Victory, richly deserved, in the end to defending champions Waterford, who will now meet their first-round conquerors Clare in Sunday’s Semple Stadium decider.
But all credit to a Cork side that was totally outplayed in the opening half, trailed by an intimidating 12 points within a minute of the restart, and looked to be staring a comprehensive defeat in the face.
However the young rebels worked their way back into contention, and a flurry of scores both from play and frees saw them narrow their deficit to a single goal with 10 minutes still remaining.
The home side was beginning to look increasingly rattled. But when their need was greatest, they magnificently rose to the occasion, and finally killed off Cork’s brave comeback with some of the finest scores of the game in the closing minutes.
Waterford laid the foundations for their victory in an opening half of near total mastery for them, outplaying Cork in virtually every sector, and building up an intimidating if not unassailable 2-10 to 0-5 interval lead.
Ironically it was Cork who jumped into a first-minute lead when Brian Hartnett, who had a fine game at corner forward, had the first of his eight points from a free. But they would go another 18 minutes without scoring, and in between a rampaging Waterford found the range with unerring accuracy from varying distances and angles.
Their half forward trio of Paraic Mahony, Eamonn Murphy, and Jake Dillon had the opposing Cork half-back line in a spin and it was no major surprise when two of three, Dara O’Carroll and Kevin Buckley, were substituted inside 21 minutes. Before hour’s end the three Waterford attackers would score 1-12 between them – a just reward for their outstanding play throughout.
The home side, playing hurling of vintage quality, built up a 2-7 to 0-2 lead by the 20th minute. The goals came in the 10th and 17th minutes – the first gifted to them by a goalkeeping blunder as William McCarthy allowed Eoin Madigan’s prodigious free from deep inside his own half to deflect off his hurley and over the line.
Nothing fortuitous however about their second seven minutes later, with Jake Dillon brilliantly finishing off a three man-move that also involved Eamonn Murphy and Cormac Heffernan.
Cork at that stage were reeling under the intensity of Waterford’s play, and the half-time break, when it came, saw them trailing by 2-10 to 0-5 with a mountain to be climbed.
Things got even worse when Mahony stretched the Waterford advantage with another point inside 40 seconds of the restart, but when Hartnett replied with a Cork point two minutes later, also from a placed ball, a heroic Cork fightback was about to get under way.
Conor Lehane knifed his way through the home defence to crash a great ball to the net in the 36th minute, and when midfielder Darren Sweetnam struck over a long-range beauty Cork had become aside transformed.
The brilliant and unerring Hartnett found the range with four points in as many minutes, and when Lehane added yet another super one from play, it was 2-12 to 1-12, and most definitely game on.
Now it was Waterford who were being asked the most searching questions and they responded as only a good side can.
Their defenders came forth with tigerish qualities to snuff out the Cork attack just as emphatically as they had in the opening half with Daragh Fives and Jamie Barron particularly impressive.
A flurry of points flowed, two of them from substitute Colm Curran and Martin O’Neill worthy of winning any game. For Waterford the perfect finale to a memorable evening.
Scorers for Waterford: P. Mahony (0-6); J. Dillon (1-2); E. Murphy (0-4); E. Madigan (1-0); M. O’Neill (0-2); P. Prendergast (0-2); C. Curran (0-1).
Scorers for Cork: B. Hartnett (0-8); C. Lehane (1-2); J. Coughlan (0-2); D. Sweetnam (0-1).
WATERFORD: D. Duggan; J. Barron. S. O’Keeffe. L. Egan; R. Barry. D. Fives. E. Madigan; P. Prendergast. G. O’Brien; J. Dillon. E. Murphy. P. Mahony; S. Roche. C. Heffernan. M. O’Neill.
Subs: C. Curran for Roche(58 min); T. Curran for Madigan(59)
CORK: W. McCarthy; D. Cahalane. C. Spillane. D. Lester; K. Buckley. C. Joyce. D. O’Carroll; D. Sweetnam. N. Kelly; S. O’Keeffe. C. Lehane. S. Moore; J. Coughlan. D. Lordan. B. Hartnett.
Subs: A. Dennehy for Carroll(15 mins); R. O’Shea for Buckley(21); J. Wall for Moore(36); K. Hallissey for Lordan(51); B. Murray for O’Keeffe(55)
Referee: Seamas Roche, Tipperary.