Cork vs Waterford: Jamesie O’Connor questions if the Rebels have the stomach for a battle

Cork get their championship under way on Saturday, but there are some questions surrounding the Lee-siders.

Is there still a soft centre?

We all know the heights which they can achieve. On their day, when Mark Coleman and Patrick Horgan are on-song, the Rebels are a joy to watch. There is pace all over the team, and real firepower up front.

But going into last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, Kilkenny knew they could win by dragging Cork into the trenches. The Cats made it a physical battle.

Brian Cody’s side had just come off the disappointment of losing a Leinster final, and I really fancied Cork to win. But Kilkenny won emphatically at the end, and the margin would have been greater were it not for Horgan’s heroics.

Still you have to wonder; has Kieran Kingston solved Cork’s problems in the key positions at 3 and 6?

Have they got enough ‘dogs’ in the middle of the field, that when the going gets really tough, are able to win the dirty ball and grind out a win?

I don’t know if Cork’s work-rate and intensity is up to scratch. You just have that question mark around them.

And yet there are positives. They find themselves on the other side of the draw to Limerick and Tipperary.

Their club championship finished later, so they have had limited preparation time. But the longer they stay in the championship, the more dangerous they could become. We all know what they can do going forward. If they can find that defensive stability, I think they are a dark horse.

On their day, they are capable of beating anybody.

Don’t forget, they went to the Gaelic Grounds last year and beat the Treaty off the back of a real drubbing at home to Tipp.

But nobody can answer questions about Cork’s soft centre, other than the Cork players. Until they do it in a big game where they go toe-to-toe with a top side, having to go to the well, those doubts will remain.

I still think Limerick, Tipp, Kilkenny and maybe Galway will all feel that when it comes down to it, in a real championship match when it gets physical and dirty in a dog-eat-dog scenario, all those teams feel they have Cork’s number in that kind of a game.

Can the Deise cope without Mahony?

Looking at Waterford, Pauric Mahony is a massive loss. He’s been doing it consistently for both club and county in recent years, and is simply a guy you cannot afford to lose.

It’s not a case where Waterford are blessed with marquee forwards, and they’re not going to find a replacement for him straight away. It’s a serious blow to their chances.

Liam Cahill went in and made some big calls, dropping Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan. He wanted to put his own stamp on it.

From what I’ve heard, they are in a good place. The spirit is high in the panel. Their club championship finished up relatively early, so they have enjoyed the benefit of a long lead-in time to the championship.

Given what happened in 2018 and 2019, there’s a certain level of pressure on them to perform and front up. I think we’ll see that.

But are they good enough? Have they enough scoring threats to live with Cork? Have they enough pace at the back to cope with what Cork will throw at them?

That remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt, I think they will be competitive. They will be coming to Thurles, feeling they have a plan to beat Cork.

Whether they have what it takes to put enough scores on the board remains to be seen.

But win or lose on Saturday, it won’t be the end of the world for Cahill. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take time if they are to return to their 2017 levels. The Tipp native will be viewing this as a long-term project.

Wexford vs Galway

I spoke about Dublin’s chance against Kilkenny on Monday, but there is another big Leinster game this weekend.

Galway have had Wexford’s number in recent years. Even last season, the Yellowbellies had several opportunities to win in Salthill, but were unable to get over the line.

So I don’t think the Tribesmen have any fear of the reigning Leinster champions.

I’ve heard Wexford played a challenge game against Limerick in recent weeks, and were comprehensively beaten. That could have been a setback to Davy Fitzgerald’s side. But maybe it’s good to get that jolt of reality before the championship starts.

Wexford took a big step forward last year, and nobody has had more time to prepare their team than Davy Fitzgerald since the club season ended. That has to be an advantage.

Galway didn’t have Joe Canning last year. The 2017 Hurler of the Year is now back. But they are missing some big names; there’s no Johnny Glynn or Joseph Cooney, while Daithi Burke is an injury doubt.

Burke would be a massive loss. On that basis, I give Wexford the edge, but narrowly. That’s probably the one thing that decides it. The Turloughmore man’s presence on the edge of the square gives real solidity. Along with Canning, he’s been Galway’s most important player. If he is not available, that tips the scales in Wexford’s favour in my view.

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