AND we thought last Sunday was dramatic!
The hurling wasn’t great in that game either but it was tight throughout, and Tony Browne’s last-minute goal brought us back to Thurles on Saturday evening for another epic.
At least there was an excuse this time for the inferior quality of the hurling with the greasy conditions making things very difficult. But again it went down to the wire. And this time it as Cork fighting for that last-gasp goal and they might have got it too were it not for the helmeted head of Browne halting Cathal Naughton’s fierce final-minute drive.
There can be no argument about the winner, the better team won, but you had to really admire the heart, the spirit, the character of the two sides. Players were so tired at the end that subs were being thrown in like confetti at a wedding! Most of the story from this game has to be about Waterford who collected their fourth Munster title in eight years. Great credit has to go the management team for that, to Davy Fitzgerald, Pádraig Fanning and Pat Bennett along with the trainers, Michael Liddane, Jimmy Payne and Joe O’Connor. They had this team brilliantly prepared.
The youngsters stood up to the plate, but it was the most experienced guys who really stood out. And I’ll name them – Eoin Kelly, John Mullane, Brick Walsh, Declan Prendergast, Clinton Hennessey, but above all, that man Tony Browne. What leadership he showed. Last Sunday, when Waterford needed that goal to draw the game, who stole forward from his wing-back position? Tony Browne. When Eoin Kelly started struggling with his long-range free-taking towards the end and Waterford needed a replacement, who stepped forward to hit the vital free from over 65m in the last minute of the first half of extra-time? Tony Browne. And of course there was that block at the end.
My first time seeing Tony playing was in 1992, as an U21, when he captained Waterford to win the All-Ireland.
He was a wing-forward, and already starring. He hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. In fact if anything he’s become even better. A superb hurler, a superb role model also, in every way.
However when Waterford needed a goal this week it wasn’t Tony Browne who delivered the telling blow, it was Dan Shanahan. Big Dan is the one forward I know who always hits the ball away from the goalkeeper, who also likes to keep it off the ground, and his goal in the second half of extra-time time was a fine strike. Good as it was, however, I think that great keeper Donal Óg Cusack will have nightmares about it. He came very close to making the save, but not close enough. Then again Dan has scored more than his share of championship goals – he knows where to put them. It was a goal worthy of winning any game.
It wasn’t all about the experienced men for Waterford though; there’s a young lad in the corner-back position, Noel Connors – I’ve mentioned him many times before and I’ll mention him again. His flick in the first half saving a certain goal was a piece of genius. There was also Shane O’Sullivan again in midfield, as good as he was last week. And there was another youngster, Brian O’Halloran, worth noting. We didn’t see much of him, he came on in the second half and was gone again by extra-time time, but he got a fine point and showed promise. It was a good blooding, we haven’t seen the last of this kid this year.
Is this going to be the year for Waterford? It is too early yet to say, but what we can say is that the future is bright, very bright given the huge amount of talent coming through.
To wind up on Waterford, a word on their supporters – fantastic again, they deserved this win almost as much as the players, and now they’re back in Croke Park again for another big day.
To Cork. Where this team is concerned – and it gives me no pleasure to say this — it’s time now to pull the tent and move on. They had the opportunity to win it last week after the second half two-goal blast but they failed to drive on. They had the opportunity again this time, after Ben O’Connor’s fortuitous goal but again failed to pull away. Waterford got a goal like that in the Munster final of 2004, from somewhat the same kind of strike by Paul Flynn in the same kind of position, and though they were down to 14 men and against the breeze, they DID drive on – Cork couldn’t, they simply weren’t able.
I know they finished without Shane O’Neill, Ronan Curran, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Jerry O’Connor, but they had all those fellas last week and still couldn’t drive on.
It is time now to move on and go with a few more of the youngsters. I couldn’t understand why Paudie O’Sullivan wasn’t started, why Luke O’Farrell wasn’t brought on sooner. William Egan also looked lively, but his introduction was enforced.
While Waterford – who were winning — weren’t slow to make changes, Cork simply stood idly by, when they needed to be doing likewise.
I also have to question Cork’s tactic of repeatedly driving diagonal ball to the corner for Aisake – he hasn’t got the skill to win ball like that, turn, and put it over the bar, which is usually the only option open to him.
Send it in high and direct to him where he can do most damage, on the edge of the square, and make sure you have fellas running off him for the layoff.
To finish, great night for Waterford, though I’m sure they’re looking at bigger things, but this should surely serve as a wake-up call for Cork.
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