The Waterford U21 left half-forward sat his final Leaving Cert exam at Blackwater Community School yesterday afternoon, handing in his Tech Graphics paper just shy of 5pm. Not even dinner was allowed for, a hefty bowl of fruit consumed in the car drive over.
By 9pm he was stood in front of the main stand accepting the player of the match award, his 1-4 contribution the highlight of an otherwise one-sided affair.
Waterford hadn’t won an U21 championship fixture in six years prior to last night’s contest and neither had they ever achieved victory on Cork soil at this grade, both facts emphatically corrected in one fell swoop.
For senior quartet Austin Gleeson, Tadhg De Búrca, Stephen Bennett and Colin Dunford, this 10-point hammering marked a third competitive win against Cork opposition in the space of a month and a half. And indeed it was the craft and intelligence of these players, along with senior panellists Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, that eased Derek Lyon’s side past the home challenge.
Cork had won the corresponding fixture by 3-18 to 0-16 at Walsh Park last year and from early on it became evident that a mammoth effort would be required if they were to string back-to-back victories over their neighbours.
To be fair to Damien Irwin’s charges, they rose to the challenge in the opening quarter. Centre-back Conor Twomey adopted the sweeper role and, for a time, Cork successfully negated the threat of Waterford’s big-name players.
Cork’s passing was both crisp and smart, impressive midfielder Martin Brennan (0-2), Kevin O’Neill and Mark O’Connor eking out a 0-4 to 0-2 lead.
Full-back Alan Dennehy denied a Colin Dunford goal-bound shot and Déise efforts were frustrated by a succession of poor wides from Gleeson and Stephen Bennett. As the half wore on and Cork’s high-octane approach waned, the Waterford defenders found they had that extra second when delivering possession inside. The passes began to stick and the white flags followed.
Patrick Curran (three frees and one ’65), Shane Bennett and Ryan Donnelly strung six unanswered minors between the 15th and 23rd minute, Waterford effortlessly moving 0-8 to 0-5 clear.
Mark O’Connor (free) narrowed the deficit approaching the interval and any hope of a Cork upset hinged on a positive opening to the second half. It never arrived. In fact, the opposite materialised.
Waterford outscored their opponents by 0-6 to 0-3 to effectively put the result to bed. Gleeson, Shane Bennett, Stephen Bennett and Curran split the posts at their ease, Cork now confined to chasing shadows.
Darren Casey halted a Shane Bennett goal charge on 38 minutes, ‘keeper Patrick Collins producing a smart save to deny corner-back Shane McNulty in the ensuing play. By this stage, Waterford poured forward relentlessly and four unanswered points from Curran (0-2), Shane Bennett and Dunford extended their lead to nine, 0-19 to 0-10.
After Cork’s Patrick Collins and Sean O’Donoghue were both denied goal chances turning the bend for home, corner-forward Luke Meade made it third time lucky when finishing to the net on 56 minutes. It made little difference. The Cork supporters continued to stream out onto the Boreenmanna Road. And well they might, Shane Bennett crowning a superb hours hurling with a goal, scrambled at that, on 58 minutes.
Derek Lyons’ charges now progress to meet three-in-a-row champions Clare in Ennis on July 15.
P Curran (0-12, 0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘65); Shane Bennett (1-4); A Gleeson, C Dunford, Stephen Bennett, R Donnelly, DJ Foran (0-1 each).
L Meade (1-1); M O’Connor (0-3 frees), M Brennan (0-3 each); D Geary (0-2) C Twomey (0-1 free), K O’Neill (0-1 each).
B Nolan (Roanmore); S McNulty (De La Salle), C Gleeson (Fourmilewater), K Bennett (Ballysaggart); M Harney (Bonmahon), T De Búrca (Clashmore Kinsalebeg), T Devine (Modeligo); R Donnelly (Dungarvan), C Dunford (Colligan); A Gleeson (Mount Sion), D Lyons (Dungarvan), Shane Bennett (Ballysaggart); Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart), DJ Foran (Portlaw), P Curran (Dungarvan) Subs: M Kearney (Ballyduff Upper) for Donnelly (44 mins), Cathal Curran (Dungarvan) for Harney (51), B Phelan (Ballinameela) for Foran (57), B O’Sullivan (Ballygunner) for Shane Bennett (60).
P Collins (Ballinhassig); D Browne (Kanturk), A Dennehy (Charleville), S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra); D Noonan (Glen Rovers), C Twomey (Newtownshandrum), N Cashman (Blackrock); R Cahalane (Ballymartle), M Brennan (Fermoy); D Casey (Charleville), K O’Connor (Mallow), K O’Neill (Watergrasshill); M O’Connor (Douglas), A Spillane (Castlelyons), L Meade (Newcestown).
D Geary (Fermoy) for K O’Connor (26 mins), D Lee (Na Piarsaigh) for M O’Connor (40), K Histon (Cobh) for Noonan (51), S Hegarty (Dungourney) for Browne (59).
F Horgan (Tipperary).