Remember those titanic Munster championship tussles between Cork and Waterford in the last decade?
With the passing on of the baton from those two special generations in the respective counties many thought we had seen an end to that rivalry, that perhaps Waterford were now falling behind.
Not on the evidence of this game.
“It’s great,” was Waterford manager Derek McGrath’s reaction. “I didn’t read much in the run-up but Donal Óg Cusack [Cork keeper of that era, now with the Irish Examiner] had talked about the rivalry and it’s a good start to the Munster championship — we’ll see where it goes.”
The hurling wasn’t quite as epic as in those other great games, the occasion not quite as electrifying (a disappointing attendance of only 16,025) but still this was a contest to warm the heart on a chilly afternoon.
With a host of front-line players absent due to injury (Stephen Daniels, Phillip Mahony, Darragh Fives, Stephen Molumphy, Jamie Barron, Stephen Bennett, Shane O’Sullivan, Brian O’Halloran), and playing four championship debutants, Waterford were expected to struggle against last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists. These lads hadn’t read that particular script, though.
From the outset Waterford took the game to the hot favourites (1/4 in some places), led 0-5 to 0-1 after 10 minutes, wing-backs Jamie Nagle and Tadhg Burke both getting on the scoresheet.
Cork, playing into an awkward diagonal breeze, did eventually get into the game, with debutant Alan Cadogan really causing problems, but were even further behind at the break, 0-13 to 0-7, and in real trouble.
In fact had Waterford made the most of their opportunities in that opening half this game could well have been over even at that stage, and the nine wides they hit would eventually cost the Déise dearly.
Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy was a worried man as they headed for the dressing room.
“It was something similar to our league games. We didn’t seem to be up to the pace again, like against Tipperary here [beaten in the league quarter-final]. Waterford took the game to us, and we conceded quite a lot of scores.”
It would get worse for Cork before it got better, a lot worse.
In the opening sevenminutes of the second half they began to look a bit more like the team that did so well last year, reducing the deficit to four with points from Patrick Horgan (two), Conor Lehane and the bubbling Cadogan, against one each from Shane O’Sullivan and Pauric Mahony.
Then came the score of this game, in fact a score to match any we’ve seen in the recent rich rivalry. Winning possession from an under-hit Aidan Walsh sideline, Austin Gleeson took off on a solo that would eventually see him beat not alone almost the entire Cork defence, but also All Star goalkeeper Anthony Nash — a goal of ultimate class from a hurler of consummate ability.
Two points on top of that goal (one each from Shane Walsh and Mahony) and Waterford were in the driving seat, nine points ahead with only 22 minutes to play (1-17 to 0-11).
But if this is a Cork team that has made a habit of getting itself into deep holes, this is also a Cork team that has made a habit of digging themselves out, a team of rare character.
It started yesterday with Youghal’s Bill Cooper. Introduced at half-time, Cooper immediately made his presence felt.
In the 48th minute, the ball having broken from a brilliant Stephen O’Keeffe off a well-placed Patrick Horgan shot, the Waterford defence were slow to clear, Bill used that power and presence to score from about four inches, forcing the ball across the line, and it was game back on.
Now it was Cork with their tails up, Waterford on the back foot, and from there to the finish the Rebels were the ones on top.
Cooper would score again, a point this time, as would Aidan Walsh and Alan Cadogan, but the man who really broke Waterford hearts was the Glen’s Patrick Horgan.
He had dallied at wing-forward for a few minutes at the throw-in before moving into corner-forward, where he spent more than a few minutes in the pocket of Noel Connors.
Released to the wing, though, in the final quarter Patrick was a new man — was the man in fact — scorer of seven points as Cork came back to draw.
An absolute classic? No, but a good one, a worthy one, and perhaps the dawn of another era.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-12 (8f, 1 65); A Cadogan 0-4; B Cooper 1-1; A Walsh 0-2 (1 s/l); C Lehane, S Harnedy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: P Mahony 0-11 (9f); A Gleeson 1-2 (0-1 s/l); J Nagle 0-2; B O’Sullivan 0-2; T Burke, S Walsh, J Dillon, S Prendergast, 0-1 each.
CORK: A Nash; S O’Neill, D Cahalane, S McDonnell; C Joyce, M Ellis, L McLoughlin; A Walsh, D Kearney; C McCarthy, C Lehane, P Cronin (c); A Cadogan, S Harnedy, P Horgan. Subs for Cork: B Cooper for McCarthy (35); B Lawton for Kearney (50); S Moylan for Cronin (53); J Coughlan for Harnedy (65).
Waterford: S O’Keeffe; N Connors, L Lawlor, B Coughlan; J Nagle, K Moran, T Burke; M Walsh (c), E Barrett; C Dunford, Pauric Mahony, A Gleeson; B O’Sullivan, S Walsh, J Dillon. Subs for Waterford: R Foley for Barrett (inj 22); S Fives for Coughlan (42); R Barry for Dunford (47); D Breathnach for Dillon (53); S Prendergast for Walsh (59).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).
70th minute, game tied, Shane O’Sullivan, bearing down on the Cork goal, saw his attempted a pass to a loose man intercepted brilliantly by Shane O’Neill. Had that pass gone to hand, game over.
Teenager Austin Gleeson, and that goal, nine minutes into the second half, putting Waterford nine points clear.
Yes, that goal. When Austin collected an Aidan Walsh line ball he was 70m from the Cork goal. The teenager took off, beat several Cork defenders, left several others in his slipstream, then beat Anthony Nash with a ferocious shot. As good as we’ve seen.
Gleeson for that goal and a couple of points, Nagle and Connors in defence, all Waterford; O’Neill for Cork, along with impact sub Bill Cooper, but debutant Alan Cadogan gets it
Waterford definitely at the start, had their team primed, Kevin Moran switched to centre-back with Brick Walsh; Cork did better after half-time, sub Bill Cooper a major impact
Brian Gavin (Offaly) missed too many blatant calls.
Replay on Sunday week, June 8, in Semple Stadium again.
- Diarmuid O’Flynn