Championship form favours Cork but rivals Waterford not short of motivation
Over the years this fixture has thrilled and disappointed in equal measure
In the Munster Hurling Final of June 2004 Waterford’s John Mullane is restrained by Cork’s Seán Óg Ó’hAilpín after striking Brian Murphy. Photograph:Patrick Bolger/Inpho
I was involved in some of those games in the middle of the last decade, first of all as a selector with Cork in 2003 when we beat the Déise men in the Munster final with John Mullane really coming of age and scoring three goals for the losing side. This was a really important result for a Cork team which spent the winter at loggerheads with the county board .
The next year we met again in the Munster final (after falling at the last hurdle in Croke Park the previous September) in a game that has gone down as a classic.
Brian Corcoran, who had retired two years earlier, was now back on the scene and was picked to start at full forward. Selector Seánie O’Leary found himself in a no-win situation when the Irish Under-21 rugby team made it through to the World Cup final. Seán’s son Tomás was on the team.
Both the games were on Sunday – one in Thurles, the other in Scotland. Seán was a great hurler and equally good team mentor, but he never quite mastered bilocation. As any father would have done, Seán decided to go to Glasgow after much consultation and deliberation.
Criticism in wake of loss We played excellently in the first half on that
Sunday afternoon. We were three points up at half-time, after playing with the wind. The sending off of Waterford’s Mullane should have been the icing on the cake for us, but as has often happened the 14-man team does better than the 15, strange as it may seem. As is well documented, we lost the game and came in for a lot of criticism for not using the extra man to better effect.
The media gave us, the selectors, a fairly hard time. Seánie O Leary’s tactical nous was sadly missed, opined the local press. That day we sat on a bench on the sideline and I can honestly say we saw very little of what was happening on the field of play from that knee high (disad)vantage point.
However, we went on the scenic journey to All-Ireland success while Waterford bowed out at the semi-final hurdle.
The next year we met again in the Munster championship and reversed the result of 2004. With Donal O’Grady gone – and yours truly now in the hot seat as manager – this was a very important result for all of us in the camp. However, it didn’t end there as we met again in the All-Ireland quarter-final. In the lead up to that game we had a bit of an issue with a very small few players spending too much time celebrating our Munster final win over Tipperary. There was what became a fairly serious “clear the air” meeting from which a consensus was agreed upon that alcohol was out until season’s end.
And so we headed to Croke Park and and beat the Déise again with a very significant Corcoran goal turning the game in our favour.
As the warm-down ended in the designated area near the dressing room I noticed a mini-delegation heading my way being led by teetotaller and captain Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.
Seán Óg’s request The gist of the request was that the boys deserved a few beers which, he assured me, would only be a few
. It would end that night and not run into a marathon like the last one. What could I say?
The next year we met again in an All-Ireland semi-final that went right down to the wire. Before this game I was very afraid that the law of averages would catch up with us because on paper Waterford were just as good as Cork and we had won three of the last four championship games between us.
We were a point ahead with added time up when referee Brian Gavin awarded a very dubious free (aren’t they all dubious at that stage of the game when your team is a point up?). However, this free was 65m out and the legend that is Ken McGrath sent the ball the distance but Dónal Óg Cusack, with unbelievable dexterity, directed the sliotar from over the crossbar out towards the sideline and after another 30 or so seconds of full-on tussles the final whistle was blown. It’s not an understatement to say everybody in the camp was drained but elated.
In that bus heading out to Heuston station there was a buzz and a realisation that this was more than a victory. The radio was full of the drama that had just finished in Croke Park. This was a battle to the end and until Gavin blew the final whistle the result wasn’t certain.
On arrival at the station the players headed quickly along the platform to their designated carriage at the far end of the train which was already full of the equally drained loyal fans. Then a Mexican wave of sorts began as the fans in the first carriage began applauding and the applause surged through the whole train as their heroes passed outside each carriage. This was a “hair standing on the back of neck moment”.
Tradition favours Cork There have been some exciting games between the counties since. A fortnight ago an underrated Waterford gave a very measured display for 50 minutes but seemed to run out of steam. Tradition favours Cork the next day, but tradition doesn’t win games.
This should be another game to consolidate the Munster hurling brand and continue what has been a very exciting southern championship so far.