For the 72,022 in attendance and those in the southeast corner of the country, the small print may not be as important as the headlines, so we’ll start with the big takeaway from yesterday’s game.
Waterford will go to their second All-Ireland final in half a century next month, having dismissed Cork by double digits in Croke Park. An evenly balanced game lurched decisively Waterford’s way when the Munster champions lost Damien
Cahalane to a second yellow card with the game entering the final quarter, and Waterford’s experience showed.
They kept Cork at bay late on, with Jamie Barron, a towering presence throughout the game, soloing through for a fourth goal to put the icing on the cake. The final margin was 4-19 to 0-20 as the winners revelled in the open spaces left by a team whose inexperience suddenly looked far more obvious than it had all year.
The speculation about Waterford’s possible alignments, sweepers and spare men hardened into fact at 3.30pm: they started Conor Gleeson at right-corner-forward but he soon drifted back the field, while Austin Gleeson travelled to top of the left before also coming back out to the open prairie, tracked by Stephen McDonnell, while who was that free for them at the back, Darragh Fives?
No matter. Waterford brought their greater experience to the table yesterday and it showed in the incremental improvements all over the field compared to the sides’ Munster championship meeting.
Their defence was better on the Cork puck-outs; they kept Conor Lehane, who tormented them in early summer, away from the ball; and Fives read the supply to the Cork inside line well, starving them of possession.
They also had Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, who’s enjoying a late-career revival worthy of Philip Roth or Bill Murray. The Stradbally man popped up with Waterford’s
third-minute goal, collecting Shane Bennett’s crossfield ball for a calm finish.
With Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron back to their best in the middle of the field, Waterford built an attacking platform that they didn’t have in Thurles and performed accordingly. Their appetite on the breaking ball was better also.
Why, then, were they only a point ahead at the break? Cork had the best forward on view in the opening half, Patrick Horgan, whose touches and accuracy kept Cork in touch. The men in red needed him on top form: Waterford screened their own full-back line well and denied Cork the space
inside the 45-metre line they craved.
When Cahalane was sent to the line, however, Waterford poured forward in numbers and Cork couldn’t hold the tide back with 14 men. They say everything goes wrong for a government going wrong, and that was how it must have felt for the men in red when Barron motored through for his second and Waterford’s fourth goal. By then the final whistle couldn’t come quickly enough for the supporters in red and white.
However, Cork will be deeply unhappy that Waterford talisman Austin Gleeson was on the field of play for most of the game. Gleeson
appeared to indulge in hurling’s most fashionable transgression midway through the first half yesterday, stripping Cork’s Luke Meade of his
helmet near the sideline on the Hogan Stand side of the field, but the incident was missed by referee James Owens and his officials.
That Owens took no action was made all the more galling for those in red when Gleeson intervened decisively in the second half, setting up Jamie Barron’s goal with a searing crossfield pass and dancing through for a terrific solo
For much of the game Gleeson was relatively
peripheral but he imposed himself on the game with that irresistible late surge. Others to shine were that much-improved midfield pairing Waterford fielded. Moran continued his good form from the Wexford quarter-final, hitting long-range points when Waterford needed them in the first half, and Barron’s industry and energy, never mind his goal-scoring touch - underlined their superiority.
It was a terrific display given the
potential for distraction that existed for the last couple of weeks. Tadhg de Búrca’s
suspension arising out of the Wexford game went to a DRA hearing late on Thursday night, but Barron shrugged off any suggestion it had blurred Waterford’s focus: ”During the week we were told that Tadhg wouldn’t be playing, and that was a big incentive for us to get over the line.
“I don’t think it was a big disruption — obviously Tadhg is a massive player for us, he’s an unbelievable player — but we said Tadhg, he deserves to be in an All-Ireland final, and thankfully we were able to get it over the line today.”
Whether Waterford will be able to call on Austin Gleeson for that game remains to be seen, while they may also be missing Conor Gleeson, who got a straight red along with Cork’s Patrick Horgan late on. To compound a bad day for the officials, Horgan didn’t
appear to be the Cork player involved in the incident which led to the sendings-off.
As ever, Waterford manager Derek McGrath saw the game in a wider context when asked about the build-up to the final with Galway.
“It’s going to be brilliant,” said McGrath.
“The general theme in Waterford is that we have
suffered in general. We needed a lift, the town and the county needed some sort of uplifting surge in terms of their pursuit of the Cath Lab or things that are central to Waterford people’s emotions.
“This will give everybody a pep in their step. This group prides themselves on their
humility and the modesty of their approach. That will see us in good form ahead of the game.
“If we can just get the
balance… everything for me is centred on one word, and that’s balance in terms of their approach.
“You’ll probably get a different song on Up For The Match, which is a bonus.”
For Cork the dynamic was understandably different and the rawness of defeat was
visible when selector Pat Hartnett spoke to the media: ”Firstly, I’d like to say that the better team won on the day. That has to be acknowledged. We were ahead and then they got away from us so I wouldn’t like to dwell on the red cards.
“We didn’t do ourselves
justice in some departments, though progress has been made this year. Alan Cadogan has been quite sick with
cellulitis, Luke Meade had a broken finger; they’re not
excuses, they are facts.
“The game was swinging to and fro and the team that makes the least mistakes wins.”
Hartnett’s analysis was crisp and accurate. Cork picked the wrong day to underperform, but to say progress has been made is a considerable understatement.
The team ranked fifth in Munster by most observers collected provincial honours and saw an All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park, something bound to accelerate the side’s development. Given the success at U17 and minor, and a provincial appearance at U21, Cork have re-established themselves as a power in the land: The future has a reddish tinge.
The quest to determine the
power in the land comes to a head early next month, of course, when two lengthy famines intersect in Croke Park. Right now you’d give Galway a tentative nod, but who would back against a side trying to end a barren spell which goes back to the fifties?
All sorts of variables come into play now, with the biggest prize in the game on the line, and all those little details that add up. Attitude and nerve, skills and belief. Never mind the speed bumps nobody sees coming: ask Waterford man Thomas Barr.
It’d be a pity if another
unpredictable factor, the
disciplinary processes of the GAA, were to be the decisive factor.
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