Leesiders weather storm as Banner battle beckons
CORK 0-24 WATERFORD 1-15 JUDGEMENT day for a Cork team in ferment and the doomsayers are left to dispense grins of limp servility to Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
``Not bad for an experiment lads,'' shrugs the great man, light rivers of perspiration slipping down his cheek bones.
The team that many thought was built on rafts of balsa wood has survived the Thurles storm to reach their first Munster hurling final since '92.
Six Championship debutants. Nine players under the age of 22. A mad scientist's midfield. Waterford must feel like they've been gunned down from a laughter lounge.
Cork went to battle with few certainties. Conventional wisdom told us that in the new age of combat, small, light forwards would be like flies around a hardened cowpat. Heft and hope rode in perfect symphony. Wily hoors, we scoffed at Jimmy's quandary.
TEAM OF GREYHOUNDS
Presumed he was in the market for men with big hips and hard knuckles. Lighting candles in the search for a young Tim Crowley.
Then he goes and names a team of greyhounds. Breaks all the rules. Constructs a full-forward line of waifs. Watching Waterford explode from the tunnel, Brian Flannery and Brendan Landers doing the `Davy Fitz shuffle', it was tempting to feel queasy. So much of what Waterford do in hurling comes from the Clare gospel.
They stalk and suffocate. Hard to be a fancy-dan when your marker puts his body where most mortals wouldn't put a hurley. You might call it `total hurling'. The lines merge into an impressionist blur. Craft colludes with courage. Unnatural courage. Boys need not apply.
Waterford may not have taken this art to the same, murderous rhythm that flattened Tipp in Cork on Saturday. But we imagined they'd throw up little snapshots. Then the sliotar went in and a squat, little barrel of a man grew wings. He wore a red cape.
Mick O'Connell wasn't even part of the Cork panel a month ago. He hurled a few challenge games in winter but lost his form and focus to the muck. League came and went without a phone-call. Mick was a Midleton wing-forward. Man of the match in an All-Ireland U-21 final but seemingly ill-equipped for the big stage. ``Bit the bullet and hurled away with the club,'' he smiles now. Then, four weeks ago, Jimmy called.
When Mick O'Connell and Mark Landers were named as Cork's midfield last week, eyes were cast towards the Heavens. A wing-back and a wing-forward. Daft and desperate. Sure why not chance Joe Deane at full-back while you're at it lads? Heaven help the blood and bandages.
It went spinning around Semple Stadium yesterday like a genie let out of the bottle. O'Connell and Landers simply overwhelmed Tony Browne and Fergal Hartley. And, behind them, they had a back-line built of tungsten. Write it down. Height is no proof of hardness.
Little signals told us of their mindset.
Five minutes in, Browne and Stephen Frampton aggressively bounced Joe Deane across the tramline beneath the new stand, Frampton having his name taken. Fergie McCormack arrived to peddle his own sanction, shunting Browne backwards with a heavy shoulder.
The rebel dander flared and Waterford sensed they had their hands full. Still, light conceits threatened to retard Cork's push. After eight minutes, Paul Flynn converted a free after Diarmuid O'Sullivan needlessly flicked his hurl back at Dave Bennett when clearing and seconds later Fergal Ryan fouled the ball while in possession allowing Flynn another free.
Waterford led at that juncture, 0-3 to 0-1, but their authority was to be fleeting. Browne and Hartley were finding little rhythm and O'Sullivan was shunting Flynn towards the margins like few other full-backs could.
Deane might have had a goal from Mark Landers delivery after 14 minutes but his first touch was poor, tightening the angle and Waterford goalkeeper, Brendan Landers, made a smart save at his near post.
Scoring was slow. Twenty minutes in, the scores were tied at 0-5 each, when Cork summoned a leisurely burst to go three clear with scores from O'Connell, Deane and Ben O'Connor. Waterford replied through Ken McGrath and Dan Shanahan.
Then O'Connell flicked over a wondrous line-ball and Deane set up McCormack for a fine score to leave Cork 0-10 to 0-7 at the break. Betting men would have been inclined to wonder. The half had been a marriage of mighty fetches and imperfect striking. You sensed the game had yet to find its teeth.
So it proved.
Cork continued to edge the points' exchange, especially when Timmy McCarthy began tormenting Brian Greene down the right wing. Soon, Greene was called ashore, Browne reverting to wing-back and Ken McGrath taking up position in midfield.
McGrath was growing with the tumult, fighting manfully to rein in O'Connell who seemed at times to be lobbing points from an arm-chair. Cork led 0-18 to 0-13 with fifteen minutes to go when Waterford set the blood pounding.
O'Sullivan was penalised for a foul on Flynn and, mindful of the Ballygunner man's eye for murder, flooded the goal with bodies. Donal Óg Cusack was like a commuter swamped at the back of a bus-stop at rush-hour. Flynn's body language made it clear he was going for goal. But the net was hidden.
What could he do?
One lift, one swing and the netting kicked to set the distant throng at the Killinan end into orbit. Seconds later, Shanahan pointed after Fergal Ryan was caught in possession. Cork 0-18; Waterford 1-14. Battle on.
But little arrows went knifing through Waterford's rib-cage as the tumult raged. First Mark Landers fired home from play after Frampton looked to have been crudely body-checked in the turnover and then, incredibly, Tom Feeney was penalised for tumbling to the ground with Seanie McGrath while both seemed to have a hand partly on the sliotar.
``Turning point of the game,'' suggested Tony Browne. Maybe so, maybe not. Certainly a `hop-ball' would have made more sense. But, to be fair, Aodhan Mac Suibhne's eccentricities were evenly distributed.
Even the normally benign Barry-Murphy rushed onto the field almost apoplectic with rage with seven minutes remaining when Landers was penalised for what looked like a legitimate shoulder on McGrath. He needn't have bothered.
Dave Bennett put the free wide and, from the puck-out, O'Connell drilled another Cork point with calm certainty. That put it Cork 0-22; Waterford 1-14 with four minutes remaining. Nothing left to fight over but the small print.
So it ended, the `Banks' being bellowed out from the town-end and Cork spilling forth in great careless, care-free waves. As Barry-Murphy saw it: ``A lot of our lads came of age out there.'' And a lot of myths went to the sea-bed.