Cork lived up to their favourites’ billing to reach the Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC final with a win over Waterford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night, but they were pushed all the way.
Trailing by 1-8 to 0-8 at half-time, the Rebels eventually ground down their visitors with late points from Declan Dalton, Liam Healy and sub Conor Cahalane, but it was a tough challenge, as manager Denis Ring had expected.
“We weren’t a bit surprised by Waterford; we knew exactly what they had, we had seen them playing,” said Ring. “They’re a serious team, very well organised and very cohesive, you could see that they had done a lot of work together and we were maybe a bit disjointed at times. In fairness to our lads, they may have been disjointed in some of the play, but they didn’t lack for courage to come along and get the win.
Waterford won the toss and opted to play with the wind in the first half in front of the crowd of 3,260. While an early free from Jack Prendergast had them in front, Cork fashioned an opening immediately after and captain Shane Kingston would have had a goal but for a good Billy Nolan save for a 65, which was put wide.
By the ninth minute, the score was 0-2 each, but when Waterford created a goal opportunity, they took it. Darragh Lyons’ pass for Prendergast was perfect and, while he could have shot, he showed good awareness to pass to John Paul Lucey, who shot home from close range.
Points followed from Andrew Casey — after a good block-down — and Neil Montgomery, after a Conor Prunty run to open up a five-point advantage, with the lead never less than three for the remainder of the half.
After midfielder Casey’s second for Waterford, the score stood at 1-7 to 0-6 on 24 minutes, when Cork were nearly in again, as Liam Healy found Michael O’Halloran — a late replacement for the injured Tim O’Mahony — but he was denied by a combination of Nolan and corner-back Darragh Lynch and the goal was the difference at the break.
“The wind was a significant factor, but the first quarter of an hour, we were very poor. We did steady things and played better after that,” Ring said. “The way we had been playing, you’d have taken three points down at half-time. We had a couple of goal chances, but Billy Nolan was excellent. Then, Waterford got the first two points of the second half and made it a real battle, but in fairness to the lads they stood up. We made a few changes, positional changes, which I think helped and improved matters and our workrate was higher. We won more breaks.”
John Paul Lucey and Darragh Lyons had points for Waterford on the resumption, but Cork responded well with five in a row, from Robbie O’Flynn (two), influential subs Daire Connery, free-taker Declan Dalton and captain Shane Kingston.
While Jack Prendergast and goalkeeper Billy Nolan scored frees, as Waterford pushed ahead again, Cork had got on top with Billy Hennessy and Darragh Fitzgibbon impressive and they finally hit the front through Mark Coleman on 51 minutes.
Waterford manager Seán Power was full of praise for how his team had dealt with a talented Cork side.
“Those lads [Cork] are quality hurlers,” he said. “To keep them quiet for the whole game was going to be difficult.
“They got on top of us and that was the push, but you can’t fault our fellas, they gave it their all. Maybe we might have got a few more frees in the first half, but I’m not complaining, we had a couple of wides too but generally we were very economical.
“If they all go over, you might be in a better position and possibly could have won the game.”
Scorers for Cork:
D Dalton 0-8 (frees), D Fitzgibbon 0-3, S Kingston, R O’Flynn, J O’Connor, D Connery, L Healy 0-2 each, M Coleman, C Cahalane 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford:
JP Lucey 1-2, J Prendergast 0-4 (frees), B Nolan 0-3 (frees), A Casey 0-2, P Hogan, D Lyons, N Montgomery, I Daly, C Prunty, C Lyons 0-1 each.
G Collins (Ballinhassig); D Lowney (Clonakilty), D Griffin (Carrigaline), N O’Leary (Castlelyons); E Murphy (Sarsfields), M Coleman (Blarney), B Hennessy (St Finbarr’s); C O’Leary (Valley Rovers), D Fitzgibbon (Charleville); R O’Flynn (Erin’s Own), D Dalton (Fr O’Neills), M O’Halloran (Blackrock); L Healy (Sarsfields), S Kingston (Douglas), J O’Connor (Sarsfields).
D Connery (Na Piarsaigh) for O’Halloran (36), C Cahalane (St Finbarr’s) for O’Leary (44), L O’Shea (Lisgoold) for O’Connor (60).
B Nolan (Roanmore); J Curran (Dungarvan), M Daykin (Mount Sion), D Lynch (Passage); C Prunty (Abbeyside), J Henley (Tallow), G Cullinane (Passage); A Casey (Ballyduff Upper), M Mahony (Ballygunner); D Lyons (Dungarvan), JP Lucey (Shamrocks), N Montgomery (Abbeyside); E Meaney (De La Salle), J Prendergast (Tramore), P Hogan (Ballygunner).
I Beecher (Tallow) for Casey (42), I Daly (Lismore) for Montgomery (54), C Lyons (Ballyduff Lower) for Lynch (49), H Ruddle (Ballygunner) for Meaney (60).
J McCormack (Tipperary).
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