After the same team in the All-Ireland semi finals for the last two years, there was talk of an established top 4 in the game of hurling heading into 2017. Now, on the 18th June, three of those teams go into tomorrow's qualifier draw and only Galway have survived the provincial championships.
Cork's five point win over Waterford today was comfortable in the end, proving their outstanding win over Tipperary in the last round was no fluke and they are real All-Ireland contenders. They will meet Clare on 9th July in a repeat of the 2013 All-Ireland final, the last time a hurling championship was this unpredictable.
On the other hand, Waterford will be very disappointed with their performance today. They scored just 1-5 in the second half, and fell victim to ill discipline and poor decision making as the game got away from them. 16 wides reflects this decision making flaw.
Former captain and legend of the county Ken McGrath was doing analysis on RTE and didn't mince his words when he came to what he thought of the performance.
Ken McGrath Savages Waterford:
Ken McGrath says there will be some soul-searching in Waterford after a "leaderless" and "rudderless" display. pic.twitter.com/U9AUb8MM9q
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) June 18, 2017
A lot of Waterford fans seemed to share McGrath's sentiment after the game.
Very disappointing display by Waterford ,cork deserved to win..
We had no clue what we were meant too be doing ...oh and the referee #joke
— Padraigh Jon Halpin (@juniorhalpin) June 18, 2017
After a period of relative success without silverware under Derek McGrath, who has undoubtedly done a great job in charge of Waterford, Déise fans were expecting a step up this year. Unfortunately, their display didn't match these expectations and the leadership points from Ken McGrath appear very apt.
Austin Gleeson won last year's Hurler of the Year award and is clearly someone the team look to for inspiration, and while he offered it in one of the most spectacular moments you'll see on a hurling field, he wasn't involved enough in the rest of the game, and faded more and more as the game went on, so much so he was taken off in the 62nd minute with his team trailing.
Between wides and ill discipline, it seemed as though Waterford didn't keep their head in the game late on. That's a question management will have to answer. In injury time, playing against 14 men, they kept their defensive shape, and didn't deploy a full forward line inside the 21 metre line. Does that come from a management structure that doesn't allow a team to adapt in special circumstances?
McGrath claimed on RTE that he always feared their system would hinder their ability to come from behind in a game like this, and that was borne out in the second half today.
In fairness to Derek McGrath and Waterford, they were hammered in a Munster Final last year, and managed to come back to very, very nearly beat Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi final. There's no reason to think they won't adapt again this summer and still produce something. The problem is that Tipperary and Kilkenny await in the qualifiers and they might not have much time to make those adjustments.