Cork march on as Waterford show fight in emotional last stand

Déise boss Derek McGrath will take his time deciding if he will stay on with county

 

Cork 1-23 Waterford 1-20

And now the end is here. Only for a game with no lasting impact on the summer beyond deciding Cork’s next route of passage, it may yet leave a lasting touch on Waterford hurling. Emotionally it feels like it already has.

It ended with Cork digging deep into the seven minutes of injury time to score the final three points of the game, and with that seal their place in the Munster hurling final against Clare. By then Waterford had dug out every last ounce of pride to inject the game with life far beyond its meaning, only to still come up short.

As BB King might sing, if it wasn’t for bad luck, this team would have no luck at all. After four straight Sundays of it Waterford manager Derek McGrath might feel he had nothing left to give either, only despite the hints and speculation this would be end of his five-year term, McGrath suddenly and understandably wasn’t so sure.

“I don’t have a story for you today on it,” said McGrath, standing with his back against the wall outside the Waterford dressingroom, staring straight ahead through watery eyes.

“I’ll give myself some time, talk to my family. Everything I’ve done this year was pointed towards what’s happening at the end of the year, and it was complete immersion on everyone’s behalf, the team and the management.

“I think the last few weeks, I’m not going to say they changed my mind, but we geared towards the Munster championship, and it went horribly wrong in a number of ways. We had a plan for the Munster championship and it still might have been the right plan if circumstances had turned out differently.

“You don’t always get what you deserve, first and foremost. I thought they were fatigued by the end of it, out on our feet and Cork were kind of coming at the right time. They got their goal at a crucial time.

“The overriding emotion for us is one of absolute pride in how these guys represented their county. It has been the most difficult week of our lives, in terms of preparation, and to produce a performance like that, dying on their backs with their boots on, it is a very proud moment for us the management and for the players themselves, albeit not to get over the line.”

Indeed this game continued Waterford’s run of everything going from bad to worse – McGrath also losing Noel Connors, Brian O’Halloran and Stephen Bennett to injury in the course of this game. (They also took off Jake Dillon, thinking he was injured, when actually he wasn’t). Still, for a team playing for nothing more than pride, it turned out to be Waterford’s best display of the Munster campaign, a team only getting into the stride even as their season is over on the third Sunday in June.

Cork needed Séamus Harnedy’s 67th-minute goal to put them back in front for the first time since the opening minute. At that late stage they trailed Waterford 1-18 to 0-19, but still Waterford weren’t done: level at 1-20 apiece going into those seven minutes of added time, Cork then rattled off the last three – Patrick Horgan, a monster from Christopher Joyce and then Harnedy seeing them through, to the obvious relief of manager John Meyler on the sideline.

“We’re into the Munster final, that’s what we set out for last January, and that’s it in a nutshell,” said Meyler, the Cork manager suitably subdued given how close they’d come to losing that final place.

“We have Clare in a couple of weeks but that performance today wouldn’t do. The last 10 minutes were very good, that’s character coming out of the lads, we’ve shown that in all our matches.

“Our decision-making was poor at times, and the build-up to the game was quite difficult. Waterford were out of it, would they turn up? Derek McGrath and Dan Shanahan deserve great credit for that (display) but the bottom line is that it’s 5 o’clock now, and we’re in a Munster final.”

Cork also hit 17 wides, Patrick Horgan guilty of a few sitters, before finishing with 0-5. Billy Cooper had a massive second half at midfield, Mark Coleman too, both chipping in key scores when they needed them most – Cork finishing with nine different scorers in all.

That they played their best hurling in the last 10 minutes is encouraging, but Waterford owned the first half, and with seven different scorers, the best from Pauric Mahony, Jake Dillon and a beast from Austin Gleeson, they kept their noses in front, before going into the break four points to the good, 0-15 to 0-11.

Cork levelled up on 53 minutes, Horgan converting a 65-metre free, only as if on cue up stepped Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, who marked his record 74th hurling championship appearance for Waterford to set up Tommy Ryan’s goal, which ensured Cork had to fight it out until the end. It was also Walsh’s last act of the game – only maybe not his career.

“Look, when you think about Waterford, you think about John Treacy, you think of Seán Kelly, John O’Shea, great Waterford people,” said McGrath.

“And when you think of the hurling, you think of Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Philly Grimes, etc. But for me, he stands right up there with all of them, just for his pure humility and his warrior-like qualities but also for his guile and his cunning as well, he doesn’t get enough respect and credit for that. He’s just a fantastic person to share a dressingroom, great respect. And you know, he could go again.”

And possibly not the only one.

CORK: 1 A Nash; 2 S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, 4 C Spillane; 5 C Joyce (0-1), 6 E Cadogan, 7 M Coleman (0-2, one sideline); 8 D Fitzgibbon (0-1), 9 B Cooper (0-3); 10 L Meade, 14 S Harnedy (1-3), 12 D Kearney (0-2); 13 S Kingston (0-3), 11 C Lehane (0-3), 15 P Horgan (0-5,two frees, one 65).

Subs: 19 C O’Sullivan for O’Donoghue (44 mins), 21 M Cahalane for Meade (61 min), J O’Connor for Fitzgibbon (74 mins).

WATERFORD: 1 I O’Regan; 2 I Kenny, 3 C Gleeson, 4 N Connors; 6 A Gleeson (0-1), 10 K Moran, 7 Philip Mahony; 5 M Walsh, 8 J Barron (0-1); 14 T Devine (0-1), 9 Pauric Mahony (0-8, four frees, one 65), 12 J Dillion (0-2); 11 C Dunford, 15 T Ryan (1-3), 13 B O’Halloran (0-2).

Subs: 26 S Keating for Connors (24 mins, inj), 23 DJ Foran (0-1) for Dillon (40 mins), 22 S Roche for O’Halloran (4 mins, inj), 24 S Bennett for Walsh (55 mins), 21 M Shanahan (0-1) for Bennett (60 mins, inj)

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).

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