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Eager Rebels shade play-off thriller

THE 5,000 or so die-hard hurling fans who braved the elements in Walsh Park yesterday for this NHL Division 1A playoff were rewarded with yet another in a long litany of entertaining free-wheeling encounters between the sides.

In a match of 39 scores, most of those in the first-half, fortunes fluctuated so often it was always going to come down to a puck of a ball. There was the question, of course — which team wanted it most? The answer was Cork, who now qualify to meet Limerick in one quarter-final, Waterford meeting Tipperary in the other.

Meaningless match, nothing to play for, that was the word on this game after the CCCC mandated a play-off, refused to countenance a toss to decide who should finish second and third in this group. You wouldn’t have thought so the way this young Cork side battled back from a poor start, you wouldn’t have thought so the way they celebrated their narrow win.

Manager Gerald McCarthy was a happy man afterwards, and why not? The likes of Eoin Cadogan, Kevin Hartnett, Lee Desmond, Steven White, Pat Horgan and Fintan O’Leary, youngsters all and all of whom started yesterday, will give him food for thought as this hurling year gets down to more serious business.

Waterford got the perfect start, 1-1 to no score after two minutes courtesy of an Eoin Kelly point after just 10 seconds, followed quickly by a Seamus Prendergast goal after Donal Óg Cusack had made a fine save from a close-range but poorly struck Dan Shanahan shot. Three points from Cork, however, the first from a long-range Ben O’Connor free, the next two from short-range free-taker Pat Horgan, had it back to within a point again in the 5th minute, and that was to be the pattern for the remainder of the half, almost a score a minute.

For the next quarter of an hour or so, to the 23rd minute, Waterford were the dominant side, raced into a 1-10 to 1-4 lead courtesy of a series of superb points, from John Mullane most notably, but also from midfielders Micheal Brick Walsh and Shane O’Sullivan, and from flying wing-forward Eoin McGrath.

In the midst of that run came the first Cork goal, and it was a peach; drifting out from the corner, Cathal Naughton won a ball wide left, took off, laid off to his Newtownshandrum club team-mate Ben O’Connor, took the perfectly-placed return in full flight, then drilled home a rasper.

After that fine Waterford run of points, it was Cork ‘s turn to impress. Inspired from the back by goalkeeper Cusack, driven on by some superb play by centre-back Eoin Cadogan and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín on the wing, powered from midfield by the outstanding Lee Desmond and Steven White, they poured forward, and two points each from Desmond, O’Connor and Horgan, in reply to one from Mullane, had them back within a point, 1-11 to 1-10, five minutes to go to the break.

In those five minutes, however, we saw five more points, three for Waterford (two from Kelly placed balls, one from Shane O’Sullivan), two for Cork (O’Connor and Desmond, his third of the half). Two points in it at the break, 1-14 to 1-12 in favour of the home side, it was time for everyone to draw breath.

The second half was a bit more fractured, the field finally beginning to show signs of the deluge that fell in Waterford on Saturday. Waterford again started well, a point from Seamus Prendergast (finished with 1-3 from play), increasing their lead.

The elements were now more in favour of Cork, however, and they began to take advantage. First came their second goal, full-forward Fintan O’Leary on the end of a fine move involving White, Tom Kenny (looked better when shifted from centre-forward to midfield), captain Timmy McCarthy and Horgan, a tap-in goal from the edge of the square — it tied up the scores, 2-12 to 1-15, 39th minute.

Five minutes later came the next score, another pointed free from Ben O’Connor, and it put Cork ahead for the first time in the match.

This was followed by two more Cork points; O’Connor and Desmond again, Waterford under pressure in attack from a much improved Cork defence, Shane O’Neill and Brian Murphy especially. They did manage to tie it up again, however, two fine points from Mullane, one from Prendergast and Kelly, making it 2-16 to 1-19 coming into injury time.

Then when it came to the crunch, it was Cork, with a disputed O’Connor free from the 20m line wide left, who took the spoils.

Joy then for Gerald McCarthy and his young side, but what of his namesake, Justin? Waterford were at near enough full strength yesterday but nowhere near full commitment, and it told. Too early yet for wake-up calls? Time will tell.

Scorers – Cork: B. O’Connor 0-8 (0-6 frees); L. Desmond 0-4; P. Horgan 0-4 (all frees); C. Naughton 1-0; F. O’Leary 1-0; S. White 0-1.

Waterford: S. Prendergast 1-3; J. Mullane 0-5; E. Kelly 0-5 (0-4 frees); M. Walsh 0-2; S. O’Sullivan 0-2; E. McGrath 0-2.

WATERFORD: C. Hennessy; D. Prendergast, K. Moran, A. Kearney; B. Phelan, K. McGrath, J. Kennedy; M. Walsh (c), S. O’Sullivan; D. Shanahan, E. Kelly, E. McGrath; J. Mullane, S. Prendergast, S. Casey.

Subs: T. Browne (O’Sullivan 53); S. Walsh (E. McGrath 65).

CORK: D. Óg Cusack; S. O’Neill, B. Murphy, C. O’Connor; K. Hartnett, E. Cadogan, S. Óg Ó hAilpín; S. White, L. Desmond; B. O’Connor, T. Kenny, T. McCarthy (c); P. Horgan, F. O’Leary, C. Naughton.

Subs: J. Deane (Naughton 55); B. Corry (McCarthy 59); K. Murphy (Erin’s Own, Horgan 62); S. Murphy (C. O’Connor 66).

Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary)