I mustered a smile. What else was there to do? My father is the quintessential optimist. When, with half an hour still to go before throw-in, he predicted (or was it a proclamation?) a Cork victory with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen since the middle of the last decade, I was amused by his apparent delusion. But win Cork did and it was great to have such a relaxing day out.
It was a thoroughly satisfactory performance. Cork played with a physical edge, they hunted in packs, they were energetic, they played smart, direct hurling and more than anything else, they played with a bit of belief. Yes, Waterford were listless and lethargic. But that’s their problem, Cork beat what was in front of them, comfortably. That’s all you can do.
Walsh Park isn’t a nice place to visit. They gravelly greyness of the terraces give it a post-communist feel that the multi-coloured barriers are unable to salvage. It’s hard to imagine that it has changed much in the last forty years. And when Shane Bennet waltzed through for the easiest of goals inside the first five minutes, things looked greyer again.
But there was a response. The heads didn’t go down and Cork played all the hurling in the first half. Luke Meade gets better with every outing, the full-back line looked solid while Bill Cooper, Lorcán McLoughlin and Dean Brosnan had the upper hand in the middle third. Séamus Harnedy edged closer to his true form while Conor Lehane looks like a different player this year.
Even those who weren’t at their best were working hard, trying to make it happen. For the first time in a while, we got a bit of luck too, Mark Coleman being in the right place at the right time on the goal-line.
The seven-point lead at half time didn’t flatter Cork at all. However, the mood at half-time was still anxious. I met some kindred souls whose optimism was tempered by the worry that if Waterford got on a roll, playing with the elements, the wind might go out of Cork’s sails. It would be a good test.
Michael Cahalane helped ease the anxiety by stretching the lead to eight straight away but then Waterford reeled off four-in-a-row to half the lead. We’d been here before this year. What made it more frustrating was that the scores were coming, for the most part, from needless frees.
But on Sunday Cork found their way out of the rut. Meade and Brosnan pointed before Meade again pounced for a sublime goal after great work from Shane Kingston. Game over, pretty much, with twenty minute to go. Cork just did what was necessary for what was left of the game, and did it well.
What was most pleasing about the performance was that reaction after half-time, that ability to break the momentum of the opposition and find a way back into the game. Against Dublin and Kilkenny the game just got away from Cork at crucial stages. But it didn’t happen on Sunday.
They were also much better on the breaking-ball and in preventing Waterford from gaining primary possession. The nature of Walsh Park meant that you could hear the players quite a bit too and they were ordering each other around, encouraging each other and showing signs of leadership.
The story of the day was obviously Michael Cahalane. It was simply great to see him playing and even better to see him play so well on his introduction. He also highlights another improvement in affairs. The introduction of the younger players seems to have created genuine competition for places in the Cork team. This can only be good for the future. Places will be earned, as they should be.
Of course it wasn’t a perfect performance, but there was both progress and potential to be seen. And that’s what the league is for, or so we are told anyway. Nobody will be getting carried away with Sunday, but it’s nice to have the pressure off for a couple of weeks, to have something positive to talk about and to remember. That’s important too. Already I’m really looking forward to the visit of Tipperary. We’ll have a clearer picture of where we’re going then.
The drive home was a pleasure. Instead of the blank, thousand-yard stare into the distance, counting the kilometres back to place of comfort, we could enjoy the scenery. As was pointed out to us as we left the stadium, we could even turn on the radio! And there was no debate whatsoever when it came to League Sunday and Room to Improve.