IS there no separating these two magnificent hurling teams?
Ten times now in the last eight years Waterford and Cork have met in championship and after this latest chapter in Thurles yesterday, yet another absorbing contest in yet another superbly entertaining Munster final, the score now stands at four wins each and two draws.
In that period on both sides there have been changes in personnel, in management, in tactics (evident yesterday); a constant, however, has been the entertainment value.
Sure, there have been better games than this one, but the quality was all still there, the net-bursting crowd-lifting goals, the impressive point-scoring, and of course the late, late dramatics.
Waterford, a goal behind entering the final minute of the four indicated for injury-time; then the most experienced player on the park stealing forward from his wing-back position to hammer home the rebound of a 20m free — ah Tony Browne, what a true trooper you are. ! And even still it wasn’t over, the massed Cork supporters at the town end having their cheers choke in their throats as Michael Cussen’s last-gasp effort from the subsequent puckout tailed wide of the posts.
The tactical change was most evident in the first half, at the end of which Waterford led by the slimmest of margins, 0-7 to 0-6. No free-wheeling, free-scoring approach here, gone are the days when, as once famously noted by Cork midfielder Tom Kenny, it was simply a case of "Giving two kids a ball and just letting them play away."
With Davy Fitz having taken over from Justin McCarthy in Waterford since the teams last meeting, in 2007, this game was always likely to be a lot more tactical.
So it was proving in that opening half, time and space at a premium, runners everywhere as Cork keeper Donal Óg Cusack looked for openings for his puckouts (still managed a very good return, in an overall display of goalkeeping excellence), both teams hunting in packs and putting huge pressure on whoever had the ball.
Understandable then that in that opening period all the stars were wearing single-digit-numbered jerseys — Noel Connors and Eoin Murphy outstanding in the corners for Waterford, Shane O’Neill and Brian Murphy likewise for Cork, though John Mullane at full-forward for Waterford and Aisake Ó hAilpín on the edge of the square for Cork, both looked dangerous.
Both half-back lines were on top, however, the Cork trio of Gardiner/Curran/Ó hAilpín especially so, nothing conceded from play, Seán Óg even storming upfield to notch a rare championship point.
Brick Walsh and Declan Prendergast were going well in the Waterford half-back line but Niall McCarthy was doing well in the possession stakes for Cork, as were midfielders Cathal Naughton (two fine points to boot) and Tom Kenny, though Shane O’Sullivan (superb 70 minutes) and Richie Foley were also doing their share for the Déise.
Not a lot of scores then in that half but a riveting contest nevertheless, massive intensity — no way were they going to be able to maintain that pace for the full 70 minutes. Thus it proved, and from very early in the second half the scores began to flow. Points initially, Waterford first gaining the initiative, three points from their two talismanic figures up front, Eoin Kelly (2) and John Mullane putting them four clear (0-10 to 0-6), Cork then hitting back through Tom Kenny, Ben O’Connor and John Gardiner (2).
And then, in six minutes, bang, bang, bang, three absolute netbusters.
In the 63rd minute, Waterford full-back Liam Lawlor having been taken off before he was sent off for persistent fouling, Aisake finally got a bit of freedom, tore in on goal, barrelled a defender out of his way, and blasted to the net from close range — Cork in the lead, 1-12 to 0-13. Two minutes later it was Ben O’Connor racing in on Clinton Hennessey, courtesy of a sublime handpass from Kieran Murphy, and again, a rocket to the roof.
This Waterford team is steel-cased, however, and the recovery was led by the mighty Eoin Kelly. First a long-range pointed free, then the first Waterford goal, an absolute piledriver from about 20m after Kelly had been picked out brilliantly by another Waterford stalwart, Micheál ‘Brick’ Walsh.
That set up the grand finale, that late 20m free by Kelly after John Mullane’s stick was flicked as he attempted to control a long centre, Eoin Cadogan save, Tony Browne’s strike. Such theatre, such spectacle — and we get to see it all again next Saturday.!
Scorers for Cork: B. O’Connor (1-5, four frees); A. Ó hAilpín (1-0); J. Gardiner (0-3, one free, one 65); C. Naughton (0-2); B. Murphy, S. Óg Ó hAilpín, T. Kenny, N. McCarthy, M. Cussen (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford: E. Kelly (1-8, six frees, one 65); J. Mullane 0-4; T. Browne (1-0); S. O’Sullivan (0-2, one s/l); K. Moran (0-1).
Subs for Cork: R. Ryan for S. Óg Ó hAilpín (inj 45); M. Cussen for J. O’Connor (inj 47); P. O’Sullivan for K. Murphy (inj 55); P. Cronin for Horgan (63).
Subs for Waterford: S. Prendergast for E. McGrath (46); J. Nagle for Lawlor (50); K. McGrath for Foley, D. Shanahan for S. Walsh, M. Shanahan for Moran (all 60).
Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary).