Vincent Hogan: Shanahan settles epic
Not a night for picking through the more intimate nuances of battle in Thurles. Just one to give thanks for the old game.
This wasn't the rouged and painted face of Waterford-Cork. It was a plain and ashen chapter in their charismatic rivalry and one that thundered through the senses for 90 epic minutes on Saturday night before decanting Waterford as kings of Munster.
There will be some who won't have warmed to the aesthetics, but then there are food critics who judge a plate on appearance, not taste. Who can account for the deluded?
This was extraordinary. Played out in a suitably Biblical downpour, Waterford and Cork effectively left heavy deposits of themselves on Tom Semple's field.
Only when Dan Shanahan skidded an 83rd-minute goal at the Killinan end, did Waterford reach a clearing. Yet even then, Cork came back, coursing frantically. The game had slipped into injury-time when Cathal Naughton unleashed a shot to the town-end goal only for Tony Browne to intervene with a remarkable block, the sliotar ricocheting off his helmet.
"He took it on the head," said an admiring Noel Connors later. "That's Tony for you though, down to a tee."
It was a game caught in a stylistic straitjacket, Waterford's intelligent tactics again squeezing the life out of Cork. They dropped their half-forwards deep, flooding the puckout-zone and forcing their opponents down a warren of uninviting cul-de-sacs.
Denis Walsh had described Cork's first-half tally of 0-6 in the drawn game as "a disaster". This time, their opening 35 minutes mined a paltry 0-4, with just a single score from play. And that from a midfielder.
Cork were being squeezed to the point of suffocation.
Yet they happened upon four goal chances too and, had they taken one, who is to say what direction the night might have taken. Aisake O hAilpin put a ball in the side-netting after slipping in behind Liam Lawlor; Connors flicked an almost certain goal from the path of an in-rushing Patrick Horgan; Eoin Murphy made a miraculous hook on Niall McCarthy bearing down on goal and Clinton Hennessy saved wonderfully from an in-rushing Michael Cussen.
At the other end, John Mullane was delivering another exhibition of routine greatness. Given the tightness of the contest, his tally of 0-7 from play over two games would constitute a momentous contribution. That Waterford lost him to a calf injury for extra-time, yet still prevailed, tells us something about their bench.
Yet Cork lost their talisman for that period too, Ronan Curran limping to the dugout after putting in a heroic and dominant shift at centre-back. On reflection, Waterford should have closed the deal in normal time, Eoin Kelly spilling three successive wides in as many minutes with Cork -- seemingly -- on their knees.
Their pressing game had Cork reduced to almost slavish service to O hAilpin on the edge of the 'square' and, though the giant Na Piarsaigh man won an ocean of ball, he was afforded little scope to use it.
Curran and his opposite number, Michael 'Brick' Walsh, were proving the dominant personalities of the evening. Yet, with a 0-8 to 0-4 lead at half-time, Waterford had given their opponents what Walsh would later describe as "a mountain to climb".
That half ended with Richie Foley lofting a sublime sideline cut over the bar and Cork making room for an injured Shane O'Neill in the dug-out. Psychologically, the teams looked to be heading to tea on different planets.
Yet Cork duly climbed that mountain. Cussen and Paudie O'Sullivan (two) threw over splendid points within eight minutes of the resumption and, when Ben O'Connor settled over a free in the 46th minute, the equaliser beckoned.
What followed danced somewhere between fluke and genius. O'Connor's delivery floated in a low arc over the clearly startled Hennessy, snapping into the top left-hand corner of the rigging. Without warning, Waterford now faced crisis.
Yet, they responded with four unanswered points, the pick of them an extraordinary, over-the-shoulder Mullane score from somewhere out the Nenagh road.
They led by a point with seven minutes remaining when Cussen torqued onto a 'Fraggy' Murphy off-load only to be roped to the ground by Foley. With Horgan off the field, John Gardiner took the penalty and Shane O'Sullivan deflected his drive over. The teams flooded in to catch their breaths at the end of 70 minutes and, it would seem, the Waterford dressing-room was tranquil as a health spa.
"I was as calm as could be," reflected Davy Fitz later. "The one thing I said to them was 'I know we're going to win'. I believed in them. I looked them all in the eyes. They told me they weren't tired."
Browne's huge free would give Waterford the tiniest advantage at the end of the first period, then Big Dan came blowing through. Running slingshot onto Eoin McGrath's clever handpass, he found himself isolated maybe 25 yards from Donal Og Cusack's goal.
In the honeyed season of '07, we'd have fancied him to nail it. Now, in the waning years? Probably not.
Yet Shanahan smelt blood and lashed a treacherous shot towards the Killinan-end goal. Cusack dived full length and managed to make contact, but not with sufficient purchase to keep it from the net. The Heavens convulsed.
Thereafter, Cork chased in desperation, knowing that the cup was no longer reachable through points. Naughton dropped two deliveries into the Waterford square, Browne and 'Brick' tossing them back out to where they came from.
Then, the kill shot. Naughton again, barreling in off the left flank this time and rasping a shot for redemption. A white blaze coming to meet him. A body hitting the deck. Up in the press gantry, we needed the prop of slow-mo to make sense of it.
And there, lying in the wet grass, we saw old Tony Browne. Eyes blinking. Greatness frozen in a simple, beautiful picture.
SCORERS -- Waterford: E Kelly 0-8 (0-6f), J Mullane 0-3, D Shanahan 1-0, R Foley (0-1s-l), S Walsh, B O'Halloran, K Moran,T Browne (0-1f) 0-1 each. Cork: B O'Connor 1-5 (1-5f), P O'Sullivan, C Naughton, J Gardiner (0-1f, 0-1 '65') 0-2 each, M Cussen, W Egan 0-1 each.
WATERFORD -- C Hennessy 8, E Murphy 8, L Lawlor 7, N Connors 9, T Browne 9, M Walsh 8, D Prendergast 7, S O'Sullivan 7, R Foley 7, K Moran 7, S Molumphy 7, E Kelly 7, S Prendergast 6, J Mullane 8, S Walsh 7. Subs: B O'Halloran 7 for S Prendergast (49), M Shanahan 6 for Walsh (60), J Nagle 6 for Lawlor (67), D Shanahan 7 for Mullane (70), E McGrath 7 for O'Halloran (80), K McGrath for Moran (83).
CORK -- D Og Cusack 8, S Murphy 8, E Cadogan 6, B Murphy 7, J Gardiner 7, R Curran 9, S O'Neill 8, T Kenny 6, C Naughton 7, B O'Connor 7, M Cussen 8, N McCarthy 7, K Murphy 6, A O hAilpin 7, P Horgan 5. Subs: R Ryan 7 for O'Neill (33 mins), P O'Sullivan 7 for Horgan (h-t), L O'Farrell 6 for K Murphy (65), W Egan 7 for Curran (70).
REF -- B Gavin (Offaly).