Dan double sets pulses racing as Waterford edge closer
Waterford 2-17 Cork 0-20
All-Ireland SHC quarter-final replay
A FIRST All-Ireland final appearance since 1963 is beckoning Waterford towards a golden horizon, but now they must guard against being blinded by the glare of their own expanding brilliance.
They created history by becoming the first team to beat Cork twice in the championship in the one year in yesterday's All-Ireland quarter-final replay in Croke Park, a result which has sent Waterford pulses racing at the prospect of a final date with Kilkenny next month.
First though, they must get themselves ready for a semi-final road strewn with banana skins, all judiciously placed by Limerick who are eagerly looking forward to next Sunday's clash.
It will be Waterford's third game in two weeks and since both of their battles with Cork were physically and mentally draining, it remains to be seen how fresh they are for another big test.
That will be their main worry as they have bolted down many of the other requirements so tightly that they will feel they can repeat the Munster final win over Limerick if everything goes to plan.
Waterford have added the sharpest of edges of their game this year, one that cuts through the hardest opposition and which triggers a driven response when most needed. It rescued them when they fell four points behind Cork yesterday week, enabling them to battle back to earn a draw and it reinforced them again yesterday when another hugely intense encounter was finely balanced just past the three-quarter mark.
Eoin Kelly's 55th minute point brought the sides level for the tenth time before Seamus Prendergast gave Waterford a lead they would never subsequently lose. The tie-breaker arrived in the 57th minute when Dan Shanahan applied his sniper's instincts to a delivery from Stephen Molumphy, beating Donal Óg Cusack with a delightfully crisp ground shot.
Shanahan had also scored Waterford's first goal - another expert finish in the 20th minute - to take his championship total to 8-8 and maintain his advantage in the race for the Hurler of the Year Award. In previous years, he didn't always take his Munster form to Croke Park, but it's different this season as his 3-4 total against Cork over two Sundays testifies.
Eoin McGrath, who continued to build on his reputation as a high-impact sub, drove over a point to push Waterford five points clear in the 64th minute and while Cork tried everything, including sending full-back Diarmuid O'Sullivan on emergency duty in attack, Waterford held their nerve and the led all the way to finish line which actually took 78 minutes to reach following a lengthy stoppage after Neil Ronan was knocked out in a collision.
Cork had used all five subs by then which meant they finished with fourteen men, a handicap they simply couldn't afford. But even with the full complement, they failed to match Waterford for obsession over those tense final fifteen minutes.
That's the big difference with Waterford this season. There were times in the past when their resolve tanks leaked too easily under enemy fire, but they have obviously reinforced them to such a degree that it will take a very powerful blast to explode them.
Nobody epitomises Waterford's character and will more than Ken McGrath, nominally a centre-back but in reality a play-anywhere trouble-shooter with the eyes of a hawk, the heart of a lion and the strength of a JCB.
He turned in another tornado performance, especially in the second half when the toughest questions were being asked. He got consistent support from Brian Phelan, Aidan Kearney and Tony Browne, while midfielder Michael 'Brick' Walsh lived up to his nickname with a hard, honest contribution.
Shanahan went long spells without much involvement in attack, but Waterford will be happy if it continues like that as long as finishes up on 2-1 from play every time.
Molumphy, a significant addition to the attack this year and Eoin Kelly, much improved on the drawn game, also tested Cork to the limits of their resistance while Eoin McGrath took it even beyond that when he joined the contest in the 45th minute.
Cork brought on five subs but none came near making the same impact as McGrath which was a serious setback for Cork. Four of the starting attack - Timmy McCarthy, Patrick Cronin, Kieran Murphy and Joe Deane - were all replaced as was midfielder Jerry O'Connor who had gone extremely well for a long time.
With Ken McGrath adding extra cement to harden Waterford's defensive mix in the second half, it became increasingly difficult for Cork to come anywhere near to getting a strike at Clinton Hennessy's goal. It was different early on when a few bursts by Timmy McCarthy and Jerry O'Connor found some gaps in a yet-to-settle Waterford defence. Indeed, Tom Kenny should have done better when put through by O'Connor in the third minute but his shot for goal was too close to Hennessy.
