Last year’s All-Ireland finalists arrived into Thurles early yesterday afternoon knowing their summer would not extend beyond 3.40pm. No matter what they did or did not produce here, a verdict had already been given on their 2018 campaign. That, however, is not to say they’d nothing to play for.
There was the not so small matter of this being Michael Brick Walsh’s final outing for Waterford, and the possibility of it also being Derek McGrath’s last as manager.
At the finish, the result had again gone against them. Their championship done and not a single victory managed. But there were few heads hung low. They had kept the Rebels behind or beside them from the fourth to the 66th minute, sneaking briefly back in front as the clock entered the red.
The sight of Cork’s long-serving secretary Frank Murphy, fists clenched, throwing his arms high above his head in delight said plenty of the battle Cork had just scraped past to make certain their Munster final spot.
As it transpired, nothing bar victory would have been sufficient to get them there.
In the opposing dugout, Waterford supporters — and a few wearing red — flocked to Walsh. The 35-year old was the last player to return to the dressing rooms, but quickly reappeared back out on the pitch, still in his matchday attire, to pose for photos with his children and wife Fiona, the latter appropriately donning a No5 Waterford shirt.
On the afternoon when Brick made a record 74th championship appearance, the last act of the Stradbally man was to provide the final pass for Tommy Ryan’s 55th-minute goal.
The score had its roots in the sorcery of Jamie Barron to keep the sliotar in play in front of the Kinnane Stand and away from the three red shirts blocking his path. Pauric Mahony was somehow found, with possession eventually worked to Ryan who beat Anthony Nash.
A quarter of an hour remaining and Waterford led 1-16 to 0-16. So much for this being a dead rubber. John Meyler’s charges were now in grave peril of finishing third in the province and, in the process, relinquishing their provincial crown.
Conor Lehane split the posts in the subsequent action, this score cancelled out by Ryan after selling the most beautiful of dummies to Mark Coleman.
Waterford, again hurt by injuries as Noel Connors, Brian O’Halloran, and Stephen Bennett joined the infirmary, were running low on petrol, but there was nothing from Cork to suggest they could launch a successful overtaking movement.
Shane Kingston let fall a crossfield pass out over the sideline, championship debutant Seamus Keating blocked down a Patrick Horgan point attempt.
Bill Cooper’s third minor, followed as it was by a fine Coleman effort, roused them somewhat and they hit the front on 66 minutes, Seamus Harnedy accepting Horgan’s offload before finding the bottom right corner of Ian Kenny’s goal.
Waterford, though, continued their stubborn refusal to walk away from the hurling summer in a quiet and mannerly fashion.
Two Pauric Mahony white flags returned them in front, 1-20 to 1-19. The fourth official’s board showed seven minutes of injury-time. The Déise wouldn’t score again. Four consecutive weekends of fare had its say.
Kingston levelled proceedings, watched by a crowd of 14,737, Patrick Horgan, Christopher Joyce, and Harnedy inflicting the final cuts on Waterford’s season.
In the closing 20 minutes, the winners outscored their opponents by 1-7 to 0-4. Cork finish the round-robin series as the sole team unbeaten in the province and yet, outside of the end result, management won’t have been in any way satisfied with what they witnessed.
The Rebels clocked 17 wides, although more frustrating was their penchant to overcomplicate matters at the back. On several occasions, a Cork defender opted for that one short pass too many. Sean O’Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan, and Conor O’Sullivan were guilty of needlessly coughing up possession and a Waterford point following directly after.
With no pressure on their shoulders, McGrath’s troops went to town on Cork’s defensive errors in the opening half. Added to a handful of long-range efforts from Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron, Tommy Ryan, and Brian O’Halloran, the already vanquished led 0-15 to 0-11 at the break.
Even more exasperating from a Cork perspective was that Patrick Horgan and Shane Kingston, at the other end, had the beating of their men. And yet, for so long they were so poorly supplied.
With Waterford capable of only one score in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, Cooper (0-2), Horgan (free and ‘65), and a Mark Coleman sideline cut put last year’s Munster champions back on level terms.
Tommy Ryan’s goal followed thereafter. Cork’s late sprint to the line ensured it wouldn’t be the defining score.
Back-to-back Munster titles, not achieved since 2006, remains on the table.
S Harnedy (1-3); P Horgan (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-2 ‘65s); B Cooper, S Kingston, C Lehane (0-3 each); M Coleman (0-1 sc), D Kearney (0-2 each); C Joyce, D Fitzgibbon (0-1 each).
P Mahony (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65); T Ryan (1-3); B O’Halloran, J Dillon (0-2 each); A Gleeson, J Barron, T Devine, M Shanahan, DJ Foran (0-1 each).
A Nash; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Spillane; E Cadogan, C Joyce, M Coleman; D Fitzgibbon, B Cooper; L Meade, S Harnedy, D Kearney; C Lehane, P Horgan, S Kingston.
C O’Sullivan for Cadogan (45); M Cahalane for Meade (62); J O’Connor for Fitzgibbon (74).
I O’Regan; I Kenny, N Connors, C Gleeson; M Walsh, A Gleeson, Philip Mahony; K Moran, J Barron; T Devine, Pauric Mahony, J Dillon; C Dunford, T Ryan, B O’Halloran Subs: S Keating for Connors (25 mins, inj); DJ Foran for Dillon (40); S Roche for O’Halloran (46, inj); S Bennett for Walsh (55); M Shanahan for Bennett (60, inj).
J Keenan (Wicklow).