Liam Cahill happy to see the Waterford jigsaw taking shape after convincing final win

Stephen Bennett’s hits 2-11 to help Déise claim a fourth hurling league title

Waterford 4-20 Cork 1-23

The magnificent horde of defiant Waterford supporters were still exiting all sides of the pitch when inside dressingroom number three Liam Cahill was asked about any downside to winning the league.

It can be lonely at the top sometimes, still the Waterford manager knows the score: putting four goals and 20 points past Cork on the second evening in April may be child’s play compared to the heavier demands fast coming up, only Cahill doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think so, every player wants to hurl matches, win competitions,” he said. “It is week after week, fairly condensed, but that’s what these lads train for, they’re good big fit men, they’ll recover well, and we’ll look forward to what’s coming in a couple of weeks.

“The real test will start Easter Sunday, let’s call a spade a spade, that is the real judge. Championship hurling is where you really find out whether the jigsaw is coming together or not.”

Judging on Saturday's performance the pieces are coming together quite nicely, some new pieces too: Carthach Daly was a revelation at midfield, the Lismore youngster slotting in alongside Darragh Lyons, and there was no obvious absence of the suspended Austin Gleeson.

Waterford started with greater intent, and once Cork drew level on 26 minutes they promptly kicked for home: two goals within 60 seconds from Patrick Curran and Stephen Bennett proved the strong foundation from there, two in the second half from Bennett again and Dessie Hutchinson proved the capstone.

Bennett finished with 2-11, nine frees, and at times owned the sacred turf as if he was born to play here. Having missed the semi-final win over Wexford, it brought his league tally to 8-51 and he was duly named man-of-the-match.

After trying in vain to break the walled Waterford defence Cork did get one goal back in injury-time thanks to Robbie O’Flynn, obviously too late and against the run of the end-play too.

It means Cork's wait for a league title will go into a 25th year, and in truth they never looked like winning this one, with Waterford superior across all the lines, Jack Prendergast and Neil Montgomery licking up ample ball too.

Hutchinson had been quiet until he jumped to life to land Waterford's fourth goal on 63 minutes, just when a third point from replacement Shane Kingston suggested Cork might somehow rally, bringing the deficit back to four points.

“Ah yeah always a worry, but we speak about this, when the challenge comes how you react,” Cahill said of that last turning point. “These lads have to figure it out on the field, I’m sure we’re going to meet those challenges again, so you can never get enough challenges like that to build the belief, and the boys stemmed it well.”

With 18,930 in attendance the atmosphere was lively throughout, Bennett landing his second goal on 48 minutes when he latched on to a long ball from captain Conor Prunty, back to his dominant presence in defence, the team performance marked throughout by skill and athleticism and pace.

Waterford would have had another early in the second half, only that was called back on the advantage rule, denying Curran his other chance. With the floodlights on for the second half the quality of shooting improved somewhat, still Cork finished with 13 wides.

Waterford hit the hard ground sprinting, Bennett shooting within split seconds but Hawk-Eye ruled that just wide. Daly knocked over their first score seconds later and with that Waterford set the pace and momentum of the first half and rarely let up. Prendergast added a second before Cork got their first from play thanks to Patrick Horgan.

Something wasn’t clicking right with the Cork forwards, not helped it seemed by having the sun in their eyes for parts the first half. Still they were sloppy and guilty of a series of errors that appeared to dent confidence too.

Waterford raced on, going three points clear when Bennett added a second free, though he hit a few strange wides too, not like him in good conditions.

On the quarter-hour Cork got another back with a Horgan free, won himself in the tussle with Prunty. That turned things briefly in Cork’s favour again, and two quick points in succession – from Séamus Harnedy and then Darragh Fitzgibbon – brought them level on 25 minutes. Very briefly.

In the next play, Waterford ran straight down the middle, Michael Kiely sweetly passing off to Curran, who duly buried his shot at goal into the bottom right. Nothing Patrick Collins could do about that.

Waterford came again, Montgomery finding Bennett in space left of the goal, and his shot from some distance out flew into the roof of the net. Two goals within 60 seconds and Waterford were where they needed to be, 2-7 to 0-7 in front.

Shane Barrett did have one great chance to get a goal back for Cork, on 27 minutes, Shaun O'Brien pulling off a brilliant stop. Waterford had averaged 3-23 in their six games so far, this final score true to that form, while it left Cork with a fifth league final defeat since they last won in 1998.

WATERFORD: S O'Brien; C Gleeson, C Prunty (capt), S McNulty; J Fagan, T de Búrca, C Lyons; C Daly (0-1), D Lyons; N Montgomery (0-1), J Prendergast (0-3), P Curran (1-3); D Hutchinson (1-0), Stephen Bennett (2-11, nine frees), M Kiely.

Subs: Shane Bennett for Kiely (57 mins), K Bennett for Montgomery (63), P Mahony for Daly (65), B Power for Curran (69), DJ Foran (0-1) for Prendergast (71).

CORK: P Collins; S O'Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Joyce; T O'Mahony (0-1), M Coleman (capt), R Downey; D Fitzgibbon (0-1), G Millerick; R O'Flynn (1-3), S Barrett (0-2), S Harnedy (0-1); C Lehane (0-2), A Connolly, P Horgan (0-10, eight frees, one 65).

Subs: S Kingston (0-3) for Connolly (h-t), C Cahalane for Harnedy (43 mins), J O'Connor for Lehane (47).

Referee: Liam Gordan (Galway).

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