Wednesday 14 November 2018

Déise lay old Rebel ghosts to rest after thriller tie

Waterford 5-15 Cork 3-18

Munster SHC semi-final

BEST thing to do here, with more than 36,000 pulses still in the red zone in Thurles, is to leave the summary of this extraordinary and epic eight-goal Munster SHC semi-final to one man caught in the mighty maelstrom of it all.

"It was a completely mad game!" grinned Waterford's Man of the Match John Mullane. "Goals and scores were flying in from everywhere, it was just mad!"

Boardroom drama, right up until the 11th hour, preceded it and when Cork's three suspended All Stars took their seats in the stand to a huge cheer and a clenched fist from goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack beforehand, it was impossible to imagine how that controversy could be overshadowed by anything that might follow.

Boy were we wrong. It may have been billed as Hamlet without three princes - and the defensive chasm left by Cork's absent stars undoubtedly contributed to Waterford's massive goal tally - but a cast of 30 brave hurlers took to the Semple stage yesterday and produced the most spectacular theatre of their own.

When the curtain came down, Waterford's hurlers were back in a Munster final for the first time since 2004 and had beaten Cork for a third time this season.


But even those lucky enough to witness it first-hand will be hard pressed to detail the magnificent drama of it this morning, let alone in years to come.

Snatches will be long-remembered and the finale was, fittingly, as dramatic as everything that had gone before it.

Cork, to their infinite credit, came out fighting yesterday like a beheaded rattlesnake and kept defiantly wriggling no matter what Waterford threw at them.

They had a penalty saved and lost two influential men - Tom Kenny and Niall McCarthy - to injury in the second half and yet, in the dying seconds of injury-time still made one spectacular last lunge to try to snatch a replay.

Cathal Naughton - super-sub destroyer of Waterford last summer - had just come on and pointed but then, as has been their improved form this seasons, the Decies steadied themselves and two great scores from John Mullane and Tony Browne pulled them three points clear again when Cork's last chance came with a 44-metre free from Ben O'Connor.

A quick chat with the ref, another with a mentor and he took it short to substitute Shane Murphy, who bravely went for glory through a defensive forest, yet his shot agonisingly hit the crossbar seconds before the final whistle.

It was a painful reversal of their meeting in Croke Park last August when Waterford were judged to have scored their goal too early.

Yesterday they couldn't stop scoring them, even though Cork got there first, after debutant goalkeeper Anthony Nash's magnificent long free saw Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) snatch a two-point lead in the 14th minute.

Five minutes later Dan Shanahan got in for Waterford's first goal and Mullane got their second off a great long ball by Stephen Molumphy, who started at half-forward in their radically reshuffled attack.

Brian Murphy was given the job of marking Mullane, an enviable job on yesterday's form but defensively Waterford had problems of their own, with some incredibly casual inter-play which proved costly.

Their half-backs were uncharacteristically loose and Cork's excellent midfield of Jerry O'Connor and Tom Kenny had acres of space to run through.

The first major talking point came when Mullane appealed unsuccessfully for a free but the resulting clearance yielded a Niall McCarthy point to leave the sides level on 2-8 apiece.

But then, on the next play, Mullane got a much easier free, referee Barry Kelly moved it to the centre-point of the 20-metre line for dissent, and up stepped specialist Paul Flynn with another of his specials.

Almost before you could blink, Cork's net rattled again, when Shanahan pounced on a blocked Flynn shot and goaled a second time in as many minutes to yield a five-point half-time lead (4-8 to 2-9).

But as expected, the Rebels with a cause refused to bend and 15 minutes after the restart they were level again, after outscoring Waterford 1-5 to 0-2, with Ben O'Connor breaking a ball for Pat Cronin to goal.

Minutes later Tom Kenny pulled off a marvellous, fearless block on Flynn, which proved costly as he limped off with a quarter to go, forcing John Gardiner back to full-back, where Eoin Kelly was now loitering with intent.

Then came the game-breaking score when Jack Kennedy turned provider for Kelly who chipped the 'keeper magnificently for their fifth goal in the 57th minute.

On the next play Kieran Murphy's dance through the Waterford defence was hauled down for a penalty but Clinton Hennessy saved Ben O'Connor's effort brilliantly with his feet.

The Rebels still fought magnificently, with two fantastic long-range points from Ben O'Connor and another from Naughton cutting the deficit to just a point with three minutes left.

This, traditionally, has been the point at which this Waterford team have previously lost their heads and started shooting was wildly as a pinball machine but, as they've shown this season, this year's model is a more composed outfit and inspirational final scores from Mullane and Browne secured it.

It was a particularly remarkable victory considering their backs, particularly the half-back line, looked so shaky at times, though Aidan Kearney noticeably, switched with corner-back James Murray from the start.

SCORERS - Waterford: E Kelly 1-5 (4f), D Shanahan 2-1, J Mullane 1-4, P Flynn 1-1, T Browne 0-2, K McGrath 0-2 (2f). Cork - K Murphy 2-0, J Deane 0-6 (2f), B O'Connor 0-5 (1 l'ball, 1 '65, 2f), P Cronin 1-0, J O'Connor, T Kenny, N McCarthy 0-2 each, C Naughton 0-1.


WATERFORD - C Hennessy; E Murphy, D Prendergast, A Kearney; T Browne, K McGrath, J Murray; M Walsh (Capt), J Kennedy; E Kelly, D Shanahan, S Molumphy; J Mullane, S Prendergast, P Flynn. Subs: E McGrath for Molumphy (57 min), D Coffey for Murphy (60), S Walsh for Flynn (69).

CORK - A Nash; B Murphy, C O'Connor, S O'Neill; J Gardiner, R Curran, K Hartnett; T Kenny, J O'Connor; K Murphy (Capt), N McCarthy, P Cronin; B O'Connor, K Murphy (Sarsfields), J Deane. Subs: S Murphy for B Murphy (half-time), T McCarthy for N McCarthy (inj, 43), N Ronan for Kenny (inj, 53), P Kelly for C O'Connor (60), C Naughton for T McCarthy (65).

REF - B Kelly (Westmeath).

ATTENDANCE - 36,352.

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