Horgan secures second chance for off-key Cork
Cork 1-21 Waterford 1-21
Have Waterford blown their big chance? That was the question occupying their supporters as they headed out of Thurles yesterday after watching a new-look side surpass all expectations against highly-ranked opposition that took a very long time to reach anything like full power.
Waterford led for 66 minutes, but were caught on the run-in when Patrick Horgan pointed a stoppage-time free, awarded from where the ball landed close to the Waterford goal after Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash was fouled by Austin Gleeson as he made a clearance.
The draw hugely relieved Cork as they rarely hurled with the freedom or fluency which took them so close to All-Ireland glory last year. The difficult circumstances called for something else and Cork found it in the form of hard work and persistence, which combined to rescue them from what looked a hopeless cause when they trailed by 1-17 to 0-11 after 46 minutes.
Even with the wind behind them, Cork had been unable to fully impose themselves after turning over six points (0-13 to 0-7) behind and, when Gleeson's spectacular solo goal in the 44th minute was supplemented by points by Shane Walsh and Pauric Mahony, it left Cork facing a nine-point deficit and a real test of their resolve.
The response was compelling, even if the quality of their hurling wasn't. Instead, the revival was constructed off the sheer force of will and personality as they faced the disconcerting reality that, unless they raised their game, they were heading for defeat.
That nightmare scenario led to a much-improved work rate and, ever so gradually, they applied a pressure drive which Waterford found very difficult to resist.
They outscored Waterford by 1-10 to 0-4 from the 47th minute on, a turnaround launched by Bill Cooper's scrambled goal, which gave them a lifeline. Cooper replaced Cian McCarthy at half-time and turned in an excellent second half, which played a significant part in Cork's survival.
Apart from scoring the vital goal, he brought the sides level in the 69th minute and, while Seamus Prendergast restored the lead for Waterford, Horgan rescued Cork in stoppage time.
Losing a nine-point lead was hugely disappointing for Waterford, especially since they should have been even further ahead, having shot no fewer than nine wides in the first half. It was all so reminiscent of their Munster first-round clash with Clare last year when several missed opportunities in the opening 40 minutes eventually cost them the game.
The impact wasn't as serious yesterday as they lived to fight another day, but whether they blew their chance of reaching the semi-final remains to be seen. There's no reason to assume that Waterford won't be as efficient in the replay on Sunday week, but surely Cork won't be as lethargic.
They even looked listless in the pre-match warm-up, certainly by comparison with Waterford, who were crisp and focused in everything they did. That carried into the game, where they grabbed the initiative early on, built on it solidly and continued to make Cork look distinctly second rate as the first half progressed.
Waterford enjoyed superiority across most sectors, underpinned essentially by a better work ethic and a general tidiness which Cork didn't match. Pauric Mahony's accuracy from frees, Austin Gleeson's pace and poise, Noel Connors' close marking and Jamie Nagle's all-round sharpness were key elements for Waterford as they stretched Cork close to breaking point for much of the first half.
Alan Cadogan was one of the few Cork forwards to trouble his marker in the first half, which ended with Waterford six points ahead.
Cork supporters would have expected a power surge early in the second half and, in fairness to the beleaguered Rebels, there was an improvement for a period.
They cut the lead to four points in the 44th minute before being hit for 1-2 in two minutes, which looked as if it might prove a match-winner for Waterford. However, Cork's quick response, which yielded Cooper's goal, restored equilibrium for Jimmy Barry-Murphy's troops and also left them with an attainable target.
The crucial goal came after impressive Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe made a great save from Horgan, but as the ball ping-ponged amid a thicket of swirling ash, Cooper got the vital touch.
Horgan's accuracy from frees and a general improvement in Cork's precision levels enabled them to patiently erode Waterford's lead. It wasn't vintage Cork by any means, but it was still enough to earn them a second chance.
Cork's review of this game will centre mainly on why it took so long to settle into anything like maximum efficiency.
Their ball-handling was poor throughout most of the first half and they also failed to match Waterford's impressive intensity levels.
Waterford's ability to play their way intelligently out of defence and pick out an attacking colleague with angled deliveries was in marked contrast to Cork's laboured efforts.
