A better side? There’s only one way Cork can prove they are superior to the upstarts who have taken this season by storm. And yet the path in front of them is booby-trapped from here until September.
Performance-wise, Cork improved on what they delivered in the Division 1 final but so did Waterford, shrugging off a shaky start to lead this game from the half-hour mark onwards.
Had Pa Horgan’s injury-time penalty goal been followed with another three-pointer to beat the league champions or even a couple of scores to force a replay, it would have been not so much harsh as larcenous.
Waterford’s would ordinarily be the more compelling storyline if Cork’s downward spiral wasn’t such a point of discussion now. Once more, Aidan Walsh flattered to deceive. Yet again, Horgan wasn’t given a sniff against Noel Connors. And for a second time in five weeks, their defence’s discipline cost them.
History is repeating itself for this side of Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s. Yesterday, he was his usual, magnanimous self in defeat. On social media, he was applauded for being so courteous but this figure portrayed by Barry-Murphy is an all too familiar one now. What else other than generous could he be, after seeing Waterford again outplay and out-think his side?
The player that he was and the manager that he has been and continues to be, criticism of this result will either be diverted to the players or the punches about some of his decision-making will be pulled. In fairness, the Brian Murphy gamble largely paid off, although the veteran defender was slipped for a few scores in the second half. In hindsight though, he may have considered bringing the group together earlier than last week to concoct a plan to stop Waterford. Orchestrating something like that required at least another week.
Pa Cronin was Cork’s best player but only started because Seamus Harnedy had a recurrence of a hamstring injury in training. Harnedy was readying himself to come on yesterday, only to put back on his training top after Luke O’Farrell’s sending off.
Cork were close but never close enough. They bossed the opening 26 minutes and yet Waterford had accumulated seven wides over 11 minutes. Even after that amount of time, Cork’s advantage was just three points.
Almost fittingly, Austin Gleeson laid on the goal that turned the game in Waterford’s favour. We say fittingly because before he delivered that ball into Maurice Shanahan, he had resorted to Hail Mary shots from long range, accumulating four wides. But that considered delivery to Shanahan, who beat Damien Cahalane in the air before firing past Anthony Nash, was just the ticket and maybe an indication of growing maturity on Gleeson’s part.
Waterford’s movement in attack caused no end of confusion for Cork. It was Shanahan at full-forward who caught that ball in the 27th minute. Three minutes later and it was Michael “Brick” Walsh in that position taking a hooked stick-pass from Stephen Bennett. He hand-passed to the on-rushing Jake Dillon, who had lost his marker Cormac Murphy, and his goal effort was emphatic.
The scary fact for Cork was Waterford could have billowed Nash’s net on another couple of occasions in the first half. Kevin Moran made a mistake in attempting a dummy solo just when it appeared Waterford were about to goal for a third time. Nash then had to be on his toes to stop a Dillon shot from a tight angle.
Cork recovered with the last three points of the half to cut the deficit to one point, 2-6 to 0-11, but the first three scores of the second half were Waterford’s. Moran had another goal chance in the 41st minute but Nash was again equal to the threat, though Shanahan followed it up with a point.
Cork’s only scoring came from Cronin and Horgan frees in a period where the Bennett brothers, Stephen and substitute Shane, who resumes his Leaving Cert today, were finding their range. As in the league final, Shanahan was shining as a target man.
From the 47th minute to the end of normal time, Waterford’s advantage varied from four to six points. Cork’s goal threat was non-existent until Conor Lehane was brought down in the area and Horgan duly beat Stephen O’Keeffe to cut the gap to two points.
However, Waterford substitute Tom Devine, after being fed by Walsh, at the third time of asking found Nash’s net.
The frayed nerves were all Cork’s now.
M Shanahan (1-9, 0-6f, 1 65); J Dillon, T Devine (1-0 each); K Moran, Stephen Bennett, Shane Bennett (0-2 each); A Gleeson (1f), T de Burca, C Dunford, P Curran (0-1 each).
: S O’Keeffe; B Coughlan, N Connors, S Fives; A Gleeson, T de Burca, P Mahony; C Dunford, J Barron; M Walsh, K Moran, J Dillon; S Bennett, M Shanahan, B O’Halloran.
E Barrett for K Moran (blood, 10-12); S Bennett for B O’Halloran (45); T Devine for Stephen Bennett (60); E Barrett for C Dunford (63); P Curran for J Dillon (68).
P Horgan (1-7, 1-0 pen, 0-6f); P Cronin (0-5); A Cadogan (0-2); C Lehane, M Ellis, D Kearney, L O’Farrell, A Walsh, B Cooper, D McCarthy (65) (0-1 each).
: A Nash; S O’Neill, S McDonnell, B Murphy; D Cahalane, M Ellis, C Murphy; D Kearney, B Cooper; C Lehane, P Cronin, A Walsh; A Cadogan, P Horgan, L O’Farrell.
R O’Shea for C Murphy (47); D McCarthy for D Kearney (51); P O’Sullivan for A Walsh (57).
B Kelly (Westmeath)