Most of yesterday’s NHL Division One clash between Cork and Waterford in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was akin to a challenge game, putting the dead in dead rubber.
A late rally from Cork cut a 13-point deficit at the three-quarter stage to a one-goal game with time running out, but no-one should be looking for Championship portents in this encounter, which was as competitive as a pitch-opening challenge for the most part.
Cork started well, with Patrick Horgan nudging a ball through to Barry Johnson for a well-taken goal by the Bride Rovers man, but Waterford responded when Gary Hurney turned Killian Cronin and finished smartly, placing the ball low into the corner.
Waterford went on to dominate the half. Driven on by captain Stephen Molumphy at midfield and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh at centre-back, they enjoyed most of the possession and Jamie Nagle and John Mullane – who had a terrific duel with Shane O’Neill – chipped in with fine points.
At the break Cork were nine points adrift and flat, while Waterford looked far sharper – “hunting in twos and threes,” said Cork boss Denis Walsh later, “where we were maybe hunting in ones.”
True enough, and Waterford continued in the same vein after the break. A long Kevin Moran delivery bounced dangerously in front of Donal Óg Cusack, who saved, but Hurney buried the rebound for his second goal. With Eoin Kelly unerring from frees, on 55 minutes Waterford were a massive 13 points ahead.
“We went out in the second half to go flat out, and we did,” said Déise manager Davy Fitzgerald. “But after about 15 minutes, whatever came into their heads...”
Cork rallied. Substitute Paudie O’Sullivan kicked a goal from close range, but the Cork contingent in the 4,144 crowd really rose when Shane O’Neill drove upfield and exchanged passes with Horgan. The corner-forward tucked away a fine goal and three more Cork points – from Tom Kenny, sub John Gardiner and Jerry O’Connor — meant there was only a goal between the sides.
Cork needed that goal but they never got it. Horgan wove his way through but his shot was forced wide by Ian O’Regan (a late call-up in goal for the indisposed Clinton Hennessy and Adrian Power), and Waterford stabilised with late points by Nagle and Hurney. “We were in a position we shouldn’t have been in the end,” said Fitzgerald. “We should have had a few more scores knocked on. You give any team a goal . . . but for Cork it’s like giving them three goals. We held tough for the last eight minutes, good defending. I was happy with the performance.”
Molumphy was the dominant player on view, but Fitzgerald also paid tribute to two-goal Gary Hurney: “No-one’s worked harder than Gary at training. He got an exceptional point at the end and he’ll be there or thereabouts for the championship.
“We’ve used over 30 players in the league, and I always knew we’d hit a flat patch, given how hard we’d been training, but it’s all about that game on June 14th. That’s what we’ll be judged on, and that’s what Justin and Limerick will be judged on too.”
“We played for about 20 minutes,” said Cork boss Denis Walsh after the game. “We started well enough but lost our way. The pace of the game caught us out – they were chasing in threes and we were maybe chasing in ones, maybe. We only played against Clare for 10 minutes, Limerick were three or four points up halfway through the second half, so maybe those two wins camouflaged things.
“So today in 20 minutes we’ve probably produced more hurling than in the other two games.”
Did he see any positives in the game? “That there’s plenty in the tank and that you must play for more than 20 minutes. The players know that themselves and we can gear our training around that. That’s the big positive for me. Rather than doing what you’ve been doing before, if that’s only producing 20 minutes. I’ll be expected to get that right and the players will be expected to get that right as well.”
Scorers for Cork: B. Johnson 1-1, P. O’Sullivan and S. O’Neill 1-0 each; J. O’Connor and P. Horgan 0-3 each; T. Kenny, P. Cronin and C. Naughton 0-2 each; F. O’Leary and J. Gardiner (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: G. Hurney 2-2; E. Kelly 0-7 (1 65, 2fs); J. Nagle 0-4; S. Prendergast and J. Mullane 0-3 each; S. Molumphy 0-2; E. McGrath 0-1.
CORK: D Óg Cusack, S. O’Neill, K. Cronin, C. Murphy, T. Kenny (c), R. Curran, K. McGann, K. Murphy (Erins Own), J. O’Connor, G. Callinan, P. Horgan, P. Cronin, B. Johnson, F. O’Leary, C. Naughton.
Subs: C. O’Sullivan for C. Murphy (28); J. Gardiner for K. Murphy (ht); N. McCarthy for Callinan (45); P. O’Sullivan for Johnson (52); T Óg Murphy for O’Leary (65).
WATERFORD: I. O’Regan, E. Murphy, A. Kearney, N. Connors, R. Foley, M. Walsh, K. Moran, S. O’Sullivan (c) S. Molumphy, J. Nagle, S. Prendergast, E. Kelly, E. McGrath, G. Hurney, J. Mullane.
Subs: Murray for Foley (60), Kennedy for Mullane (60); D. Shanahan for Kelly (66).
Referee: J. Owens (Wexford).