Mullane: This emerging Waterford team deserves backing from the fans
LAST week I expressed my hope that Waterford would throw off the shackles in Thurles and have a go at Cork. And what we got from the team in Thurles was a performance that almost dumped the Rebels out of the Munster championship.
Waterford played a nice brand of hurling and what was most pleasing for me was how the young lads stood up to the challenge.
Austin Gleeson scored a goal reminiscent of Eoin Kelly's glorious strike against Cork in the 2004 Munster final and it was a dream debut for him.
Tadhg de Burca was very solid at half-back and young Colin Dunford showed up well for 50 minutes and was probably a bit unlucky to be taken off.
I predicted that there wouldn't be a whole lot in this game and that, perhaps, Waterford could even shade it – and I was nearly proven right.
I was really disappointed during the week by comments from Babs Keating when he talked about 'poor old Waterford' and predicted a hiding from Cork.
And yet there we were, nine points up and with the game for the taking.
Bill Cooper's goal for Cork was a crucial score, shortly after Austin's strike at the other end.
If we could have held out for just a little longer and not conceded, I think we would have gone on to win it, because Jimmy Barry-Murphy stated after the game that Cork were below par again.
They took their league form into the championship and you could almost foresee what was going to happen.
Coming from Division 1B to championship pace, they were slow out of the blocks and it took them a while to get to the pitch of it, almost all of 50 minutes. Eddie Barrett's injury is another blow for Waterford, a dislocated knee at a time when he was going about his business in an efficient manner at midfield.
Waterford were winning almost all of the battles around the pitch but unfortunately we were only six points up at half-time, when it should have been nine or 10.
Cork's forwards had been non-existent bar Alan Cadogan, who had a fantastic debut. What a find he is and he was the one player keeping the Rebels in touch.
In the second half, Aidan Walsh bombed into the game and he's going to be a massive plus with more hurling under his belt.
Waterford probably ran out of steam near the end, just when I was looking forward to counting the dollars after availing of the massive 10/1 on Waterford to be ahead at half-time and full-time.
Have Waterford missed the boat? I don't think so, especially with Shane O'Sullivan, Stephen Molumphy, Darragh Fives and, hopefully, Maurice Shanahan to come back. Cork will feel they have room for improvement, too, and had Stephen O'Keeffe not pulled off a brilliant save from Cadogan, it could have been the Leesiders celebrating a win.
Another crucial switch for Cork was moving Patrick Horgan to the half- forward line. He was nullified by Noel Connors inside, but really grew into the game when he moved out the field. There was some debate about the awarding of that late free. From where I was sitting, Austin might have clipped Anthony Nash, but it was a small bit on the soft side.
On the balance of play, then, probably a fair result, but Cork will start as favourites for the replay.
Waterford fans can start believing again, but I would hope that a bigger support turns up for the replay.
People's expectations were pretty low, but this is a young, emerging team and the players deserve backing. I thought Pauric Mahony showed great leadership, Brian O'Sullivan was very good and the elder statesmen Kevin Moran and 'Brick' Walsh were solid throughout.
Those players, along with the young lads already mentioned, should provide Waterford with reasons to be optimistic ahead of the replay.
Cork will feel that they can improve for the replay, but if we get a couple of players back, we'll benefit big time.
Elsewhere, I was really surprised by Antrim's victory over Laois. A series of games will stand Antrim and Laois in good stead as they look ahead to big fixtures against Wexford and Galway next weekend.