And in one bound they were free.
Guess what? It turned out that the basics matter. Even still, in 2022.
If hurling has never been more cerebral it has simultaneously never been more relentlessly physical. Engagement with the enemy - in plain language, getting stuck in and working hard and defending mob-handed – is the baseline. The kind of baseline the men in red had failed to produce against Limerick and even more so against Clare.
The gut-level, unfashionable stuff like heart and hunger and desire. They may not be enough by themselves, nor should they be, but at least they’re enough to posit a team in the fight and give them a puncher’s chance if the punch is sufficiently hard.
As Cork’s was on an afternoon when the Munster championship received the shot of Red Bull it needed, the twist coming in the penultimate chapter of this five-chapter book. An afternoon when Waterford were unrecognisable as Liam Cahill’s Waterford.
Cahill knew immediately what had happened and he wasn’t minded to leave a tooth in it. His bunch of 24/7 worker bees had been outworked up a stick.
"We weren't good enough, simple as. We hurled like a car on dirty petrol, just chugging along. Just not acceptable. Not acceptable to the big Waterford support that came here. It's terribly, bitterly disappointing.
"When the questions were really asked around the cut and thrust of championship hurling we were more or less looking to the officials and out to the line rather than to what was going on between the lines."
If a week is a long time in politics etc… On April 2nd the sides met in the National League final. Waterford won by 4-20 to 1-23. On the events and pattern of the evening, if not on the scoreboard, it was a nine- or ten-point victory.
Six weeks later the secret to the reversal of fortunes was that there was no secret. Kieran Kingston did not devise some recondite tactical plan, a la Cyril Farrell in the 1986 All Ireland semi-final, that paid off in spades. Instead he sent out a group who performed like they’d been hurt by the criticism, as indeed they ought to have performed, and that was a lot of it.
“We trained well coming into this game but then we trained well coming into the Clare game and we didn’t transfer it for the first 20-25 minutes,” the winning manager asserted.
“We transferred it today from the off and we needed to. The most pleasing thing for me is the lads played for each other, they played for the jersey, they played for the supporters who were here and they showed great unity and purpose in their approach to the game. They played with their heart and soul.”
Cork grabbed hold of the proceedings at two junctures, the six minutes leading up to the interval and the ten minutes following the restart. After 29 minutes they trailed by 1-10 to 1-6 but reeled off six of the next seven scores to lead at the break. Two of them deserve mention.
The first was by Seamus Harnedy, who hurled here like a cavalry commander with sword aloft on a prancing white charger, and was a splendidly old-fashioned effort. No overlaps or layoffs or pop balls or runs from out to in. Just a lad getting the ball on the half-forward line with his back to goal and turning and slapping it between the posts. Sometimes hurling is a straightforward affair.
The second arrived two minutes later from Darragh Fitzgibbon, who pulled down a Waterford puckout, sallied forward, was fouled, received the advantage, slapped the sliotar off the ground and back to himself, carried on some more and split the posts. Heart and soul.
Kingston: “It was probably a five or six point wind. We went four down at one stage but to get five on the bounce and go in a point up, that gave us a good platform."
Four minutes into the new half the manager had both the smarts and the gumption to make a big decision, withdrawing Patrick Horgan on the day the Glen Rovers man broke new ground as hurling’s all-time leading championship scorer.
Facing the wind and deploying a running game, Cork needed legs on the half-forward line. Horgan would have been in the way. In his absence the visitors moved the sliotar up the field in much the same calculated manner, quickly yet unhurried, Waterford had been doing all year until now. As Kingston noted, they “worked the ball well into the breeze”.
Their second goal was the perfect fusion of cohesion and instinct. Harnedy to Shane Kingston; Kingston’s one touch to move it on; Alan Connolly pouncing for the second time in the afternoon with the gusto of a Seánie Leary or Charlie McCarthy.
Four points behind, Waterford never looked like overhauling the deficit thereafter, particularly not when driving three wides in succession. Two were Stephen Bennett frees, opportunities that on another day would have been gimmes.
Austin Gleeson’s departure on a second yellow card represented the final nail. He may wonder if the first booking was necessary. Hurling has never been more relentlessly physical, yes, but following through after the sliotar has gone constitutes an optional extra that doesn’t always have to be optioned.
Vistas barely discernible yesterday morning have now swum into view, none of them anything less than appalling from a Déise standpoint.
Tipp/Cork in Semple Stadium no longer offering the prospect of a dead rubber. Waterford requiring a win against Clare. Waterford hoping for a favour from Tipp. Waterford not merely failing to qualify for the Munster final, which wouldn’t have been a biggie, but of failing to emerge from the province at all, which would be a huge-ie. Waterford facing into a week of staring into the abyss.
The closing chapter of a book that has belatedly caught fire takes place next Sunday. Expect further twists.