It was as if Cork hadn't switched on to the demands of a championship game, instead hurling as if no more than league points were at stake.
That changed once they got the wind behind them in the second half, but, even then, they lacked consistency.
Apart from the concentration lapses which allowed the confident opposition to go nine points clear, they were later guilty of failing to build on a productive run which took them within a point of Waterford after 59 minutes.
With the momentum flowing very much in their direction, it looked as if they would power on to victory, but, instead, they went eight minutes without scoring, at which stage Waterford were two points clear.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy praised his side's character afterwards, but one suspects that he will be less generous in his private discussions with the squad this week.
After all, Cork are regarded as genuine All-Ireland contenders, yet they were lucky to survive against a Waterford squad that's in transition while also being short some key performers through injury and suspension.
They ignored those handicaps to raise questions which came close to stumping Cork.
Unfortunately for Waterford, they failed to see it through, which could prove very costly since Cork are unlikely to be as sluggish in the replay.
Scorers – Cork: P Horgan 0-12 (8fs, 1 '65'), A Cadogan 0-4, B Cooper 1-1, A Walsh 0-2 (1 s-l), C Lehane, S Harnedy 0-1 each. Waterford: P Mahony 0-11 (9fs), A Gleeson 1-2 (0-1 s-l), B O'Sullivan, J Nagle 0-2 each, T Burke, J Dillon, S Walsh, S Prendergast 0-1 each.
Waterford – S O'Keeffe 8; N Connors 8, L Lawlor 7, B Coughlan 6; J Nagle 8, K Moran 7, T Burke 7; M Walsh 7, E Barrett 6; C Dunford 6, P Mahony 8, A Gleeson 8; B O'Sullivan 7, S Walsh 6, J Dillon 7. Subs: R Foley 6 for Barrett (22), S Fives 6 for Coughlan (42), R Barry 5 for Dunford (47), D Breathnach 6 for Dillon (52), S Prendergast 7 for S Walsh (59).
Cork – A Nash 7; S O'Neill 6, D Cahalane 7, S McDonnell 7; C Joyce 6, M Ellis 7, L McLoughlin 7; D Kearney 6, A Walsh 7; C McCarthy 5, C Lehane 6, P Cronin 5; A Cadogan 9, S Harnedy 5, P Horgan 8. Subs: B Cooper 8 for McCarthy (h-t), B Lawton 6 for Kearney (50), S Moylan (6) for Cronin (53), J Coughlan for Harnedy (65).
REF – B Gavin (Offaly)
Game at a glance
Man of the match
Alan Cadogan (Cork)
Austin Gleeson was an impressive figure in the Waterford attack, but is edged out by another rapidly emerging talent in Alan Cadogan, who was one of the few Corkmen to play well all through, as opposed to the second half only when many of his colleagues emerged from their lethargy.
Bill Cooper's goal in the 47th minute resurrected Cork's challenge at a time when they trailed by nine points. Cork out-scored Waterford by 0-10 to 0-4 from there on.
Why were Cork so listless for so long? They were very sloppy in the first half and would have been in much more difficulty at half-time if Waterford's shooting had been more accurate.
Aidan Walsh (25th minute) and Austin Gleeson (31st minute) pointed line-balls from opposite sides of the pitch with beautifully crafted arcs. It's a skill which has improved considerably in recent seasons.
Brian Gavin was fussier than usual, booking eight players, some for relatively trivial offences. Cork had reason to be aggrieved with the concession of a free which yielded a Waterford point in the 50th minute as Damien Cahalane's shoulder on Austin Gleeson seemed perfectly good.
What they said
Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork manager):
"We were poor in the first half. The one positive was the character of the lads."
Derek McGrath (Waterford manager):
"We're happy, given the run-in to the game in terms of the much-documented injuries. We gave it everything. "
Cork 7 (2 first half)
Waterford 10 (9)
Cork 14 (5)
Waterford 11 (6)
Cork 3 (S McDonnell 34, C Lehane 37, M Ellis 46)
Waterford 5 (K Moran 5, A Gleeson 41, B Coughlan 41, N Connors 52, S Prendergast 70).
They replay in Thurles on Sunday week.
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.