Waterford 3-16 (25) Cork 1-21 (24)
By Jim O'Sullivan
JUST one word for it. Character! Waterford needed it in spades to overcome a Cork side which turned in a brilliant first-half performance in Thurles yesterday.
They also needed it to come to terms with the dismissal of John Mullane in the third minute of the second-half
Waterford needed it in spades to overcome a Cork side which turned in a brilliant first-half performance in Thurles yesterday and to come to terms with the dismissal of John Mullane in the third minute of the second-half.
And, how they responded, with an admirable display of courage, enhanced by some wonderful skill.
Inspired by Paul Flynn's cheeky 51st minute goal from an outfield free, it produced a fairytale Guinness Munster hurling championship title for Justin McCarthy's team and the first over Cork in a final in 45 years.
Acknowledged on all sides as a classic contest, it was also remarkable for the way that champions Cork lost their way midway through the second-half.
And yet, the game could have gone their way but for a bit of bad luck when a pass from substitute Jonathan O'Callaghan looked certain to set up Ben O'Connor for a goal in the 68th minute except that it was deflected into the hands of Declan Prendergast and cleared.
It could even have ended in a draw after a Tom Kenny score in the second last minute left the Decies hanging on by a single point. A high ball dropped around the Waterford half-back line, to be contested by Diarmuid O'Sullivan (who had moved upfield) and the Waterford captain Ken McGrath, who had turned in a powerful last quarter. McGrath plucked the ball out of the air and won a free. And, that was it. The game was all over.
Cork hit top form from the start, after a ground shot from newcomer Garvan McCarthy slipped through keeper Stephen Brenner's legs.
In another four minutes they were leading 1-3 to 0-1, after John Gardiner had made the first of two key interceptions which denied Dan Shanahan goal opportunities. One of the Cork scores came from Brian Corcoran, who was to make an important contribution all through the opening half.
Sean Óg Ó hAilpín was quick to assert himself at right halfback and Cork won more ball around midfield where Jerry O'Connor was very sharp.
Up front, they threatened virtually every time they ran at the Waterford backs. With Ben O'Connor playing some delightful hurling in the right corner and Joe Deane excelling on the other side, their finishing was clinical.
While Waterford's attack often struggled Mullane, for instance, couldn't get into the game, partly a tribute to the close marking of Brian Murphy, while Paul Flynn had yet to make an impact.
Dan Shanahan was once again on top of his game. He got three of their opening four points and later was to contribute a vital goal. However, it was the first of their three goals a stunning solo effort from Eoin Kelly, in the 15th minute which really restored flagging confidence.
A terrific Corcoran score from out near the right wing, had Cork five points in front by the 25th minute, but in another minute Shanahan lifted Waterford spirits even more hitting a cracking goal after taking a high ball over O'Sullivan's head at the edge of the square. And, when Ken McGrath and Flynn (from a free) added further scores, Waterford were back in the game. At the break, they were just three points in arrears, 1-14 to 2-8.
Ó hAilpín, who finished the half over on Shanahan, was to settle quickly into the task of curbing him, something John Gardiner didn't manage. Shanahan hit two wides in the early minutes but after that was generally outplayed.
Of course, the most significant event after the resumption was Mullane being red-carded for an off-the-ball offence involving Murphy.
To the immense credit of the Waterford players, they responded positively with some big individual contributions Flynn's arguably being the most important, followed by Ken McGrath later and a supreme overall effort.
While Cork had the backing of the wind, it didn't always work out to their advantage. Initially, using O'Sullivan as the extra man behind the half-back line, it assisted them in getting in a lot of long clearances.
The downside was that it resulted in a poor quality ball coming into the inside players. Combined with more effective covering from a re-arranged Waterford full-back line which saw Eoin Murphy and James Murray swop positions, it meant that the threat from Ben O'Connor, Corcoran and Deane was greatly minimised.
Additionally, Cork's finishing was to let them down at stages, resulting in Waterford being only two points adrift by the 50th minute before Flynn's goal put them in front for the first time. Deane had Cork level two minutes later (with his last score) before Ben O'Connor (from a seventy) and Eoin Kelly swopped points.
After that Waterford made all the running to the finish.
Ken McGrath was inspiring and Tony Browne on his right produced his best hurling of the game, while the full-back trio contributed hugely.
Likewise, Declan Prendergast, Eoin Kelly and Michael Walsh made a big inpact out around the middle of the field. However, it was Paul Flynn who maximised the team effort with vital scores, including one magnificent shot from the left corner after a bad wide just before it.
In time, Cork were to pay a high price for missed chances including late ones from Timmy McCarthy and a sideline ball from Ó hAilpín. And, if luck was on Waterford's side in a melodramatic finish, who could say that they did not earn it with their heroics.
Sean McMahon can feel well pleased with a job well done in his first final. The Clareman's refereeing was sensible and balanced and his errors were minimal.
Scorers: Waterford: P. Flynn 1-7 (1-3 frees); D. Shanahan 1-3; E. Kelly 1-1; J. Mullane 0-2; D. Bennett (free), K. McGrath and S. Prendergast 0-1 each. Cork: J. Deane 0-9 (0-6 frees); G. McCarthy 1-0; B. O'Connor 0-4 (0-1 free, 0-1 seventy); T. Kenny 0-3; B. Corcoran and J. O'Connor 0-2 each; R. Curran 0-1.
WATERFORD: S. Brenner; J. Murray, D. Prendergast, E. Murphy; T. Browne, K. McGrath, B. Phelan; E. Kelly, D. Bennett; D. Shanahan, M. Walsh, P. Flynn; J. Mullane, S. Prendergast, E. McGrath. Subs: P. O'Brien for Bennett (50th minute); S. O'Sullivan for E. McGrath (66th); J. Kennedy for O'Brien (71st).
CORK: D. Og Cusack; W. Sherlock, D. O'Sullivan, B. Murphy; S. Og O hAilpin, R. Curran, J. Gardiner; T. Kenny, J. O'Connor; G. McCarthy, N. McCarthy, T. McCarthy; B. O'Connor (capt.), B. Corcoran, J. Deane. Subs: J. O'Callaghan for N. McCarthy (57th minute); K. Murphy for G. McCarthy (65th); C. O'Connor for Gardiner (70th).
Referee: S. McMahon (Clare).
A minute's silence was observed in memory of former Waterford star John Kiely, a member of the last team to win the successful 1959 side.