Waterford 0-14 Cork 0-13
By Michael Ellard
IT’S over 40 years since Waterford won the National Hurling League, but hopes of ending the famine looked brighter after yesterday’s exciting one point victory over Cork at Páirc Ui Rinn.
A draw with Tipperary next weekend will assure Justin McCarthy’s charges a place in the final and if they perform with the same conviction then the sky’s the limit for a team that got some compensation for last season's Munster final defeat.
Few in the attendance of 10,113 would have plumped for a Waterford victory when they led by two points at half-time having played with the near gale-force wind.
But with Cork wasting the advantage of the elements, Waterford resolutely battened down the hatches in the face of the Rebels’ unsuccessful efforts to breach their outstanding defence.
The tactical ploy of playing an extra man at the back worked like a dream for Waterford, but Cork’s League campaign ended on a disappointing note primarily because of shortcomings in attack.
Just look at the statistics. Cork ended the game with just two of their original six forwards - Jonathon O'Callaghan and Joe Deane, who had a very quiet outing. O'Callaghan, in fact, was the only member of a most uninspiring attack to score from play in the second half.
Cork had numerous point scoring opportunities to have at least salvaged a draw but wayward shooting from both play, frees and sixty fives, proved their downfall.
In stark contrast Waterford, who hit three wides to Cork's nine in the second half, capitalised on more limited opportunities and that’s another reason they plundered the spoils in a highly competitive game.
Although Dave Bennett gave Waterford the perfect start with a great point from the wing after two minutes, it was Cork who looked the more impressive in the opening stages. With Tom Kenny holding his own and Ronan Curran and Sean Óg Ó h-Ailpn excelling in a magnificent half-backline, the home side carried the game to their opponents.
John Gardiner at midfield and the two McCarthy's, Timmy and Niall up front, were also prominent as Cork strung together a series of fine scores to open up a three points lead after six minutes of rip-roaring hurling.
Gardiner hit two beauties after linking with his forwards, while corner forward Brendan Lombard failed to convert after Waterford goalkeeper Stephen Brenner had saved from Jonathon O’Connor. It was a crucial miss in a game of so few goalscoring chances.
Cork still led by three points after the first quarter but then Waterford, with corner forwards John Mullane and Paul Flynn beginning to make major inroads, hit a real purple patch.
Five points without reply, highlighted by some fabulous strikes from Flynn and Mullane, set up the Decies for a 0-10 to 0-8 interval lead.
That lead would have assumed greater proportions if Flynn had not shot agonisingly wide with the goal in his sights.
Although the introduction of Michael O’Connell for Adrian Coughlan brought much more life to Cork at midfield, Waterford still managed to maintain their two points advantage.
Then came the defining moment. Jonathon O'Callaghan broke on the right and palmed the ball across the square. Perfectly positioned John Gardiner let fly on the ground but goalkeeper Brenner dived to brilliantly deflect the ball out for a 65 which Gardiner failed to convert.
It was then that the well dried up and they failed to score again for 19-minutes until Jonathon O'Callaghan scored their only point from play five minutes from the end.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Brian Corcoran on his return to inter-county hurling. Substitute Paul O’Brien had edged Waterford two points in front again when Corcoran, playing at full forward, pulled a high ball out of the air seconds from the end of normal time.
But he was promptly fouled and O’Callaghan hit over instead of trying for a match-winning goal.
Cork coach Donal O’Grady said: "We had our chances to have at least got a draw but Waterford played well and we were unable to break them down."
A jubilant Justin McCarthy declared: "This was a great physiological boost for us."
Scorers: Waterford: P. Flynn 0-5 (0-3 from frees); J. Mullane 0-3; D. Bennett 0-3 (0-2 from frees); D. Shanahan, E. Kelly and P. O'Brien 0-1 each. Cork: J. O'Callaghan 0-5 (0-4 from frees); J. Gardiner 0-4 (0-1 from free); T. McCarthy, N. McCarthy, B. Lombard and M. O'Connell 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: S. Brenner; J. Murray, T. Feeney, D. Prendergast; K. McGrath, T. Browne, B. Phelan; M. Walsh, D. Bennett; A. Moloney, D. Shanahan, E. Kelly; J. Mullane, S. Prendergast, P. Flynn. Subs. J. Kennedy for Shanahan; P. O'Brien for Moloney.
CORK: D. og Cusack; B. Murphy, D. O'Sullivan, C. O'Connor; T. Kenny, R. Curran, S. og O'h-Ailpin; J. Gardiner, A. Coughlan; K. Murphy (Erins Own), N. McCarthy, T. McCarthy; B. Lombard, J. Deane, J. O'Callaghan. Subs. M. O'Connell for Coughlan; B. O'Connor for T. McCarthy; B. Corcoran for Lombard; P. Tierney for K. Murphy; G. Callinan for N. McCarthy.
Referee: A. Mac Suibhne (Dublin).