Strong finishing kick sends Déise into dreamland
Waterford 4-19 Cork 0-20
The wait has been long and frustrating but Derek McGrath and his obsessed Waterford squad always refused to allow the many setbacks and the persistent questioning to deflect them from the pursuit of the grand prize.
Now, it's within touching distance, waiting to be claimed on September 3 if they beat a Galway side whose need is just as great. It will make for a special day as the counties meet in the All-Ireland final for the first time.
Waterford have won all ten previous championship clashes with Galway but will start the final as outsiders, which is exactly what McGrath wants.
They thrive in the underdogs' role and never more than yesterday when they presented an altogether different challenge to Cork than in the Munster semi-final eight weeks earlier when they lost by five points.
This was much more like the Waterford the hurling world has come to know: energetic, compact and, most of all, working off a system they trust implicitly.
They deviated from it early in the clash with Cork in June, conceding an initiative they never retrieved. They weren't going to allow it happen again.
Cork coped well too for three-quarters of the way, even if Conor Lehane, Alan Cadogan and Seamus Harnedy, a trio who had done so well in Munster, were well below full capacity.
However, with Patrick Horgan on full power - he scored 0-12 (0-5 from open play) - Cork were ticking along quite nicely until they lost Damien Cahalane on a second yellow card in the 51st minute for a high tackle on Conor Gleeson.
Pauric Mahony pointed the resultant free to level it up for the tenth time before Horgan shot two points to leave Cork leading by 0-18 to 1-13 after 57 minutes.
Nobody could possibly have envisaged what would unfold from there on. Cork added just two more points while Waterford shot 3-6, the goals from Jamie Barron (2) and Austin Gleeson.
Barron's first goal came in the 58th minute, created by Gleeson after an error by Christopher Joyce. Gleeson pounced shortly afterwards and suddenly the game's complexion changed to white and blue.
There was no way back for Cork, whose misery was completed in stoppage time when Jamie Barron fired home Waterford's fourth goal.
By then, Conor Gleeson and Patrick Horgan were in the stand, having been sent off on straight red cards in the 68th minute.
It means Gleeson will miss the final, unless he can persuade the disciplinary process that red wasn't warranted. That's assuming, of course, that he opts to take on the case.
Even allowing for Tadhg de Búrca's return for the final, Conor Gleeson's absence will be a big loss to Waterford. He had done an excellent marking job on Lehane and would, no doubt, be given a similar role on one of Galway's key forwards.
Waterford could have other concerns too, arising from an incident involving Austin Gleeson when he pulled Luke Meade's helmet which, if deliberate, is a sending-off offence
De Búrca missed yesterday's game for a similar transgression against Wexford in the quarter-final but he was sent off in that game, whereas Gleeson went unpunished by the officials yesterday.
Galway's Adrian Tuohy escaped an investigation after coming under scrutiny for pulling on 'Bonner' Maher's helmet in the first semi-final.
So the Central Competitions Control Committee may well decide to take no action against Gleeson on the basis that, like Tuohy, the referee did not intervene. It certainly would be most unfortunate for Waterford if they were to have two players suspended for what will be their first All-Ireland final appearance for nine years.
Waterford will certainly be hoping that the CCCC take a benign view of the incident as Gleeson's absence could be fatal to their prospects of winning the title for the first time since 1959.
After a slow start, he was an immense presence as Waterford overwhelmed their fading rivals following Cahalane's dismissal.
He really is a huge talent when his game flows on full flood, although his shot selection remains suspect.
He shot four wides yesterday, some with drives taken on from huge distances when better options were available.
Still, he finished on 1-2, created another goal and troubled Cork with his powerful running at a time when they were at their most vulnerable.
Was Cork's collapse in the final quarter all down to being left short-handed after Cahalane's dismissal?
It's a question their supporters will have considered long and hard on their way home last night after a defeat where the final scoreline doesn't do justice to the squad's efforts.
Cork flickered briefly after losing Cahalane but once Waterford struck for their first goal, it was as if the air had been let out of the Leeside balloon.
Within minutes, it was totally flat as Waterford drove on with unstoppable momentum.
They were already looking ahead to the final when Stephen O'Keeffe made a great save from Lehane in the last minute of stoppage time.
It was the first time O'Keeffe had been put under real pressure, which bears impressive testament to the solidity of Waterford's defensive unit.
It won't have gone unnoticed by Micheál Donoghue and his fellow Galway strategists, who will certainly be hoping to test Waterford's sweeper system more than Cork did.
Darragh Fives had a splendid day as the extra man, a role that looks easier than it is, since the opposition try to keep the ball away from him.
Cork weren't as successful at that as they would have hoped, largely because of the enormous pressure being applied by Waterford in the middle third, but Fives still deserves great credit for his intelligent reading of the game.
At the other end, Waterford's most experienced warriors, Kevin Moran and 'Brick' Walsh, made a massive contribution, especially in the first half when they scored 1-3 of Waterford's 1-7 total.
Barron was, as always, a bundle of energy around midfield, while also timing his forward runs to perfection, another note that Galway will have taken as they begin detailed planning for the final against opposition they beat in the Allianz League quarter-final in April.
That won't worry Waterford. They lost to Cork in Munster too but that didn't count for much yesterday.
Scorers - Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-8 (5f), J Barron 2-1, A Gleeson 1-2, K Moran 0-4, M Walsh 1-0, D Fives, C Gleeson, B O'Halloran, M Shanahan 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-12 (7f), C Lehane, A Cadogan 0-2 each, S Harnedy, S Kingston, D Fitzgibbon (line ball), L O'Farrell 0-1 each.
Waterford - S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; K Bennett, C Gleeson, Philip Mahony; J Barron, K Moran; A Gleeson, Pauric Mahony, M Walsh; Shane Bennett, J Dillon, D Fives. Subs: M Shanahan for Dillon (45), B O'Halloran for S Bennett (55), T Ryan for Walsh (59), C Dunford for Pauric Mahony (68), P Curran for Barron (74).
Cork - A Nash; S McDonnell, D Cahalane, C Spillane; C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman; B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon; L Meade, C Lehane, S Kingston; A Cadogan, S Harnedy, P Horgan. Subs: M Cahalane for Meade (h-t), D Kearney for Cooper (65), L O'Farrell for Cadogan (65).
Ref - J Owens (Wexford)