Waterford's passion, guts and resilience rewarded


MUNSTER SHC FINAL REPLAY Waterford 1-16 Cork 1-13:SO FROM the men they couldn’t hang, a night at the opera. There were storm scenes, there was battle, there was a ghost from Munster finals past. In the end the cup was lifted under a gleaming moon and from the Semple sward the roars of the Deise bruised the skies. Waterford’s fourth Munster title of the decade was received as lustily as their first.

If you’re a purist, if you have delicate sensibilities, a tendency towards fainting or a reliance on tonics and restoratives, this Munster final replay wasn’t for you. If you can take your hurling passionate and bloody and raw this was a great night.

Cork lost and it detracts not a sliver from the achievement of Waterford to observe that the loss before the game of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Jerry O’Connor and the withdrawal from the action of the excellent Shane O’Neill and Ronan Curran were straws which broke the camel’s spine.

In Waterford they have achieved the near impossible, a seamless transition from a great team to a younger version without losing any of the heart or passion.

For years they have been described as an old team having yet another last hurrah. A study of their panel tells a different story.

There are a handful of old salts but most of this team are in their prime or approaching it. And coming up behind them, with Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan in the vanguard, are the fruits of colleges and underage successes. Waterford aren’t going away you know and are just one game away from another All-Ireland final.

It was fitting that Dan Shanahan scored the goal which eventually separated the sides. Written off as often as the team he plays for, Dan the Man was sprung from the bench some time after his sibling (Mo the Bro?) had got the call.

He hadn’t been on long when he latched onto a ball right down the centre, found himself in ample space and sent a low shot skidding into the Cork net. It was just his second championship goal since the annus mirabilis of 2007. In the crowd of 22,763 there was scarcely a partisan who begrudged him the moment.

“I’m delighted for Dan” said Davy Fitzgerald, “he has been written off and taken so many knocks, but he is a good guy, a great guy to have around.”

Shanahan’s resilience is representative of this side. This victory was founded on passion and guts. In the aftermath Denis Walsh of Cork advised that it had been a very tactical game. His counterpart Fitzgerald shrugged and said he’d had no tactics.

Waterford had just gone out and hurled. That hurling was done with a bravery and commitment which restricted the starting Cork forwards to a single point from play on Saturday night.

Cork were pressured so often and so early that the variety was drained form their attack. Time after time players dropped balls from the sky right down on Aisake Ó hAilpín’s head but the Waterford full-back line closed in on him time after time. He was held scoreless but at least sowed some panic into the opposition when he went near the ball. The same couldn’t be said for his confederates.

Waterford in truth weren’t significantly more incisive. John Mullane enjoyed/endured an extraordinary battle with Eoin Cadogan. Mullane took away three points, including his third, the score of the night. The difference was that around him there were options which paid off time after time.

In midfield Waterford dug out their share of possession. In defence Brick Walsh was sublime and the rest were merely excellent, while Tony Browne’s groundbreaking defiance of the ageing process is the wonder of our time. The longer the game went on and the heavier the ground got, the younger he seemed to become.

Cork trailed 0-8 to 0-4 at half-time and on such a low-scoring attritional night it was, as Denis Walsh conceded, perhaps leaving themselves with too much to do. In the first half they had seen good goal chances from Ó hAilpín, Cussen, Horgan and Niall McCarthy all go a-begging and ran up a generous tally of wides.

The second half began in a flourish for Cork however. Ó hAilpín had his best period setting up Cussen and Paudie O’Sullivan for points as Cork rattled off three without replay before Eoin Kelly restored the lead to two.

Ben O’Connor landed a monstrous free from the left wing on 42 minutes. Three minutes later he had something considerably closer, maybe 35 yards out, to deal with. He half drove, half lobbed it into the Waterford net.

Suddenly Cork were two clear.

And yet when they needed to close the deal, Cork didn’t have the resources. They missed the sort of damage which the O’Connors or Cathal Naughton can do when running at a team from a position of space. Naughton was busy bailing water at midfield; Ben scarcely got the space to swing a cat.

Two points down and Waterford responded by scoring the next four; each of the four points from a different player. Cork recovered and almost got lucky seven minutes form time. Trailing by a point when Cussen burst through they saw Giant No 2 dragged to earth and a penalty awarded.

John Gardiner drove a high head-high ball which Clinton Hennessy saved at the cost of a point. Cork were level. Eoin Kelly, previously impeccable all night, missed three chances to give Waterford the win before time ran out.

Davy Fitzgerald, afterwards still exuding the volcanic, elemental passion he brings to the game, recounted what he told the players before extra time.

“I was very calm. I asked them were they tired. They said they weren’t. . . I looked them all in the eye and told them they would win. I believed they would win.”

They scored two points to Cork’s one in the first period before Shanahan’s goal eight minutes from the end. Ben O’Connor’s free closed the gap to three again but Waterford repelled each subsequent frenzied attack.

Cork still walking but wounded face Antrim next weekend. Waterford regroup .

“There’s not many Clare men have managed teams to Munster championships!” said Davy afterwards. “This is big. I’ve seen these fellas low and I’ve seen them kicked. Two years ago people said to walk away from them; we have work to do but we’ll enjoy this for a couple of days.” Well-earned.

WATERFORD: C Hennessy; E Murphy, L Lawlor, N Connors; T Browne (0-1, free), M Walsh, D Prendergast; S O’Sullivan, R Foley (0-1, lineball); S Molumphy, K Moran (0-1), E Kelly (0-8, six frees); S Prendergast, J Mullane (0-3), S Walsh (0-1). Subs: B O’Halloran (0-1)for Prendergast (48 mins); M Shanahan for Walsh (60 mins); J Nagle for Lawlor (67); D Shanahan (1-0)for Mullane (inj 70); E McGrath for O’Halloran (80); K McGrath for Moran (83); S Casey for M Shanahan (91).

CORK: D Óg Cusack; S Murphy, E Cadogan, B Murphy; J Gardiner (0-2, one ‘65’, 0-1 pen), R Curran, S O’Neill; T Kenny, C Naughton (0-2); B O’Connor(1-5, 1-5 frees), M Cussen (0-1), N McCarthy; K Murphy, A Ó hAilpín, P Horgan. Subs: R Ryan for O’Neill (36 mins); P O’Sullivan (0-2)for Horgan (ht); L O’Farrell for Murphy (65); W Egan (0-1)for Curran (70).

Referee: B Gavin(Offaly).