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Cork time run to perfection

CORK 1-18 WATERFORD 1-13 All-Ireland SHC quarter-final WATERFORD stayed with Cork for over an hour but wilted up the finishing straight as the reigning All-Ireland champions produced their trademark burst which left them in the happy position of having time to glance over their shoulders as they breasted the winning tape.

While Cork's overall performance won't have terrorised any of the remaining All-Ireland contenders it was, in many ways, the ideal way to advance to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

It wasn't flashy or compelling but it did have a structure and an intent which suggests that they are capable of reaching higher peaks.

Yesterday was all about containment, which Cork achieved with commendable efficiency. So much so that Waterford's finishing total of 1-13 was their lowest against Cork since 1991 and some five points short of their return when the sides clashed in the Munster semi-final in May.

Seamus Prendergast, who scored 0-4 from play in a fine performance, was the only Waterford forward to consistently trouble Cork. Eoin Kelly who gave a marvellous exhibition of point-taking in the Munster semi-final, got far less room from Seán Óg Ó hAilpín this time; Paul Flynn was clearly hampered by a leg injury; Dan Shanahan got a goal but couldn't build on it; John Mullane's touch was off while Jack Kennedy made very little impression.

Of course, credit must go to the Cork defence for securing their goal so well, especially Diarmuid O'Sullivan who stood hard and strong at full-back, Brian Murphy who dominated the left corner and wing-backs, John Gardiner and Ó hAilpín, who were always tidy and inventive.

They also volunteered for scoring duty, with Gardiner nailing three long range frees while Ó hAilpín hoisted a super point to bring the sides level (1-11 to 0-14) in the 56th minute.

An exchange of points left the sides still deadlocked at the hour mark but, by then, Cork were looking like a side who were revving up for serious acceleration.

The decisive break came in the 63rd minute when Brian Corcoran steered the ball cleverly to the net after it had broken off Eoin Murphy's stick as he tried to fend off Joe Deane.

It was hard luck on Murphy who had done an excellent marking job on Deane all day. James Murray, Tony Browne and the imperious Ken McGrath were also in defiant mode while new goalkeeper, Clinton Hennessy was calm and assured.

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Given Waterford's goalkeeping problems, their fans in the crowd of 55,587 would have been concerned as the first ball dropped in front of goal early on but Hennessy caught it cleanly and, from there on, his confidence continued to increase.

Cork settled quicker and were two points clear after 12 minutes which had to be of serious concern to Waterford who were playing with a stiff breeze.

However, they gradually asserted themselves and were level by the 15th minute and a goal clear two minutes later when Shanahan flicked the ball to the Cork net after Flynn's drive from a 20-metre free was beaten out.

With Prendergast making good progress against Ronan Curran, Waterford had extended their lead to four points by the 29th minute but managed just one more point before the break while they conceded four.

That burst of enterprise turned out to be crucial for Cork as it left them just a point (1-7 to 0-9) adrift at the interval.

With the wind behind them in the second half, Cork looked likely to ease themselves comfortably into the ascendancy but it took a lot longer than expected as Waterford dug in for a real battle. They actually led by two points after 50 minutes but even then, there was always a feeling that Cork were playing well within their extensive capacity range.

The O'Connor brothers, Ben and Jerry, stepped up their running game and as Cork tightened their grip, three points followed before Corcoran's goal effectively settled the tie.

Corcoran's ability to do the simple things consistently well really is central to Cork's attacking strategy while his opportunism counts as a massive bonus when defensive locks need to be picked. The clever manner in which he angled his shot to the corner of the net was a truly delightful example of intelligent improvisation at its very best.

Waterford managed just two points in the final 20 minutes, with the second coming from a Ken McGrath free in injury-time.

In many ways, McGrath epitomises Waterford's dilemma. Ideally, they would like to play him in attack where he would give them a powerful dimension but he is required at centre-back which, in turn, weakens their scoring options.

Justin McCarthy brought in Paul O'Brien and Paul Foley in an effort to improve the forward line but neither made any great impression. The truth is that Waterford's back-up talent remains extremely limited which in one of the reasons they continue to come up short against the super-powers.

In contrast, Cork could call on Neil Ronan and Kieran Murphy (Erin's Own) to replace Niall and Timmy McCarthy neither of whom managed to play their way into the game. Both subs made a decent contribution to Cork's impressive final quarter, which they won by 1-6 to 0-2 to book an All-Ireland semi-final place for the third successive year.

Once again, Waterford found Croke Park a barren hunting ground where they haven't won a championship game since 1998.

After coming so close to Cork in the Munster semi-final they had genuine hopes of downing the champions but they would have needed everybody to be on full throttle to give themselves a chance of doing that. Unfortunately for them, that wasn't the case, certainly in attack on a day when 1-13 was never going to be enough to beat Cork.

SCORERS - Cork: J Deane 0-5 (4f), B Corcoran 1-1, B O'Connor 0-4 (2f, 1 '65'), J Gardiner 0-3, J O'Connor, T Kenny, S O hAilpin, N Ronan, Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) 0-1 each. Waterford: P Flynn 0-5 (5f), S Prendergast 0-4, D Shanahan 1-0, T Browne, D Bennett, J Mullane, K McGrath (f) 0-1 each.

CORK - D Og Cusack 7; P Mulcahy 7, D O'Sullivan 8, B Murphy 8; J Gardiner 8, R Curran 6, S Og O hAilpin 7; T Kenny 7, J O'Connor 7; B O'Connor 8, N McCarthy 5, T McCarthy 5; Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) 7, B Corcoran 8, J Deane 7. Subs: N Ronan 7 for T McCarthy (53), Kieran Murphy 7 (Erin's Own) for N McCarthy (55), C O'Connor for Curran (73). Yellow cards: B Murphy (29).

WATERFORD - C Hennessy 7; E Murphy 8, F Hartley 6, T Feeney 6; T Browne 7, K McGrath 8, J Murray 7; M Walsh 6, D Bennett 6; E Kelly 6, S Prendergast 9, D Shanahan 7; J Mullane 6, P Flynn 6, J Kennedy 5. Subs: P O'Brien 5 for Kennedy (53), P Foley 5 for Flynn (61). Yellow cards: T Browne (21), E Kelly (45).

REF - B Kelly (Westmeath).


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