Waterford 0-13 (13) Cork 2-14 (20)

League final parade, 1998

So near and yet so far. We should have won this game but the loser mentality that has consumed Waterford hurling in the last thirty-odd years raised it’s ugly head and we let it a slip. It’s all a learning curve of course, but that didn’t make it much easier to take.

The pre-match whirl was an incredible experience. If anyone ever criticises the parade you have my permission to shot them. Looking around Thurles from my position in the Old Stand I came as close as I ever have to an out-of-body experience, the sea of White and Blue going toe-to-toe with the Rebel County’s eruptions of red. This is what we have missed in my lifetime, what every other county in Munster has come to take for granted. Please don’t let us lose it again.

Bathed in glorious sunshine, the match was played at a frenetic pace, neither side really getting into their stride. Waterford had certainly held their own until a fantastic strike by Sean O’Farrell just before half-time put Cork a goal in front. Dan Shanahan replied with a point to leave the gap at two points.

It bears repeating: we should have won. Cork were on the ropes in the second-half as we edged in front due to some superb scoring. I really thought that this was it. But the failings that had nearly proved fatal against Wexford did prove fatal here. Chances went abegging and when Mark O’Sullivan played a loose handpass towards Sean Cullinane Alan Browne pounced to kick the ball to the net. It should have been disallowed – you’re not allowed throw away your hurley Alan – but it was an accident waiting to happen.

Cork led by a goal and never looked back. The wind was at their back and they were cycling downhill. Point after point went over to completely exaggerate the gap between the teams. The final whistle blew and we sighed with dismay. We could have done with that trophy, much more than Cork. But the season was not over. In a way it was only beginning.

Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane, Mark O’Sullivan, Stephen Frampton (capt.), Fergal Hartley (0-1), Brian Greene, Tony Browne, Peter Queally, Dan Shanahan (0-1), Ken McGrath (0-1), Dave Bennett (0-3), Billy O’Sullivan (Míceal White), Anthony Kirwan (0-2), Paul Flynn (0-5)

Cork: Ger Cunningham, Fergal Ryan, John Browne, Diarmiud O’Sullivan (capt.), Mark Landers, Brian Corcoran, Sean O hAilpin, Pat Ryan (0-2), Mick Daly (Barry Egan), Sean McGrath (0-3), Fergal McCormack (0-1), Kieran Morrison (0-2), Sean O’Farrell (1-3), Alan Browne (1-0), Joe Deane (0-3)

HT: Waterford 0-7 Cork 1-6

Referee: Aodhan MacSuibhne (Dublin)