Cork shocked as Waterford's never say die spirit gets late reward
WATERFORD 1-16; CORK 1-15
HAD Waterford hurlers won the World Cup, Olympic gold and the Ryder Cup, their sense of delight could hardly have been any more pronounced than it was after yesterday's dramatic victory in the Guinness Munster semi-final at Semple Stadium.
The players flung themselves to the sodden turf when referee, Dickie Murphy blew the final whistle while the fans dashed forward to the perimeter fences to acclaim their heroes.
It was a highly emotional occasion, one which was made all the sweeter because it was totally unexpected by everybody except a tightly-knit Waterford camp.
It was Waterford's first championship win over Cork since 1989 and only their 9th in 49 meetings so the source of their joy was easily traced.
So too was the source of their success which was born of an unremitting determination and a relentless endeavour.
There was been times in the past when Waterford's response to a crisis has been to allow their resolve to melt away but it was all very different yesterday.
When courage was required, Waterford had it glorious abundance, not least Ken McGrath, who fired over the winning point in injury time.
McGrath injured his shoulder in a challenge game last Thursday week and didn't start yesterday but he was sent of for Andy Moloney after 25 minutes and turned in typically honest performance, crowned by his late strike which earned Waterford a Munster final date with either Limerick or Tipperary on June 30th.
It was a case of deja vu for Cork who, by an amazing coincidence, lost to Limerick on exactly the same scoreline last year. This time, of course, they will get a second chance in the All-Ireland qualifiers but manager, Bertie Óg Murphy has plenty to occupy him as the season has now taken on a whole different complexion for Cork.
"There's a bit of pattern emerging and we've got to remedy it.
"We have lost three or four games in the last year that we should have won so clearly we will have to look in great detail at what's going wrong," said Murphy.
Waterford face no such crisis sessions as they begin planning for their first Munster final since 1998.
It may have been far from the perfect performance but after so much disappointment in recent seasons, reaching a Munster final is an important milestone, not least for new manager, Justin McCarthy and his co-selectors, Colm Bonnar and Seamie Hannon.
Waterford rejigged the side before the start, tampering with every line except full-back and goalkeeper.
It worked well too with several players turning in outstanding individual performances while also contributing generously to the overall work ethic.
Nobody epitomised Waterford's new sense of zeal more than Paul Flynn, who scored 0-12, 0-9 from frees.
His striking from all angles and distances was a joy to watch while he also linked, passed and foraged consistently.
Flynn hasn't always delivered his best performances on the bigger days but that certainly didn't apply yesterday.
Right from the start, he looked like a man who was determined to make this day his own and underlined his positive approach by scoring two first half frees from well over 100 metres range.
If Flynn was Cork's main tormentor, he had eager allies in Tony Browne, Fergal Hartley, Peter Queally, Eoin Kelly, Ken McGrath and John Mullane, who would have had a field day if his finishing matched his approach work.
Unfortunately for him, it didn't and he was replaced in the 63rd minute but his big impact day can hardly be far away.
The Waterford full-back line of James Murray, Tom Feeney and Brian Flannery also contributed enormously on a day when physical strength was always going to be important.
Heavy rain fell at various times during the game, making the surface very greasy but, in fairness, both sides adjusted fairly well, especially in the second half.
They were level on five occasions in the first half, at the end of which Cork led by 1-7 to 0-9.
The goal was scored by Eamonn Collins in the 29th minute when he raced onto a pass by Joe Deane and beat Stephen Brenner in the Waterford goal.
Having played against the wind in the first half, Cork looked ominously poised at the interval and when they extended the lead to two points seven minutes into the second half, Waterford fans must have been fearing the worst.
However, the players were looking at life from a far more optimistic perspective.
Their work rate soared and gradually they began to sense that a big prize was there for the taking.
It took a fortuitous goal from Tony Browne to ignite the revival in the 43rd minute but once Waterford powered into full flow, Cork found it very difficult to regain equilibrium.
Browne's goal will haunt Cork keeper, Donal Óg Cusack for a long time.
A shot from 60 yards bounced in front of him and skidded off the wet surface into the net, much to the disgust of Cusack, who had made a brilliant first half stop from Eoin McGrath.
The goal may have been slightly freakish but it was the catalyst for a Waterford surge which saw them out-score Cork by 1-5 to 0-1 between the 42nd and 50th minute.
It was crisis time for Cork and they responded bravely, scoring five unanswered points to draw level by the 66th minute.
The momentum was now very much with Cork but Waterford refused to yield and heroic defensive work rescued them in the closing minutes.
A replay next Saturday looked highly likely but in a final assault, Brian Greene fed Ken McGrath who held his nerve to steer over Waterford's winner.
It was heart-breaking for Cork but they could have no complaints.
Waterford deserved a lucky break, which they finally got.
Diarmuid O'Sullivan, Wayne Sherlock, John Browne, Timmy McCarthy, Eamonn Collins, Joe Deane and Ben O'Connor were Cork's most reliable enforcers but overall the team lacked the conviction and drive associated with Leeside outfits.
That's the most worrying aspect of all for Bertie Óg Murphy to take through championship's back door next month.
SCORERS Waterford: P Flynn 0-12 (9f), T Browne 1-0, K McGrath 0-2, J Mullane, S Prendergast 0-1 each. Cork: B O'Connor 0-8 (5f), E Collins 1-1, J Deane 0-3, T McCarthy 0-2, S McGrath 0-1.
CORK D Óg Cusack 6; W Sherlock 7, D O'Sullivan 8, F Ryan 6; D Barrett 6, J Browne 7, S Óg Ó hAilpín 6; A Cummins 7, T McCarthy 8; J O'Connor 7, F McCormack 6, N McCarthy 6; B O'Connor 9, E Collins 8, J Deane 8.
Subs: P Ryan 7 for McCormack (46), S McGrath 7 for J O'Connor (50).
WATERFORD: S Brenner 7; J Murray 7, T Feeney 8, B Flannery 7; P Queally 8, F Hartley 8, E Murphy 7; T Browne 9, D Bennett 7; E Kelly 7, A Moloney 6, P Flynn 9; J Mullane 7, S Prendergast 7, E McGrath 7.
Subs: K McGrath 8 for Moloney (25), D Shanahan 7 for Bennett (62), M White 6 for Mullane (63), B Greene 7 for E McGrath (65).
Booked Cork: F Ryan (49); Waterford: J Murray (36).
REF D Murphy (Wexford)