IT was a positive start by any standards, and the bumper crowd at Pairc Uí Rinn savoured it to the full.
Even allowing for the fact that Waterford were hit by four withdrawals prior to the throw-in, and were already handicapped by the absence of a few key players, Cork issued a clear statement of intent as they comfortably picked up the brace of points at stake in their opening assignment in the National Hurling league last Saturday night.
The performance did much to fuel the growing mood of optimism on Leeside stemming from Jimmy Barry-murphy's return to steer the ship, and an attendance of 7,356 – a record for a league tie at the venue – is indicative of the feel-good factor which the new management have brought to the table.
They picked an experienced side for the fixture, containing just two players – Ross Cashman and Darren Sweetman – who have yet to appear in a championship game, and, along with the recalled Sean Óg Ó háilpin, a lot of interest would have been focused on how they shaped up.
All three made a decent impact, but the player who stole the show on the night was young Conor Lehane, and following a breathe-taking display, which yielded seven spectacular points, the name of the Midleton starlet was on everyone's lips at the end of the 70 minutes.
Lehane's tally matched that which he accumulated in the Waterford Crystal Cup final against Waterford last year when, just out of minor ranks, he later saw about five minutes of championship action after coming on in the All-ireland qualifier against Galway.
He is guaranteed to get a lot more game-time in the season ahead, and, on this evidence, he looks likely to make the step up to the top flight with ease. While Lehane's display was the game's main highlight, all six forwards contributed generously as Cork turned on the style to effectively settle the issue in the first half.
Patrick Horgan, Paudie O'sullivan and Ben O'connor comprised a razor-sharp inside line, with O'sullivan embellishing his performance at full forward with a couple of well-taken goals. Pa Cronin, showing his ballwinning ability to good effect on occasions, shaded his individual duel with Waterford centre-back Kevin Moran, who was about the only defender to measure up for the visitors, while the lively Cathal Naughton was constantly in the picture on the left wing.
Sean Óg and Darren Sweetman both put in a solid shift at midfield, chipping in with a point apiece for good measure, and Ross Cashman made a particularly encouraging league debut at centre back where he was rarely troubled by Michael 'Brick' Walsh, who resembled a fish out of water on the '40 for the losers.
William Egan stood out in the early stages, and he generally kept his end up well in a half back line completed by John Gardiner, who wasn't especially conspicuous overall, and afforded Waterford's Paraic Mahony a bit too much scope at times.
Leading by 3-8 to 0-7 at the interval, Cork appeared to take the foot of the pedal in the second half, allowing Waterford to mount a mini-revival which saw them trim the deficit to five points by the 52nd minute. It was obvious, however, that Waterford needed a goal to get back into serious contention, and it never like coming, such was the dominance of the Cork full-back line in which Shane O'neill, Stephen Mcdonnell and Brian Murphy excelled in front of Donal Og Cusack, who always inspired confidence with his safe handling and superb ball control between the sticks.
Ironically, Waterford began with a flourish, notching three unanswered points inside the first five minutes, but all of 17 minutes were to elapse before they registered another score.
Cork had clicked smoothly into top gear in the interim, making a major breakthrough in the 20th minute when Paudie O'sullivan goaled following good work by Ben O'connor and Pa Cronin.
That pushed them 1-6 to 0-3 ahead, and they were 2-8 to 0-5 to the good after Cathal Naughton, fed by Darren Sweetman, played the ball up to Conor Lehane before sprinting about 30 metres to receive a return pass from Lehane at the edge of the square and finish to the net with conviction in the 29th minute.
After Paudie O'sullivan grabbed his second goal a minute later, an embarrassing defeat for hapless Waterford looked on the cards, even after they responded with a brace of points before half-time. They did manage to spare their blushes to a certain extent with a workmanlike second half display, but their limitations were glaringly exposed again once Cork upped the tempo at the first hint of danger.
A hat-trick of points shared by the irrepressible Lehane, Ó háilpin – whose effort was greeted with one of the biggest cheers on the night - and Horgan – who slotted over Cork's only score from a placed ball – left Waterford trailing by 3-13 to 0-14 after 55 minutes and dispelled any lingering doubts about the outcome.
Obviously, there are much stiffer tests ahead, but the attitude shown by the players left nothing to be desired on this occasion, and it's safe to say that Cork are hell-bent on mounting a strong challenge for league honours, and that a place in the semi-finals is by no means an unrealistic target.
Scorers CORK: P O'sullivan 2-1, C Lehane 0-7, C Naughton 1-1, P Horgan 0-4, 0-1 free, B O'connor, D Sweetman, P Cronin and S Og O'hailpin 0-1 each
WATERFORD: Pauric Mahony 05, 0-3 frees, M O'neill 0-4, 0-3 frees, S Prendergast and G O'brien 0-2 each, P O'brien, K Moran, J Nagle, free, S Casey and E Mcgrath 0-1 each
CORK: D Og Cusack (Cloyne), S O'neill (Bishopstown), S Mcdonnell (Glen Rovers), B Murphy (Bride Rovers), J Gardiner (Na Piarsaigh), R Cashman (Kilbrittain), W Egan (Kilbrin), S Og O'hailpin (Na Piarsaigh), D Sweetman (Dohenys), C Lehane (Midleton), P Cronin (Bishopstown), C Naughton (Newtownshandrum), P Horgan (Glen Rovers), P O'sullivan (Cloyne), B O'connor (Newtownshandrum). Subs: T Kenny (Grenagh) for Sweetman, L Mcloughlin (Kanturk) for Gardiner, L O'farrell (Midleton) for Naughton, B Corry (Ballymartle) for Lehane
WATERFORD: I O'regan, Philip Mahony, D Fives, S Daniels, J Nagle, K Moran, D Prendergast, S Molumphy, P O'brien, S Prendergast, M Walsh, Paraic Mahony, M O'neill, S Walsh, S Casey. Subs: E Mcgrath for S Walsh, P Prendergast for D Prendergast, G O'brien for O'neill, T Ryan for Casey, D Twomey for S Prendergast
REFEREE: B Kelly (Westmeath)