CORK 2-14 WATERFORD 0-13 THE restraint with which Cork greeted their victory in yesterday's Church & General National Hurling League final perfectly matched the texture of the triumph at Semple Stadium yesterday.
Manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy recognised the value of a national title with a young team slowly falling into place but he also saw the downsides of the performance to clinch their first league crown since 1993.
``We didn't play particularly well. But we did show great character when things weren't going well,'' reflected Barry-Murphy, well aware that their survival was aided significantly by a Waterford team that brushed close to glory but lost the map.
The wisdom of playing the league final on the lip of the championship was vindicated by two hugely-committed teams serving up a thrilling encounter to 32,890 fans taking the Cote d'Azur weather conditions as the code-word to replicate championship circumstances.
The first-half was an intriguing affair. The teams were level on six occasions before Cork made the decisive burst with a well-taken Sean O'Farrell goal in the 28th minute.
Cork were by no means seven points the better team yesterday. Waterford, playing in their first final since their sole league win of 1963, had the winning of the match but they fired a blank up front.
``Cork seemed to do a lot with very little of the ball, where we had a lot and we didn't too much with it,'' was the succinct summary of manager Gerald McCarthy. Fourteen wides to nine is a telling statistic.
In all other departments, Waterford matched Cork. Brian Corcoran may have been the undisputed man-of-the-match at centre-back for Cork but his opposite number Fergal Hartley is no slouch either and he offered his team Corcoran-type leadership and inspiration after a shaky opening 20 minutes.
For 17 minutes of the second-half, Waterford were completely in charge. In the first eight minutes of the sequence, they outscored Cork by four points to one, and this put them one point ahead at 0-11 to 1-7.
It was the perfect starting-point for an assault on the title. The crowd watched on, sensing that hurling's inner sanctum might be about to welcome back an old friend.
But Waterford blinked and the chance was lost. They shot wide after wide. Some were from routine positions, like a 45m free from Paul Flynn and two from play by Billy O'Sullivan and Tony Browne.
Others were the almost inevitable end-product of poor shot selection, like two long-range frees from Flynn and and two hurried efforts from Ken McGrath.
Eight of Waterford's 14 wides came in this 17-minute horror show. They refused to allow their enthusiasm be sapped by the misses but they had no control on the commensurate surge in self-belief accruing to Cork.
When Cork found the range, Waterford's sins came back to haunt them. Cork cut loose. O'Farrell, revelation of the day when he moved to full-forward, had a critical part to play in the goal that turned the game in the 51st minute.
Mark Landers floated in a high ball from the right wing. O'Farrell got a hurley to it, Waterford defender Mark O'Sullivan picked it but amidst unrelenting pressure he lost the ball and O'Farrell put Alan Browne clear inside the defence.
The big Blackrock man booted home low to the right hand-corner. The floodgates crashed open in the remaining nine minutes Cork scored five points from play and built up an unwarranted seven-point victory margin.
This closing flourish should be discounted in the main. Everything went over. Kieran Morrisson scored from an exceedingly difficult position he had missed from much easier earlier on.
Waterford manager Gerald McCarthy talked up his team afterwards, and with justification. ``I am very proud of them and while we didn't win today, I have told them this should be the last time this year we're in a losing dressingroom,'' he said.
If they can eradicate the weaknesses which led to their defeat yesterday, they will be a formidable force in Munster.
But with poor shooting, nothing is guaranteed. It may be a terminal affliction, however, that inaccuracy was at its worst when successful conversion would have taken them into a decisive lead. There is no room at this level for a giddy nerve.
The persistence with Flynn for the long-range frees is counter-productive and militated against the chances of victory yesterday. Among his startling tally of seven individual wides are included a '65', and frees from 65 and 92 yards respectively.
For the 65-yard free in the 53rd minute, he crossed right over to the opposite side of the field, allowing Ger Cunningham a quick puck-out directly to the unmarked Fergal Ryan.
O'Farrell scored a point at the other end within seconds while Flynn was still ambling back to the left corner-forward berth he should never have left in the first place.
Both he and centre-forward Ken McGrath had quiet games from play, too; McGrath started promisingly and exposed a portfolio of overhead strikes but a strike of the ball to his head floored him before half-time and probably limited his effectiveness.
The fact that Mark O'Sullivan lost possession in the build-up to the second goal should not diminish the regular quality of the full-back line. Here, Cork managed only occasional incisions.
The first came with O'Farrell's 28th minute goal when he used his bulk to round O'Sullivan before shooting across the goal and into the far corner of the net.
The Waterford half-back line was equally impressive. Brian Greene and Seanie McGrath had a pure hurling battle. McGrath picked off three points but that's no disgrace for any defender: Greene also hurled a good deal of ball and he was one of a half-dozen players from both sides who showed the sweetest of strokes and touches.
A championship air hung over Thurles yesterday, and the real thing is just around the corner, but Cork and Waterford still have problems to solve.
Mick Daly was a massive disappointment at midfield for Cork. Fergal McCormack did some good things but he was not a consistent threat to Hartley. O'Farrell rescued the full-forward line.
Too many of the Waterford forwards showed no finish. Dan Shanahan won an ocean of ball but used little of it wisely.
Dave Bennett was their most dangerous attacker. Their summer will be dictated by whether or not the squandermania reaches deep into the psyche of the attackers or whether it was just a passing phase.
SCORERS Cork: S Farrell 1-3, S McGrath 0-3, J Deane 0-3 (1f), A Browne 1-0, P Ryan 0-2 (2f), K Morrisson 0-2, F McCormack 0-1. Waterford: P Flynn 0-5 (4f, 165), D Bennett 0-3, A Kirwan 0-2, F Hartley 0-1, D Shanahan 0-1, K McGrath 0-1.
CORK G Cunningham; F Ryan, J Browne, D O'Sullivan; M Landers, B Corcoran, S Og OhAilpin; P Ryan, M Daly; S McGrath, F McCormack, K Morrisson; S O'Farrell, A Browne, J Deane. Sub: B Egan for M Daly (47 mins).
WATERFORD B Landers; T Feeney, S Cullinane, M O'Sullivan; S Frampton, F Hartley, B Greene; T Browne, P Queally; D Shanahan, K McGrath, D Bennett; B O'Sullivan, A Kirwan, P Flynn. Sub: M White for B O'Sullivan (52 mins).
REF Aodan MacSuibhne, Dublin.