Waterford's power surge floors Cork
Waterford 3-19 Cork 1-21
Anyone who doubted Waterford's capacity to take the exciting enterprise of last spring into high summer got their answer in Thurles yesterday.
It was delivered in the most emphatic terms as Derek McGrath's buccaneering adventurers once again sorted out the Cork puzzle with relative ease.
The winning margin came in six points less than in the League final last month but the means by which it was achieved were even more impressive.
Waterford were all-the-way winners in the League final, whereas they had to ride out an early Cork storm in this Munster semi-final before settling into a rhythm and routine that developed into a really powerful momentum.
Having trailed by 0-6 to 0-2 after 23 minutes, Waterford out-scored Cork by 2-17 to 0-14 over the next 46 minutes and looked very comfortable as the game ticked towards stoppage time.
Then, Cork were handed a lifeline when Patrick Horgan drove in a goal from a penalty after Conor Lehane was fouled.
It cut Waterford's lead to two points, and with four minutes added time to play, Jimmy Barry-Murphy would have felt that a draw was certainly within Cork's grasp.
However, Waterford's response was mature and effective. Instead of trying to hold out, they returned to the aggressively offensive style that had served them so solidly up to then.
Their reward came in the form of a third goal, driven in by sub, Tom Devine, who also scored a late goal in the League final.
He was one of seven U-21s - four starters and three subs - who contributed to a performance which has further boosted Waterford's rating as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
As for Cork, their season is dangling precariously on the edge of oblivion. There was a considerable improvement on their workrate from the League final, but so many of the flaws that undermined them that day not only re-appeared but, if anything, were more pronounced.
Once again, their full-forward line was wrapped in the tightest knots by their markers, with Patrick Horgan, Luke O'Farrell and Alan Cadogan scoring a meagre 0-4 between them from open play.
And with Conor Lehane way below peak power further out and Aidan Walsh fading as the game progressed, it left Pa Cronin, a pre-match replacement for the injured Seamus Harnedy, as the only Cork attacker to reach the required level.
He scored 0-5 from open play in a fine performance which invited his colleagues to respond. It didn't happen and now Cork are heading for the treacherous All-Ireland qualifier season with a wide range of problems.
They will do so - for one game at least - without O'Farrell, who was sent off on a straight red card in the 64th minute. It further weakened Cork's case at a time when they were five points adrift.
And when they pared it back to two points, the fact that they were operating with five forwards made life much easier for the Waterford defence.
O'Farrell's dismissal typified Cork's day. It was one of several self-inflicted wounds that will leave players and management facing serious self-analysis before attempting to re-launch the season early next month.
With the exception of the opening 23 minutes, when they worked their way into a four-point lead, Cork were second best, beaten in all the important facets of play.
That early advantage on the scoreboard didn't tell the full story either as Waterford were winning just as much possession, but couldn't get the necessary precision into their play to convert it into scores.
They shot seven wides in the opening 12 minutes, a sign perhaps that the demands of championship hurling on a new-look squad had increased the mental pressure to a degree where it interfered with their natural flow.
However, once they stabilised, the pattern changed quickly, leading to a 2-4 scoring blitz between the 24th and 32nd minutes.
The goals came from the ultra-impressive Maurice Shanahan, who thundered through on Anthony Nash's goal in the 27th minute and Jake Dillon, who spun onto a 'Brick' Walsh pass and fired home expertly three minutes later.
Cork finished the half strongly, pointing three times to cut the deficit to a point, 2-6 to 0-11, by half-time.
They would have hoped to maintain that momentum early in the second half, but Waterford were much quicker from the blocks, landing three points in the opening four minutes. It was a crucial period, having the dual impact as a confidence-builder for Waterford as a reminder to Cork that they were headed for a really difficult period.
And so it continued throughout most of the second half. Points were traded on a consistent basis, which was all very satisfactory for Waterford, who had a comfortable lead but frustrating for Cork, who rarely threatened to score the goal they so badly needed.
It eventually arrived very late on, the only time they have beaten Stephen O'Keeffe in 140 minutes of League final and Munster semi-final action.
There were times too when Cork's urgency wasn't in keeping with the reality of their situation. A perfect example was provided by Aidan Walsh, who took an age to line up a sideline cut in the 57th minute at a time when Cork were five points adrift.
He then proceeded to fire it well wide of the Waterford goal, whereupon he was replaced by Paudie O'Sullivan, who made no impact either.
This defeat leaves Cork in a difficult place heading into the qualifiers, whereas Waterford are beautifully primed for their Munster final bid.
There's an energy running through their game that makes them very difficult to counteract while it's also obvious that they have total faith in themselves and McGrath's game plan.
They never deviated from it, which was very important when they trailed early on. Instead, they trusted it to steer them to their objective, which it duly did.
Scorers - Waterford: M Shanahan 1-9 (7f, 0-1 '65'); J Dillon, T Devine 1-0 each; Stephen Bennett, Shane Bennett, K Moran 0-2 each; C Dunford, P Curran, T De Burca, A Gleeson (f), 0-1 each.
Cork: P Horgan 1-7 (6f, 1-0 pen), P Cronin 0-5, A Cadogan 0-2, C Lehane, B Cooper, L O'Farrell, M Ellis, D Kearney, A Walsh, D McCarthy ('65') 0-1 each.
Waterford - S O'Keeffe 7; S Fives 8, N Connors 8 , B Coughlan 7; A Gleeson 7, T De Burca 8, P Mahony 7; J Barron 7, K Moran 8; M Shanahan 9, S Bennett 7, J Dillon 7: B O'Halloran 6, M Walsh 8, C Dunford 7. Subs: S O'Sullivan for O'Halloran (46), T Devine 8 for Stephen Bennett (60), E Barrett 6 for Dunford (63), P Curran for Dillon (68).
Cork - A Nash 7; S O'Neill 6, S McDonnell 7, B Murphy 6; D Cahalane 6, M Ellis 7, C Murphy 6; D Kearney 7, B Cooper 6; C Lehane 5, P Cronin 8, A Walsh 5; A Cadogan 6, P Horgan 5, L O'Farrell 5. Subs: R O'Shea 5 for C Murphy (46), D McCarthy 6 for Kearney (50), P O'Sullivan 5 for Walsh (57).
Ref - B Kelly (Westmeath)
Game at a glance
Man of the match: Maurice Shanahan (Waterford)
He took over as free-taker from the injured Pauric Mahony and maintained the high standard, pointing seven and also converting a '65. He was excellent in open play too, scoring 1-1 and contributing handsomely as a provider.
How much more capacity is in this Waterford squad? Their rate of improvement this season has been phenomenal and there's probably more to come.
As for Cork, they appear to be stuck in a rut, having shown little enough improvement since the National League final.
A scintillating run by Waterford's Colin Dunford in the 24th minute took out at least four Cork defenders before he was fouled as he bore down on goal.
Cork appeared to come off worst in some of the 50-50 calls, but overall Barry Kelly did well.
Waterford play Limerick or Tipperary in the Munster final on July 12; Cork enter the All-Ireland qualifier series on July 4.