Waterford find all the answers as Cork lose their Munster sparkle

Terrific team display by Derek McGrath’s side marred by disciplinary concerns


Where to start? Cork, hot favourites and with the blood and bandages bandwagon in full cry, came to Croke Park as Munster champions and were sent home with nothing. Waterford, bereft of a key player, made all the right calls and ruthlessly exploited their opponents' weaknesses to win by a commanding 11 points.

That would be as satisfactory an account as reducing Hamlet to 'man talks too much and dies'.

Once again the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals turned out to be an arena for those who had paid their dues. It was Waterford’s third successive year in the last four and they took to Croke Park with familiarity and purpose.


Conversely Cork all but relived the nightmare of 2014 when they had their last provincial title thrashed out of them and tossed into the Canal by Tipperary. What had looked fresh and irresistible in Munster became laboured and hesitant. Even Anthony Nash ended up putting a couple of puck-outs over the sideline.

They competed until the final quarter but with far less conviction than had marked their displays in the preceding months and when Damien Cahalane was sent off in the 52nd minute on a second yellow card and space opened up – from which Cork initially looked like benefiting – the seeds were sown.

Two goals, from the outstanding Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson within seconds in the 58th minute all but decided the match, pushing Waterford five clear, 3-14 to 0-18, and they outscored Cork 1-5 to 0-2 in the time that remained.

Yet the drama didn't abate. In the 69th minute with Waterford all but home and dry, an incident flared, which saw Conor Gleeson and Cork's Patrick Horgan sent off for straight red cards for striking. The latter may have been the victim of mistaken identity but his fate won't attract a fraction of the attention that Gleeson's will.

Assuming there is no way out for the Waterford player, who was superb in his man-marking detail on Conor Lehane, he will be suspended for the final. This may not be the only bad news on that front for Derek McGrath, who had to plot his way through the match without his accomplished sweeper Tadhg de Búrca.

In the 18th minute Austin Gleeson clearly tugged Luke Meade’s headgear and although the match officials didn’t spot the incident, the video footage is abundantly clear and there will be a nervous lookout for any communications from the CCCC.

It’s a shame that such a dazzling triumph should be clouded by disciplinary matters but in the meantime Waterford will celebrate a perfectly planned and executed performance.

Hopeful drops

All of the areas of concern from the Munster semi-final defeat to the same opposition were addressed. Noel Connors had his first doubtful performance on Horgan in June and was switched this time on to Alan Cadogan, star of Cork's provincial final defeat of Clare.

Horgan did well on Shane Fives and at times threatened to win the match on his own with five points from play but overall the Waterford defence was excellent. Darragh Fives slotted in perfectly as sweeper, taking two steeplejack catches in quick succession in the final quarter as Cork began to launch hopeful drops in on the square to try to retrieve the match and even getting his own score in the 47th minute.

There was a nervousness about Cork’s play from the start. Their five newcomers, who had added so much dash and vigour to the Munster title win, found the going heavier here despite assumptions that the fast surface in Croke Park would be greatly to their liking.

Mark Coleman, many people's early choice as Young Hurler of the Year, struggled on Michael Walsh, whose physicality and experience played a huge role in the early exchanges especially. When Shane Bennett fended off two Cork defenders and played a low ball into Walsh in the fourth minute, the veteran forward calmly took the goal for a 1-1 to 0-2 lead.

The Cork defence lacked the previous snap and cohesion and there were unwelcome flashbacks to the less certain defending of last year but recognition should also be accorded to the Waterford forwards who fought like dogs to complicate their opponents’ exit strategies.

Centrefield was another area where Waterford reversed the fortunes of June. Kevin Moran got the better of Bill Cooper and lanced over four points into the bargain, three of them in the first half when the play was cagier – selectors Dan Shanahan and Diarmuid O'Sullivan added some sideline tensions in the 21st minute and were warned by referee James Owens – and scores slower to come.

Beside him Jamie Barron had another immense display, his running causing panic in the Cork ranks and overshadowing young Darragh Fitzgibbon, whose very promising rookie season ended in disappointment.

Pauric Mahony’s free-taking was restored to its high standards after being on the blink two months ago and he scored a second-half point from his own 45. There was just a point in it at half-time, Waterford leading 1-7 to 0-9. Given the margin at the end, it is maybe surprising that the teams were level 13 times and the third quarter didn’t separate them by much either.

In fact Horgan pinched scores to push Cork two in front, 0-18 to 1-13 in the 57th minute. But almost violently the match was then ripped from their grasp.

Christopher Joyce was dispossessed by Austin Gleeson who expertly played in Barron for his first goal. Within seconds Conor Gleeson hit a great point for emphasis. A minute later his namesake, Austin, decided to go it alone and although Walsh, alone and unmarked, would have been looking for an inquest had Gleeson not scored, he did – 3-14 to 0-18.

The rest was almost ceremonial but for the fateful red cards and the season will now climax with a novel final pairing against Galway.

WATERFORD: 1. Stephen O'Keeffe; 4. Noel Connors, 2. Shane Fives, 3. Barry Coughlan; 7. Philip Mahony, 9. Conor Gleeson (0-1), 18. Kieran Bennett; 8. Jamie Barron (2-1), 10. Kevin Moran (capt; 0-4); 6. Austin Gleeson (1-2), 11. Pauric Mahony (0-8, five frees), 14. Michael Walsh (1-0); 13. Shane Bennett, 12. Jake Dillon, 15. Darragh Fives (0-1).

Subs: 21. Maurice Shanahan (0-1) for Dillon (46 mins), 20. Brian O'Halloran (0-1) for Shane Bennett (55 mins), 19. Tommy Ryan for M Walsh (59 mins), 23. Colin Dunford for Pauric Mahony (69 mins), 22. Patrick Curran for Barron (72 mins).

 CORK: 1. Anthony Nash; 2. Stephen McDonnell (capt.), 3. Damian Cahalane, 4. Colm Spillane; 5. Christopher Joyce, 6. Mark Ellis, 7. Mark Coleman; 8. Bill Cooper, 9. Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-1, line ball); 15. Luke Meade, 11. Conor Lehane (0-2), 12. Shane Kingston (0-1); 13. Alan Cadogan (0-2), 10. Séamus Harnedy (0-1), 14. Patrick Horgan (0-12, seven frees).

 Subs: 25. Michael Cahalane for Meade (half-time), 21. Daniel Kearney for Cooper (65 mins), 24. Luke O'Farrell (0-1) for Cadogan (65 mins)

Referee: James Owens (Wexford).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times