Joe Deane: Waterford rivalry defined Cork

Joe Deane faced Kilkenny in four All-Ireland finals, but he doesn’t take issue when it’s suggested it was the battles with Waterford that defined his career with Cork.
Joe Deane: Waterford rivalry defined Cork

Simple maths explains some of that. Deane came across Brian Cody’s charges five times in total in championship. Waterford crossed his path 10 times over the course of his 14 seasons in red, but it was the quality of those games with his neighbouring Munster county that stood apart.

“Yeah, the first time I would have played against Kilkenny was in the ’99 All-Ireland final: 13 points to 12. It was lashing rain that day, a miserable day, and it wasn’t a particularly memorable game. ’04: Again there was no goals in it.

“None of them were ever crackers, whereas the Waterford games: ’03 was a great game, ’04 was particularly good from a Waterford perspective. Both sets of teams that time, the tactics probably weren’t what they are now. Waterford, in particular, played off the cuff and they had great flair players.”

Deane, whose native village of Killeagh lies less than 10 miles from the Waterford border, has good reason to look back fondly on those summer days spent in the company of his near neighbours. He stitched his name into the fabric of each chapter.

A long-time free-taker with the Rebels, Deane accounted for 2-48 across the 10 games with the Déise in his time with the seniors and he describes games like the 1998 National League final win and the Munster semi-final in ’99 as “the building blocks” in his career and also, in Cork’s resurgence.

Appreciation for that rivalry has only grown with time. With Cork winning five, Waterford four and the other drawn, they were equal partners in a gripping storyline that produced some of the most dramatic hurling every witnessed. It was a narrative written for a long time in the mecca of Thurles, before they took the show further up the road to Croke Park, where they met five times between 2005 and 2007.

They meet again this Sunday in another All-Ireland semi-final at HQ, but with fewer fireworks expected.

“To be fair to Cork, they have set up very positive this year. They have gone about their business in a very positive manner. They have played cracking, enjoyable hurling. Waterford and a few of the other teams have set up a bit more defensively.

“That’s just the way it is,” Deane reckons. “They see it as their strength in trying to win an All-Ireland and it certainly won’t be an open, flowing game. It’ll probably be more like the All-Ireland quarter-final against Wexford.”

How Cork handle the sweeper — if Waterford go that way — will make for interesting viewing and there are other questions, besides, such as how the younger crew on this Cork panel will cope with the pressure that comes with walking out at HQ for a game of this magnitude.

Deane doesn’t harbour many worries in that sense. The size and slickness of the surface in Croke Park should suit what he describes as a “fast, skilful” hurling team such as Cork and they handled Thurles pretty well three times already this summer.

The parallels between this generation and the one he featured so heavily in during late 90s have been well-thumbed and Deane isn’t the first to point out that his Cork team emerged from the dark on the back of the sort of underage success that has been largely absent here.

“The nucleus of a very good team has been there for a few years,” he added of the current bunch. “They got to an All-Ireland final in ’13. Pat Horgan, Seamie [Harnedy] and Conor Lehane and those guys. Mark Ellis. Those guys were involved.

“We were just short a few. The new guys who came in have stepped up to the mark and taken the whole country by surprise with their level of maturity and the level of their performances, so far. Mark Coleman in the half-back line has been superb, [Darragh] Fitzgibbon in midfield.

“Coupled with that is the general form of a couple of other key players. Damien Cahalane has come on an awful lot at full-back. He has really settled into that role, which has tightened up the defence. Mark Ellis is back to full fitness. He went through a difficult period with injury and probably wasn’t going at it on all cylinders. They have really built up the middle of the defence and then Conor Lehane delivering on an ongoing basis, Seamie into form and Patrick Horgan as well.”

If he’s a believer, then he preaches caution too. By way of context, Deane talks about the rumours of infighting in the Tipperary camp back in May, the long layoff Waterford had to contend with before the provincial semi-final and the litany of missed chances Clare rued after the decider.

“It can go either way,” he said of Sunday.

Just like old times.

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