WELL, we should have known. After a week of trumpeting the approach of a Munster hurling final — a Munster final between Cork and Waterford, no less — we’d ourselves set up for a fall.
Everyone should have expected to be under-whelmed, and instead of an event to suit the main stage at Oxegen the 35,962 spectators got a first half from Siamsa Cois Laoi, with a football scoreline after 35 minutes of 7-6.
How distant that seems now. The second half crackled alive and was worthy of the tradition these teams have produced in the last decade. Heroic performances, stirring rallies, and the late drama of a knockout finish (unsurprisingly, given Bernard Dunne’s presence in the Waterford corner).
That tradition also means goals. Green flags raised by Aisake Ó hAilpín and Ben O’Connor looked to have put Waterford to the sword, with the claymore and the epee, respectively.
Ó hAilpín rampaged through the middle, overrunning defenders, and buried his shot; O’Connor visibly redrew his flight plan as he bore down on goal, stitching the ball into the near corner rather than taking the option of the pass across the field.
Cork were seven points up but there were 16 minutes left. Time enough for Waterford to rally, and that meant goals too.
Davy Fitzgerald had Eoin Kelly to call on, the Déise star having overcome a foot infection to line out.
“I just woke up on Thursday morning in pain,” said Kelly, “I’ve been to a few doctors since then, but I felt healthy enough to play.”
Just as well he togged out. Let him talk you through his with just over 10 minutes left.
“Brick made a great catch back the field and I was on my own, shouting for the ball for a few seconds, hoping he’d see me.
“He left it in to me and I caught it, probably the only one I caught all day. Eoin Cadogan probably stood across Donal Óg’s view when I took the shot but it went in, thank God.”
Kelly’s goal left one between them, but Cork edged their lead out to three as the clock showed 70 minutes, cueing what time-honoured tradition compels us to describe as a grandstand finish.
When Waterford won a free 21 metres out Kelly was the man entrusted with the ball. He caught it well, but his shot was saved. However, Tony Browne added another coat of gold paint to his reputation by being first to the rebound, outpacing men who were toddlers when he made his debut. Goal. Level.
“If the ball had rebounded out to the 13-metre line I’d say the referee might have blown up,” said Kelly.
“But Tony was onto it like a flash and had it in the net. I thought we deserved the draw. Hopefully the next day we can drive it on.”
Eoin Cadogan, the hardest-working man in the sports business this summer, was pragmatic when asked for a view on that late equaliser from the other side of the divide.
“Look, you have to clear your lines, we stopped it alright but you have to clear it. We didn’t do that. There’s never much between the teams. We knew we’d have a hard test against Waterford, and that’s what we got.”
The dual star dismissed suggestions that Cork’s chance had gone, pointing out that he and his team-mates had to rally themselves after Waterford ran up a four-point lead after half-time.
“It’s never gone,” said Cadogan. “Remember, we looked dead and buried 10 minutes into the second half but we showed good character to come back.
“People might think we left it slip, but we’ll come back and have another crack off it next week.”
An interesting few days coming up, given Wexford drawing Cork in the qualifiers?
“Busy, busy, busy,” said Cadogan, “But it’s all good.”
The drama didn’t end there. Cork substitute Michael Cussen had a sight of goal with the last play of the game but couldn’t get the necessary venom in his shot. Cue a rematch next Saturday evening in Thurles at 7pm.
It doesn’t leave either manager much time to work with. Denis Walsh has headaches over the injured Jerry O’Connor and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, while those two late goals are likely to be the focus of some pointed discussions at training sessions this week on Leeside.
Cork’s two goals will be dissected in the south-east: there was open country in front of Clinton Hennessy for both of them, and further out the field Davy Fitzgerald’s side was over-reliant on Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh.
Not long to wait for the sequel. We’ll stick our necks out and forecast another instalment of El Clasico.
On yesterday’s evidence, a fairly safe bet.
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