Waterford's star soars to new heights
Waterford 1-24 Cork 0-17 Allianz NHL Division 1 Final
Another thrilling chapter has been added to the Waterford success story.
It was written clearly and concisely by Derek McGrath's rapidly-improving young adventurers in Semple Stadium yesterday, while they also gave the distinct impression that there is a whole lot more left to tell.
Cork, in contrast, blotted their copybook, leaving Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his co-strategists with lots to reflect on before the sides meet again in the Munster semi-final on June 7.
You will, no doubt, hear conspiracy theories, claiming that Cork weren't overly concerned about how yesterday's game went, even extending to not showing their full tactical hand ahead of the big championship showdown.
Ignore it for the nonsense it most assuredly is. Having failed to win a league title for 17 years and with no national title having gone Leeside since the 2005 All-Ireland, Cork should have had a more intense motivation than Waterford, who were already deep in bonus territory after making so much progress in what is supposed to be a transition season.
Not that it looked as if Cork's need was greater. All the energy and drive came from Waterford as they set about making things happen, rather than waiting for events to unfold favourably in their direction, as seemed to be the case with Cork.
Given that contrast, there could only be one winner. And so Waterford clinched the league title for the third time - their first since 2007 - having earlier topped Division 1B.
Seven wins and a draw from eight games is their impressive haul since mid-February, including victories over three 1A teams, Galway, Tipperary and Cork, in their last three games.
It really is an exciting time for Waterford, whose confidence is now so high that they have every reason to look ahead to the championship with a genuine belief that they are serious All-Ireland contenders.
There are pitfalls, of course, the first of which could arrive when they line up for the higher-stakes re-match with Cork.
For while Cork looked almost as anaemic at times as their footballers did against Dublin a week earlier, there has to be more to them than that.
They were out-manoeuvred in just about every facet yesterday. Waterford brought much more energy to their endeavours than Cork, whose work-rate wasn't as high as it should have been.
Tactically, Waterford won the battle too, packing the middle third with hard workers, who formed the engine room for their efforts.
There were times when Waterford's distribution wasn't what it might have been but that was more than compensated for by their relentless zeal.
It was evident right from the start when they popped over three points in the opening minutes to establish an advantage they never lost. Cork took an early knock when Alan Cadogan, who had started well, was forced out with a hamstring injury but after 11 minutes, but they would have been happy that they had a solid replacement in Paudie O'Sullivan.
However, he was one of many Cork players who never got into the game. Patrick Horgan, so often their attacking leader, also had a barren day, except from placed balls.
Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane were the only Cork forwards to make any impression, but with the latter playing in the full-forward line until the final quarter, his impact was not what it might have been.
He still managed to shoot 0-5 from open play, but he might have done even more damage if he had been let loose further out from the start.
Waterford led by 0-11 to 0-7 at half-time, a margin that just about reflected their superiority, although Cork would feel that they should have had a goal in the 20th minute when Horgan set up Harnedy.
Stephen O'Keeffe made an excellent save, but Harnedy should have given the Waterford goalkeeper no chance from such close range.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half were always likely to be crucial. Having had a chance to assess Waterford's formation at the interval, Cork would have been expected to pose really searching questions, but it didn't happen.
Waterford's hard work and willingness to forage as individuals and groups wasn't matched by Cork, who continued to play as if problems would sort themselves rather being addressed by a powerful collective effort.
Waterford had pulled five points clear at the end of the third quarter, by which stage it was obvious that Cork needed a goal if they were to rein in McGrath's men.
Lehane almost delivered it in the 58th minute but his shot crashed off the crossbar in yet another example of why it wasn't going to be Cork's day.
It went from bad to worse for them in the 63rd minute when a shot from Waterford sub Tom Devine squeezed into the net between Cormac Murphy and Anthony Nash.
It was only Waterford's second goal in their last four outings, but with their long-range point-taking so consistent, they can win games from well out the field. In addition, they have an ultra-reliable free-taker in Pauric Mahony, who pointed 0-9 from placed balls yesterday.
Connors shares joy with blues brother Hazard
IT was close to the perfect day for Man of the Match Noel Connors as Waterford won the League title, as did the soccer team he supports, Chelsea.
Connors went on Twitter to communicate with Chelsea star Eden Hazard while posing with a picture of the National League trophy.
His tweet to Hazard read: “We won the league too #superblues #cfc #deise”
Scorers - Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-11 (8fs, 1 '65'), T Devine 1-1, K Moran 0-3, M Walsh, M Shanahan, A Gleeson (1 s/l) 0-2 each, B O'Halloran, J Barron, S Bennett 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-7 (7fs), C Lehane 0-5, S Harnedy 0-2, R O'Shea, B Cooper, A Walsh 0-1 each.
Waterford - S O'Keeffe 8; N Connors 9, B Coughlan 7, S Fives 7; A Gleeson 8, T De Burca 7, Philip Mahony 7; J Barron 8, K Moran 8; C Dunford 6, Pauric Mahony 7, M Walsh 7; J Dillon 6, M Shanahan 8, S Bennett 6. Subs: B O'Halloran 7 for Dunford (58), T Devine 8 for Bennett (61), S O'Sullivan for Dillon (67), M O'Neill for Gleeson (70), G O'Brien for Barron (71).
Cork - A Nash 6; S O'Neill 7, A Ryan 6, S McDonnell 6; L McLoughlin 6, M Ellis 6, C Murphy 7; D Kearney 7, A Walsh 5; B Cooper 6, S Harnedy 7, R O'Shea 5; A Cadogan 7, C Lehane 8, P Horgan 5. Subs: P O'Sullivan 5 for Cadogan (11), B Lawton 5 for Walsh (49), L O'Farrell 6 for O'Shea (49), D Cahalane 6 for Ryan (55), J Coughlan for Harnedy (71).
Ref - J Ryan (Tipperary)