Rebels relieved to escape after courting disaster
Cork 1-12 Waterford 1-11
There were ashen faces all around the Cork dressing-room in Fraher Field on Saturday evening. No-one was quite sure where to look or what to feel.
Should they be relieved they had just narrowly escaped an upset for the ages? Or worried that the only evidence on offer here was that Cork football's decline had a way to go yet. Perhaps just plain embarrassment was the appropriate emotion.
In the build up, there was no sign of this being such a close run thing. Waterford came into the match having not won a game since they beat Wicklow in Division 4 back on February 11.
In fact, Cork had more All-Ireland winners starting than the Déise had won games in the basement division. But still the Rebels flirted with disaster and what would have been another unwanted record for Cork football.
Had Waterford pulled it off, it wouldn't have been a smash and grab either. Cork never led by more than a goal. And Waterford found themselves ahead at various points in the game, including the hour mark.
Cork were only a point up when they were reduced to 14 men after Alan O'Connor, who replaced the injured Aidan Walsh early in the game, was dismissed on 66 minutes. Waterford didn't blink with the line in sight, as underdogs often do in these scenarios. The sides were level two minutes into the seven scheduled for injury-time too before Cork eventually dug it out.
Donncha O'Connor's experience was vital when introduced. He kicked three points and helped settled jangling nerves, even though he admitted afterwards that he feared the worst as the final quarter unfolded.
"You wouldn't be human if (losing the game) didn't come into your head. To play Tipperary at home in two weeks' time is the first thing that came into my head with seven or eight minutes to go and I said 'that ain't going to happen' or 'will it happen?'.
"Next thing you get the ball back and you say 'of course it's going to happen'. It creeps into everyone's mind - you always think of something negative. But you can't dwell on it. Next ball, we got the ball down the pitch and we got a free in."
Cork struggled to break down Waterford's packed defence all evening. The hosts would regularly pull 14 men behind the ball, with only Ferghal Ó Cuirrin left in the Cork half to occupy a few Rebel defenders. From there they looked to break hard off turnovers.
All too often, Cork ran into the traps Waterford laid as their runners would be funnelled down the centre and be dispossessed or else they'd shoot from difficult angles in frustration.
They led by a 1-4 to 0-4 at half-time; Paul Kerrigan grabbed their goal, punching home Colm O'Neill's pass in a rare incident where the Waterford defence was caught short. Otherwise Cork's threat in the opening half came mostly from John O'Rourke, who was in excellent point-scoring form.
That looked to be a decent position for the Rebels, who would play with the wind in the second half. They should have scored two goals quickly off the restart. Full-forward Peter Kelleher made a brilliant one handed catch to feed Colm O'Neill but his effort was brilliantly saved by Stephen Enright. A few minutes later, Kelleher put Kerrigan clear but he shot wide.
And if Cork were wasteful in attack, they were about to self-destruct in defence. Ken O'Halloran came to claim what looked like a routine high ball in his area but he fumbled, allowing Gavin Crotty to gather and goal to tie the game. Waterford kicked the next two points and suddenly they were two up as the home straight came into view, hunting a first Championship win over the Rebels since 1960.
And though they couldn't see it out, one of the last acts of the game demonstrated just how hard Cork were pushed here. With the Rebels two up late in injury-time, James Loughrey took a black card to ensure no goal chance would develop. With all their subs made at that stage, Cork finished the game with 13 men. Waterford pointed the free through the superb Donie Breathnach, but the clock beat them.
Déise manager Tom McGlinchey insisted he knew there was a big performance in his side.
"We had 26 fit players for the last three weeks, and it made a difference to training and we had a game-plan and we stuck to it," he said. "So did I think it would happen? Definitely: it's just about getting the continuity and consistency, and that's hard in a county like Waterford when you've a small pool of players.
"Hopefully this will show players who are on the edge and deciding whether they were going to commit or not to Waterford that this is a cause worth fighting for."
"We're absolutely gutted; maybe in September when Cork are up the steps with the football I might be happy but we're gutted now because they Waterford lads gave it everything, died with their boots on.
"When you lose by a point you look at the small margins and that's something we'll reflect on. We're hugely disappointed but immensely proud of the players."
O'Connor acknowledged that Cork will have to improve - and quickly.
"Just in the first half there, I don't think we went for the game," he conceded. "We weren't going at 100pc. We seemed to be going at 80pc. It just looked that way from the sideline. It's different when you are playing, you do feel that you are going that way.
"Second half was a bit different. There was more buzz to us. We were unlucky not to get two goals in the first two minutes of the second -half. It might have given us a little bit of breathing space and we could have opened up a bit.
"But we didn't and we need to improve."
SCORERS - Cork: P Kerrigan 1-3, J O'Rourke, D O'Connor (1f) 0-3 each, J Loughrey, C O'Neill (1f), M Collins 0-1 each. Waterford: D Breathnach 0-6 (5fs), G Crotty 1-0, P Whyte 0-2, T Prendergast, M Curry 0-1, A Trihy 0-1 each.
Cork - K O'Halloran 6; K Crowley 6, M Shields 6, J O'Sullivan 6; T Clancy 6, J Loughrey 7, S Cronin 5; A Walsh 6, R Deane 5; K O'Driscoll 5, M Collins 6, J O'Rourke 7; C O'Neill 6, P Kelleher 7, P Kerrigan 8. Subs: A O'Connor 7 for Walsh (11), D O'Connor 8 for K O'Driscoll (46), I Maguire 6 for Deane (49), S Powter 6 for Cronin (53), G Murphy 6 for Kelleher (63), B O'Driscoll for O'Rourke (67).
Waterford - S Enright 8; B Looby 6, R O Ceallaigh 6, T O'Gorman 7; J McGrath 7, S Prendergast 7, T O hUallachain 7; T Prendergast 8, M Curry 7; D Breathnach 8, J Veale 7, G Crotty 7; A Trihy 6, F O Cuirrin 6, P Whyte 7. Subs: C Murray 6 for O Cuirrin (45), M O'Halloran 6 for Veale (49), L O Corraoin for Looby (67), D Guiry for Trihy (70).
Ref - R Hickey (Clare)