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Flynn's miss vital as Rebels march on

CORK 2-17 WATERFORD 2-15 Munster SHC semi-final FIRST blood to Cork but the cut wasn't anywhere nearly deep enough to leave Waterford with long term scars that might disfigure the rest of their Guinness hurling championship season.

In fact, as Waterford left Thurles after yesterday's wonderfully competitive Munster semi-final, they had lots of reasons to believe that their All-Ireland title ambitions are not just intact but also a whole lot more realistic than many other contenders. Admittedly, they have problems, not least in attack where their reliance on Eoin Kelly, Seamus Prendergast and Paul Flynn was too pronounced on a day when John Mullane, Dan Shanahan, Eoin McGrath managed just one goal between them.

Mullane could never impose himself on the game against the tigerish Pat Mulcahy; Shanahan whipped home a first half goal but was largely anonymous apart from that while McGrath spent much of his time labouring in vain around midfield.

That left most of the scoring responsibility with the other trio and while they managed 1-14 between them, it wasn't quite enough in the end. It should have been 1-15 but Flynn, who together with Ken McGrath was passed fit to play, inexplicably blasted a 20-metre free wide from slightly to the left of the posts in the 58th minute at a time when Waterford were just a point behind.

It was a critical miss because, directly from the puck-out, Brian Corcoran pointed so, in instead of being level, Waterford were two points behind. That was extended to four over the next six minutes and while Waterford pared it back to two before the end, Cork held on to book a final place against Clare or Tipperary on June 26.

Still, Cork were made to battle all the way to the finish line after looking as if they would demolish Waterford in the first 22 minutes. They were a goal up in 55 seconds when Joe Deane went poaching after Fergal Hartley failed to get in his clearance.

Deane beat Stephen Brenner and, as Cork's possession haul grew, they galloped into a six-point lead. There was such a swagger about everything they did that it may have left them open to an over-confidence virus as some of their moves became far too elaborate. Nevertheless, they hit some excellent scores and could have had a second goal in the 10th minute but Diarmuid O'Sullivan's penalty (awarded for a foul on Deane by Hartley) flew over the bar. Cork led by 1-6 to 0-3 after 22 minutes but as Waterford powered up through the momentum gears with the wind, they quickly found themselves in very fertile territory.

It was altogether appropriate that they were led there by their captain Kelly who switched from midfield to right half-forward at the off. His marker Sean Óg O hÁilpín started well but once Kelly settled, he was in unstoppable form. He pointed from all angles and distances and, by half-time, had landed 0-5 from play, as Waterford turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead after out-scoring Cork by 2-6 to 0-3 in the final 13 minutes.

First, O'Sullivan failed to control the ball which spun to Flynn, who netted with a delightfully crisp ground stroke. Later, when a free from Flynn dropped in the square, the defensive reaction was marginally slow and Shanahan hit the net.

Although they would have the wind behind them in the second half, Cork must have been worried when they trailed by 2-9 to 1-9 at the interval as leaks had sprung in unexpected areas, notably the half-forward line where early enterprise had given way to inertia against Tony Browne, Ken McGrath and James Murray.

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Kieran Murphy replaced Neil Ronan at left half-forward for the second half and it brought about a significant improvement. Still, it was Waterford who re-started the better with points from Prendergast and Kelly sending them five clear. It was question time for Cork and, not unexpectedly, their response was clever and well co-ordinated.

Corcoran, who hadn't really figured up to then, slipped in at an acute angle before beating Brenner in the 38th minute and added a point four minutes later. Significantly too, centre-forward, Niall McCarthy began to make progress against Ken McGrath who, despite his great instinct for the game, couldn't quite last his usual pace after being out injured since February.

McCarthy scored 0-3 in the second half while Jerry and Ben O'Connor also raised the stakes. Cork scored five unanswered points between the 52nd and 64th minutes, which effectively won the match. However, Waterford will feel that it might been all so very different if Flynn hadn't missed that vital free in the 58th minutes. It allowed insecurity to wander into Waterford's thinking while giving Cork a massive confidence boost which was reflected in the throaty response of their supporters. Ben O'Connor pointed free in the 70th minute gave Cork a 'safe' four-point advantage and while two late points by Flynn left the All-Ireland champions edgy, they held their composure and conviction and book their third successive Munster final.

Cork now have three more fences to negotiate if they are to retain the All-Ireland crown and, though they weren't perfect yesterday, manager John Allen will still be pleased by the overall shape of the side.

Justin McCarthy can be confident too as Waterford head for the first round of the qualifiers on June 18. Ken McGrath will be a lot sharper by then, which should improve the defence and if the attacking load is spread more evenly, the scoring rate will improve. All of which points to Waterford heading for the quarter-finals in late July, a target that Cork have already achieved.

SCORERS - Cork: J Deane 1-3 (0-1f), B Corcoran 1-2, N McCarthy, B O'Connor (2f, 1'65') 0-4 each, J O'Connor 0-2, Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields), D O'Sullivan (pen) 0-1 each. Waterford: P Flynn 1-6 (6f), E Kelly 0-6, D Shanahan 1-0, S Prendergast 0-2, T Browne 0-1.

CORK - D Og Cusack 7; B Murphy 7, D O'Sullivan 5, P Mulcahy 7; J Gardiner 7, R Curran 7, S Og O hAilpin 5; T Kenny 6, J O'Connor 8; B O'Connor 7, N McCarthy 8, N Ronan 5; Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) 7, B Corcoran 8, J Deane 8. Subs: Kieran Murphy 7 (Erin's Owen) for Ronan (ht). Yellow Cards: P Mulcahy (36), Kieran Murphy (Erin's Owen) (46), G Callinan (57) (on as a blood sub); R Curran (63).

WATERFORD - S Brenner 7; T Feeney 6, F Hartley 6, E Murphy 7; T Browne 7, K McGrath 6, J Murray 7; M Walsh 6, D Bennett 6; E Kelly 9, D Shanahan 5, P Flynn 6; J Mullane 5, S Prendergast 8, E McGrath 5. Subs: P O'Brien 6 for Bennett (25), B Phelan for Shanahan (65). Yellow Cards: F Hartley (10), S Prendergast (36), P Flynn (44).

REF - S Roche (Tipperary)

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