Brian Flannery

After a three week break Waterford senior hurlers welcome Cork to Walsh Park this Sunday 2pm.

The narrative is quite simple. A Waterford win will guarantee their progression to the All-Ireland series and set up in effect a Munster semi-final the following week for the trip to Ennis.

Defeat for Liam Cahill’s charges would leave qualification on a knife-edge with the away fixture to Clare then a must win tie.

Limerick, after their latest victory, are waiting in the Munster final with the winners of Clare v Waterford likely to provide their opposition.

It seemed as if Limerick just played for the final ten minutes against Tipperary to win comfortably in the end by seven points.

Waterford’s Roger Casey gets the evil eye from Tipperary manager Colm Bonnar during the Munster Championship game at Walsh Park.

Tipperary are the first of the Liam McCarthy teams already out of the championship. Manager Colm Bonnar must be cursing his luck and timing to inherit the job of managing his native county at a time where they appear ill equipped to compete with their Munster neighbours.

The retirements of Brendan Maher, Paidi Maher when added to the absence through injury of Seamus Callanan, John McGrath and Jason Forde must surely leave the Dunhill resident feeling short-changed.

Tipp face Cork in their final game with nothing to play for. Some consolation for Tipperary supporters will be the performances of their U20 team who went down narrowly to Limerick in the Munster final with their minor hurlers also showing plenty of promise so far this season.

For Cork too the machinations are rather clear cut. A win against Waterford is the only result that will give their final game, a trip to Tipp any meaning.

On the face of it Cork have everything to play for then. However given how disappointing and poor the Rebels were in their defeats to both Limerick and Clare; few will back Cork progressing out of the Munster round-robin.

When you also consider that Waterford have never been beaten in a competitive game (league or championship) under Liam Cahill at Walsh Park; you can see the reasoning behind the respective expectations going into this game.

Conor Prunty leads Waterford out against Limerick. Prunty may return to full back because of the injury to Iarlaith Daly.

There is still a fair level of jeopardy for Waterford in this game, enough to shake away any level of complacency. A Cork win would not only give Kieran Kingston’s men two valuable points but also a head-to-head advantage over the Déise.

The double digit defeat to Waterford in the league final in addition to their supine efforts in the championship to date must still be in the heads of the Cork players.

Waterford’s Calum Lyons was in top class form against Limerick and here he is scoring another great point on the run. Photos: Noel Browne

The biggest criticism of Cork is that they have not learned from last season’s All-Ireland defeat. You just can’t win big games the way Cork defend. The lack of a dominant full-back and centre-back have continually hampered this edition of Cork senior hurling.

Despite having noted defenders Donal O’Grady and Diarmuid O’Sullivan as part of the Cork backroom team the simplest concept of defending, protect your goal appears lost on the majority of their would-be defenders.

Robert Downey, Damien Cahalane and Daire O’Leary have all featured in the number three jersey with Mark Coleman being moved out of the pivotal centre-back position with Ciaran Joyce likely to start at six this Sunday. Not awe inspiring to be frank. Cork forwards too have questions marks. The recalled Conor Lehane, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan have struggled to find their best form while Jack O’Connor appears to have lost the dash he displayed in 2021.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston spoke about how criticism had affected players before their defeat to Clare last time out. If true it doesn’t bode well for Cork players this Sunday. The feeling among Cork supporters is that players are under-performing but perhaps they are just not good enough against the very best teams.

Waterford impressed in getting the result against Tipperary in the opening game and getting a performance last time out to reigning champions Limerick.

Little was lost at the Gaelic grounds with Waterford’s last rally through goals from Jack Prendergast and Stephen Bennett almost rescuing the situation.

The loss of Iarlaith Daly reduces the defensive options greatly with Conor Prunty certain to return to full-back with Tadhg de Búrca in front of him.

De Búrca has yet to hit top form this year having returned from his long-term injury but this Sunday is another opportunity to build momentum.

Jamie Barron could well start his first game with Calum Lyons being relocated to number seven with Prunty replacing the injured Iarlaith Daly at full-back.

The forward division will have a familiar look about it with Austin Gleeson, Stephen Bennett, Dessie Hutchinson and Patrick Curran leading the way and carrying the greatest scoring threat with Jack Prendergast and Michael Kiely most likely to complete the sextet.

Darragh Lyons, Carthach Daly, Pauric Mahony and DJ Foran are all waiting in the wings for an opportunity to make an impact off the bench.

Waterford have suffered more than most at the hands of Cork over the years. I hope Waterford supporters make Walsh Park a raucous venue for the visiting Rebels. Home advantage must be that, an advantage. Cahill’s unbeaten run at Walsh Park to continue this Sunday then.