1. Can the goals be stopped?
While a clean sheet was kept in the last league game against Down, the three games before that – with the same six starting defenders each time – saw five goals allowed. The argument against plain leakiness being the reason is that the backs weren’t provided with sufficient cover from those in front of them, and it’s an article of faith that the attack has to be the first line of defence. Without dismissing Waterford, it’s likely that Cork will beat them but last year Tipperary scored three goals against the Rebels and the same cannot be allowed to happen.
2. Do we know the best Cork team?
At the outset of the season, Cork selector Eoin O’Neill pinpointed the need for consistency in terms of team make-up, believing that that would lead to greater consistency on the scoreboard. In the latter part of the league, there was certainly an indication that things were going that way, with a more settled look to the defence and midfield, if the attack remained a bit nebulous.
One would expect the starting 15 against Waterford to follow on from that – if it does, it should give a pointed that management have a strong idea of their best team.
3. Is the squad deep enough?
There is competition for the goalkeeping spot, with Ken O’Halloran likely to edge last year’s incumbent Ryan Price. In defence, the full-back line of Michael Shields, Tom Clancy (Clonakilty) and Kevin Crowley looks nailed down while it’s Tomás Clancy, Stephen Cronin, James Loughrey and Colm O’Driscoll battling for a half-back spot, it would appear.
Injuries in defence would be a test, but in midfield, assuming Alan O’Connor (pictured) is fit, and attack there do appear to be options off the bench.
4. Can they stay in the zone?
There were some good passages of play from Cork during the league, but unfortunately these were only sporadic and too often were accompanied by periods when they would under-perform and be overrun by the opposition. Getting a sustained performance is the key thing management will be looking for, as any lapses will be punished in the championship, especially by the top-tier teams, with little chance for recourse.
5. Can anything be read into Saturday’s game?
Usually, the annual refrain after Cork’s early Munster SFC games is that ‘that won’t do against Kerry’.
Last year’s results mean that the paradigm has changed and a provincial final can no longer be taken as a given. Beat Waterford and a tough game awaits against Tipperary in the semi-final. In that regard, it’s almost no-win for Cork – run up a score and they weren’t tested, so Tipp will be perceived to be in the long grass; squeeze through by a few points and the questions will be loud and long ahead of the Tipp clash.