The Waterford players made no effort to hide their devastation, while their opponents were equally sombre. Cork dared not celebrate a one-point escape over a Division 4 team who hadn’t won a competitive fixture since February 11 and, in truth, the losers nearly had more cause to be cheerful, such was the bravery of their endeavours and the well-organised nature of a defensive structure that reduced Cork to five scores in the opening 50 minutes.
In the end, they had to make do with a moral victory.
It was 1960 when Waterford last scored a championship win over Cork and this was as close as any Déise team has come in the intervening 57 years. The sight of Donie Breathnach, Thomas O’Gorman, Tommy Prendergast, and Michael Curry stretched out on the Fraher Field turf with their hands covering their faces after seven minutes of injury-time told you that the first upset of championship 2017 had slipped through their fingers.
Donncha O’Connor certainly knew as much.
Introduced with the underdogs ahead by 1-6 to 1-4 — Gavin Crotty slid home the Waterford goal early in the second half following a mistake by Ken O’Halloran — the 36-year old brought an end to a 15-minute barren spell, when kicking Cork’s opening score of the second period on 50 minutes.
James Loughrey subsequently levelled proceedings and, though Donie Breathnach twice more edged the Déise into a one-point lead — the scoreboard had them 1-8 to 1-7 in front on the hour mark — it was O’Connor’s second from play, a fine kick in front of the stand, that nudged the favourites back into pole position with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
“It didn’t look good with 10 minutes to go. We had to dig it out. No offence to Waterford but that’s certainly not going to be good enough from here on in,” O’Connor remarked.
“We need to have a look at ourselves. It didn’t matter who we were playing, we weren’t at the races in the first half at all. We didn’t go for the game. We weren’t going at 100%. We seemed to be going at 80%. We had a breeze behind us in the second half and I suppose that helped us.
“Look, we got over the line and we’re going to learn a lot from tonight, which might be a plus, but we need to be honest with ourselves or else we’re wasting our time.”
Peadar Healy’s charges weren’t overly deterred by Alan O’Connor’s sending-off close to the finish. Mark Collins split the posts shortly after to complete a three-in-a-row sequence to put two between the sides, but back came Waterford. Paul Whyte and Breathnach’s fourth free had this quarter-final level two minutes into time added on.
Colm O’Neill’s first successful dead-ball attempt and Paul Kerrigan’s third – the latter supplied Cork’s goal in the first half when his fisted effort somehow squirmed through a crowded Déise goalmouth – eased Cork jitters and they hung on despite a late raid on Ken O’Halloran’s goal. This was the present management’s fifth championship game and was, by some distance, the worst performance of that lot.
“We know that if we don’t improve we will go out of the Munster championship,” O’Connor continued.
“To play Tipperary at home in two weeks’ time is the first thing that came into my head with seven or eight minutes to go. I said, ‘that ain’t going to happen or is it?’. You could have easily just said, ‘fuck it, we are not going to get over the line here.’ A lot of our lads dug deep. John O’Rourke played well for us. Paul [Kerrigan] kicked a nice score near the end. Colm was winning ball. Maguire came on and was running at them. We need to do all that again in two weeks’ time but we need to do it for 70 minutes.
“It’s hard to say if confidence is a problem on the pitch.
“Other people might think so but I don’t know.”
Surely his display will earn him a start next time out.
“I don’t think so, to be honest. Peter Kelleher set up two goal chances in the second half for Colm and Paul. If those two goals went in, we would be talking about the one-handed catch he got and his lay off. All that matters is that Cork win. If I don’t play another minute of championship for the rest of the year and Cork win, it doesn’t bother me.”
P Kerrigan (1-3); D O’Connor (0-1 free), J O’Rourke (0-3 each); J Loughrey, C O’Neill (0-1 free), M Collins (0-1 each).
D Breathnach (0-6, 0-5 frees); G Crotty (1-0); P Whyte (0-2); T Prendergast, M Curry, K Murphy (0-1 each).
K O’Halloran; K Crowley, M Shields, J O’Sullivan; T Clancy, J Loughrey, S Cronin; A Walsh, R Deane; K O’Driscoll, M Collins, J O’Rourke; C O’Neill, P Kelleher, P Kerrigan.
A O’Connor for Walsh (10 mins, inj); D O’Connor for K O’Driscoll (45); I Maguire for Deane (49); S Powter for Cronin (52); G Murphy for Kelleher (64); B O’Driscoll for O’Rourke (67).
S Enright; B Looby, R O’Ceallaigh, T O’Gorman; J McGrath, S Prendergast, T Ó hUallacháin; T Prendergast, M Curry; D Breathnach, J Veale, G Crotty; A Trihy, F Ó Cuirrín, P Whyte.
C Murray for Ó Cuirrín (44); M O’Halloran for Veale (47); L Ó Corraoin for Looby (66, inj); D Guiry for Trihy (69)
R Hickey (Clare).
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