Still, Cork did well throughout the first half, leading at various stages by two points. Shanahan's 20th minute goal gave Waterford the lead for the first time, but they were back in arrears (0-11 to 1-7) by half-time.
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Brian Murphy, Tom Kenny, the O'Connor brothers and Neil Ronan were hurling well for Cork and while Waterford stayed with them, it seemed more of a struggle for them than their rivals who had 0-11 on the board before they shot their first wide in the 33rd minute.
The sides were level five times in the opening 20 minutes of the second half before Shanahan's second goal gave Waterford an advantage that they weren't going to surrender. There were times over the closing stages when the mileage clocked up by Cork looked to have taken their edge away.
Ben O'Connor powered on a full speed but it was very noticeable after Shanahan's second goal how Waterford won the majority of breaking ball, especially deep in their defence. They were that bit more driven than Cork but then years of disappointment in Croke Park has left them ravenous for a share in the great feasts this time of year dispenses.
Cork have fed copiously since 2003, reaching four successive All-Ireland finals and winning two, so it's possible that the grim determination levels that served them so well have dipped a little.
And with Waterford refusing to take no for an answer, Cork were eventually squeezed out, but not without contributing hugely to another splendid hurling occasion.
SCORERS - Waterford: D Shanahan 2-1, E Kelly 0-4 (1f), P Flynn 0-3 (3f), J Mullane, M Walsh, E McGrath 0-2 each, K McGrath (f), S Molumphy, S Prendergast 0-1 each. Cork: B O'Connor 0-9 (5f, 0-1 '65'), J O'Connor, N Ronan, Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields), T Kenny, J Deane (2f) 0-2 each, T McCarthy 0-1.
TEAMS AND PLAYER RATINGS
WATERFORD - C Hennessy 7; E Murphy 7, D Prendergast 7, A Kearney 8; T Browne 7, K McGrath 9, B Phelan 8; M Walsh 8, E Kelly 7; J Mullane 5, D Shanahan 9, S Molumphy 8; S Walsh 5, S Prendergast 7, P Flynn 6. Subs: E McGrath 8 for S Walsh (45), D Bennett for Mullane (63).
CORK - D Óg Cusack 7; S O'Neill 6, D O'Sullivan 6, B Murphy 7 ; J Gardiner 6, R Curran 7, S Óg Ó hAilpin 8; T Kenny 8, J O'Connor 7; B O'Connor 8, T McCarthy 6, P Cronin 5; N Ronan 7, Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) 7, J Deane 5. Subs: C Naughton 5 for Deane (52), N McCarthy 5 for T McCarthy (54), K Hartnett 5 for J O'Connor (56), Kieran Murphy (Erin's Own) 5 for Cronin (62), E Murphy for Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) (68).
REF - B Kelly (Westmeath)
The game at a glance
Man of the match
Dan Shanahan (Waterford): Goals win games, great goals electrify them. Shanahan achieved both, with his first goal stabilising Waterford at a time when Cork were going well, while the second decided the game and took his total for four championship games to 8-8, all from play.
Shanahan's second goal in the 57th minute gave Waterford a four-point lead, the biggest advantage either side had enjoyed up to then. It provided them with a cushion which they used effectively to close out the game.
Are Waterford finally ready to make the big push for All-Ireland glory? They seem better equipped now to do it than at any time for many years.
Justin McCarthy (Waterford manager): "Dan's goals were very important to our victory, but our biggest plus out there was the all-round performance of the side. Despite the fact that we were a point down at half time we were reasonably happy, as we felt we had played okay in the first half."
Gerald McCarthy (Cork): "Waterford deserved the win, and every Cork person will be hoping they go all the way in the All-Ireland. Dan Shanahan's goals were the difference between the teams, and he put the ball away the way he's been doing all season. Unfortunately we failed to take advantage of a few goal chances we had early on, and maybe those chances came a bit too early for our lads."
Wides: Cork 5 (1) Waterford 8 (5).
Frees: Cork 14 (6) Waterford 13 (8).
Yellow Cards: Cork 2 (J Gardiner 25, P Cronin 59) Waterford 2 (B Phelan 59, P Flynn 77).
Red Cards: Cork 0 Waterford 0.
Waterford play Limerick next Sunday for a place in the final against Kilkenny. Cork go back to the drawing board.