mentors also need to do more work on eradicating blind clearances from the Waterford half back line. Cork clearly were well drilled in having players in support of those in possession in this area, and in having the latter give the short pass rather than hitting the ball long and blind. I counted twelve instances of blind clearances like this from Waterford which were gobbled up by unmarked Cork defenders.
I did a count of the number of plays each Waterford player made and it makes for interesting reading. At the game itself, I thought Kevin Moran was quiet enough, which I put down to Cork concentrating on playing the wings and avoiding playing the ball down the middle (also a feature of their intermediate team). In fact, Moran had more plays than any other Waterford player, at 17, of which 10 came in the second half. Next in line was Brick Walsh with 15 plays (nine in the second half), followed by Jamie Nagle and Pauric Mahony with 13 each, Austin Gleeson with 12 (10 in the first half) and Brian O'Sullivan with 11. Richie Foley also got on the ball a lot (10 plays) but he tended to waste possession through poor striking and other errors.
I counted 33 instances of errors and poor play (not including shots that went wide). A lot of these were down to inexperience but there were also a lot of errors on the part of more established members of the team. We will have to cut down on these if we are to make progress. I have listed below the number of plays by each player in the first and second halves and in total (these exclude puckouts and frees).
I think the same team deserves to start the next day, with Shane O'Sullivan coming in for Eddie Barrett. In the likely event of some players malfunctioning, the mentors need to be quick to use a bench which presumably will include Darragh Fives and Stephen Molumphy. I would like to see Paudie Prendergast and Shane McNulty moving up the list of potential substitutes, with Donie Breathnach also hopefully being given another opportunity to show what he is capable of.
As regards the intermediates, I thought the defence did quite well until they were swamped late on with Cork owning the ball in the midfield area and Peter O'Brian doing woeful damage, especially when he moved to full forward. What has become of DJ Foran who was listed as a substitute but was not brought on even when Waterford were desperately in need of a ballwinner in the closing stages? The substitutes Waterford did bring on were ineffectual and Tommy Connors was very disappointing. It was a mistake not playing Michael Harney in defence as he clearly is better facing the dropping ball.
It is a pity about Ryan Donnelly being removed from the senior panel, as his two goals here, and one goal assist, show what he is capable of.
Play count: Stephen O'Keeffe (2/5/7); Noel Connors (5/1/6); Liam Lawlor (4/2/6); Jamie Nagle (8/5/13); Kevin Moran (7/10/17); Tadhg de Búrca (8/4/12); Brick Walsh (6/9/15); Eddie Barrett (2); Colin Dunford (7/1/8); Pauric Mahony (6/7/13); Austin Gleeson (10/2/12); Brian O'Sullivan (6/5/11); Shane Walsh (1/3/4); Jake Dillon (7/3/10); Richie Foley (4/6/10); Shane Fives (4); Ray Barry (0); Donie Breathnach (3); Seamus Prendergast (5).