Call it the Harold Macmillan Syndrome. “Events, dear boy, events.” With 51 minutes gone Cork were a point up, 0-15 to 1-11. Then Damien Cahalane was shown a second yellow by James Owens for his high tackle on Conor Gleeson. Dismissals don’t always decide matches — a minor branch of literature has been devoted to teams who won big games with a man sent off — but Cahalane’s banishment went a long way towards determining the outcome.
Now Waterford had seven men in their own defence, ensuring Cork would continue to stay at arm’s length, while vast swards of emerald acreage opened up in the other half of the field. Jamie Barron sallied forward for their second goal, Austin Gleeson sashayed through for their third and in injury time, with 27 men out there, Colin Dunford set up Barron to complete his brace. Would it all have happened had Cahalane been less rash? Events, dear boy, events.
Michael Walsh and Kevin Moran always lead from the front for Waterford. Here they did so in glorious fashion, the first men over the top and heading straight for the enemy trenches. After four minutes Walsh, not usually confused with Seamus Callanan or Lionel Messi, had a goal after fine work on the left by Shane Bennett. Moran finished with 0-4 to his credit, 0-3 in the opening quarter.
and all of that.
The first half was notable for the lack of scope afforded to two of the leading lights: both Gleeson and Conor Lehane, so effective for Cork in Munster, were prominent by their very irrelevance. Gleeson’s afternoon changed entering the final quarter when he hit a typical collector’s item of a point, struck without looking from the middle of the field after Shane Fives carried the sliotar out of defence.
Four minutes later he caught Christopher Joyce in possession and sent the ball across for Jamie Barron to meet it at the far post and beat Anthony Nash. Within 90 seconds he stamped his personality all over the semi-final with a goal that will never be forgotten. There and then Waterford moved beyond Cork’s grasp. And yes, after-match conversation centred on an incident involving the Mount Sion man that may yet have serious repercussions. That’s Austin Gleeson for you. He comes with warts attached. Would Déise folk have him any other way?
Whatever one’s view of the sweeper system, the proof of the pudding — for Waterford anyway — has come in the consumption. A third consecutive All-Ireland semi-final appearance has at last yielded a big day out in September. The first thing the underdogs needed to do here was the one thing they hadn’t done in the Munster semi-final: get off the bus and perform. With Darragh Fives proving a more than acceptable stand-in for Tadhg de Búrca and even weighing in with a point, the familiarity of their favoured structure allowed Waterford to hit the ground running and lead by a point at the interval. That was the base they needed.
Look where they started out and where they finished up. Granted, this was a second August disappointment in Croke Park as Munster champions in four years. But though Waterford deconstructed Anthony Nash’s puckout strategy, with the result that Lehane was eclipsed, Darragh Fitzgibbon gave further notice of big days to come when demonstrating his leadership in the second half. By a similar token Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, and Luke Meade are still in intercounty swaddling clothes. They’ll be heard of again and they’ll be back in Croke Park again. Mark it down.