It may have been a million miles from the heat of a possible championship clash between the counties next June, but both sides were up for this one; Cork ultimately garnered the spoils but the home side came within a whisker of forcing extra-time.
However, Ken McGrath’s last-gasp effort sailed wide, a reminder of the dramatic meeting of the counties in that highly charged All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park last August.
The below-par displays of several key Waterford players will have given team manager Justin McCarthy plenty of food for thought, while the Cork management also have much to ponder, including the wisdom of persevering with Diarmuid O’Sullivan at full-forward. He struggled for most of the game against a resolute Tom Feeney, and while he laid off a few deft passes, overall he looked uncomfortable there.
The Cork attack in general lacked real firepower — all but one of scorer-in-chief Neil Ronan’s ten match-winning points came from frees. His accuracy throughout was radar-like, with just one miss in an otherwise flawless exhibition.
With outstanding midfielders Kieran Murphy and Tom Kenny each chipping in with two points, Cork’s attack registered just two more points, from Timmy and Niall McCarthy — a statistic unlikely to be lost on manager Gerald McCarthy.
Joe Deane was given a huge welcome when sprung from the subs’ bench with three minutes left — insufficient time for the Killeagh clubman to have an impact, but it was great nonetheless to see him back in harness.
The sides were level three times in an entertaining first half at the end of which Cork led 0-8 to 0-6. They looked particularly comfortable in a defence in which wing back Graham Callinan was particularly impressive, maintaining his fine form to the end. In contrast, key Waterford player Dan Shanahan struggled at full-forward against the hugely impressive Cian O’Connor and John Mullane could make no headway at wing forward on various opponents .
Within three minutes of the restart, however, Waterford were in front when Ken McGrath crashed a semi-penalty past the three-man defensive wall.
Seamas Prendergast had kicked the ball to the net seconds earlier but the referee cancelled the score out and awarded the penalty instead for a foul on the Waterfordman; justice was done when McGrath goaled.
Cork responded in style, however. O’Sullivan placed Timmy McCarthy for a beauty of an equaliser, and when Ronan fired over three points on the trot from frees, and Kieran Murphy added another from play, they looked to be in the driving seat.
It fell to skipper Michael Walsh to throw Waterford a lifeline on 46 minutes, when he deftly connected overhead with an accurately flighted McGrath free, giving Cork ‘keeper Donal Óg Cusack no chance.
Ronan eased Cork two clear with a great score from play, but it was all square for a fifth time in the 54th minute when Seamas Prendergast (play) and Eoin Kelly (free) found the range for Waterford.
In a grandstand finish two more pointed frees by Ronan proved decisive, and while Kelly again narrowed the deficit to the minimum, Cork held out for another meeting with Tipp in next Sunday’s final.
Scorers for Cork: N. Ronan (0-10, 0-9 frees); K. Murphy (0-2); T. Kenny (0- 2); T. McCarthy, N. McCarthy (0-1) each.
Scorers for Waterford: K. McGrath (1-1, frees); M. Walsh (1-1); E. Kelly (0-3, frees); S. Prendergast (0-2); J. Murray, J. Mullane (0-1) each.
CORK: D. Og Cusack; P. Fitzgerald. C. O’Connor. E. O’Sullivan; G. Callanan. R. Curran. J. Gardiner; K. Murphy. T. Kenny; J. O’Callaghan. N. McCarthy. T. McCarthy; N. Ronan. D. O’Sullivan. C. Cusack.
Subs: P.Kelly for Gardiner (ht); P. O’Sullivan for C. Cusack (42 mins); M. O’Connell for N. McCarthy (47 mins); J. Deane for O’Callaghan (57 mins).
WATERFORD: C. Hennessy; E. Murphy. T. Feeney. A. Kearney; J. Kennedy. D. Prendergast. J. Murray; K. McGrath. J. Hartley; J. Mullane. S. Prendergast. M. Walsh; C. Carey. D. Shanahan. E. Kelly.
Subs: S. Molumphy for Hartley (37 mins); B. Phelan for Carey(43 mins).
Referee: J. Ryan, Tipperary.