Waterford 2-20 (26) Cork 3-17 (26)

I like American sport(s) to a greater or lesser degree and have cheerfully sat through full gridiron, ice hockey and baseball games, the latter being a particular favo(u)rite. But basketball, or at least the version of the game on show in the NBA, has always left me cold. I’ve always rationalised this on the basis that the rapid-fire scoring means the game doesn’t feel like it starts until the last five minutes. It might be just as easy to dispense with opening 55 minutes and start both sides at 100-100.

Then again, the same kind of logic could be applied to Waterford – Cork matches, where no matter what happened in the opening 65 minutes the two sides seem to be always tied at the hip come the home straight. After this game, I was flicking through the match programme and came upon a report on the last match between the two teams in the League. Waterford 2-22 Cork 3-15 – spookily close to the result of this game.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results though, so we should savour these games while we can. On a weekend when the Scottish rugby team threw off the shackles of a half-decade of mediocrity, this was also demonstrated by Eoin Kelly. He too has, over the past couple of years, thrown off the shackles that left his free taking in the ‘dodgy’ category. But it looked like the demons were back when he drifted his first free of the day, a relatively simple effort from just to the left of the posts, to the left and wide. It would eventually transpire that the canard about past performances could be applied to the same game . . .

Which was just as well because Cork flew out of the blocks, an early dodgy free of their own from John Gardiner notwithstanding. Their first break came Noel Connors was horsed out of it as he tried to clear and was out of position to allow Cork the simple task of putting Michael Cussen through on goal where he sensibly batted the ball past Clinton Hennessy. A stream of points followed from Cork  and one in particular, when Cussen intercepted a hospital clearance from Jamie Nagle and slotted it straight between the posts, was enough to make you wonder whether it was going to be your day.

In fairness, Nagle’s immediate demeanour suggested that he’d put the gaffe out of his mind. If you’re going to be a success you’ve got to behave as if such moments are of no consequence, and hopefully Shane Walsh did the same when his mazy run ended in a good sight of goal. He had to score, and several people in the stand thought he had, but his kick was so sliced that it didn’t even go wide. But if Anthony Nash was thinking that his was going to be his day he soon got a rude awakening when a typically optimistic over-the-shoulder effort from Eoin Kelly from way out dropped straight into the net. Perish the thought that Walsh’s leap into the goalie might have in any way impeded the goalie. It was a long way from where I was and no one in the vicinity of the goal seemed perturbed, but had Waterford conceded a goal in that manner I’d have been aggrieved.

We didn’t have long to enjoy the fruits of that fluke though as Cork soon got another goal, a carbon copy of the second in its execution as Cussen was allowed the freedom of the park to tap the ball to the net. Gagh, here’s a footballer making hay while the sun shone – where was Gary Hurney when we needed him? The shadow of those easy goals would hang over Waterford throughout the game, the fear that Cork could score goals at will. The sense of pessimism that pervades everything Waterford do is hard to dismiss. In retrospect, Waterford were playing quite well. They had their chances, Seamus Prendergast booting the ball over a point when it seemed easier to hit it below the bar, and Eoin Kelly got an absolutely cracking point from way out on the right. But Cork seemed the more composed of the two, and it took two frees deep in injury time to leave Waterford an optimistic score behind at the break.

Waterford were heavily dependent on Kelly’s frees, even more so in the second half.  Cork people opining on this thread on AFR (before it degenerated into a slanging match with one of the site’s trolls) were aggrieved at the amount of frees Johnny Ryan awarded, but while he was definitely whistle-happy there were only two occasions when I felt the frees were soft – the second of which we’ll get back to in a moment. You could argue that he ‘should have let the game flow’ but ask any forward whether they’d like the advantage or the free, they’d always take the free. Okay, maybe not John Mullane, but the rest of them would, especially with Kelly now knocking them over like he were shelling peas. Besides, Waterford had cause to be aggrieved with a few decisions especially when Shane Walsh went though on goal and went down in a heap only for the ref to award a free out. The poor return from the Waterford forwards can be explained by being constantly fouled. We hope.

The incident with Walsh was his last contribution to the game and there were a flurry of substitutions around this time which gave the field a more mature look with Dan Shanahan replacing Walsh and John Mullane and Donal Óg Cusack entering the fray. A few things came to mind as a groggy looking Nash – he was hardly still feeling the ill effects of that clash with Walsh, was he? – came off. Whatever became of Martin Coleman who looked so tidy when he replaced the red-carded Cusack against Galway in 2008? As for Donal Óg, I realise that since he came out he’s a pariah in GAA circles but that doesn’t mean he has to wear a burka.

*smiley face* smiley face* *smiley face*

Back to the game, and Mullane made an instant impact with a point while the number 23 in the yellow helmet was beginning to make his presence felt in the corners. But that omnipresent goal threat from Cork struck with a vengeance, Pat Horgan racing through the Waterford defence for a superb goal. At his point we needed more than Kelly’s points so it was a fantastic moment when Dan Shanahan flapped at a ball into full forward line and in the ensuing shemozzle it broke to the number 23 in the yellow helmet – Thomas Ryan, it says here – who drilled an unstoppable first time ground stroke past Cusack.

It was enough to get the crowd to its feet and Waterford really had the bit between their teeth now. Another point from pay for Mullane and a Kelly free and unbelievably Waterford were ahead for the first time with less than five minutes to go. Mullane then had the chance to seal the win with a goal but the attentions of two Cork backs meant he could only get away a weak shot which was parried by Cusack. Unforgivably there was no Waterford forward anywhere near it and a lot of the wind went out of Déise sails.

Cork got back level then a clash down between the Town End terrace and the stand led to a free which Ben O’Connor knocked over to leave Cork ahead going into injury time. Waterford launched one last attack and the ref did the right thing / copped out outrageously [delete as applicable] by giving Waterford a free which Kelly scored to leave matters level at the end.

So who will be the happier? Waterford will be satisfied that they came from behind for most of the game and with the last puck to secure a point, and while they’re definitely going to have to beat one or both of Kilkenny and Tipperary to reach the League final it keeps them in the fight. Cork will probably be the happier though. They were the better team for large periods of the game and having already played the Cats are in a strong position to get into the top two.  Finally, a message for Davy and Denis for the next round: as an experiment, one of ye should put out a team of chimps. Given the nature of these Waterford – Cork tussles, bet you there’s only a few points in it at the end – and nul points to the wag who asks how we could tell which was the team of chimps.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Mark O’Brien, Noel Connors, Aidan Kearney, Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle, Eoin Kelly (1-17, 0-14f, 0-1 65) , Richie Foley, Seamus Prendergast (0-1; John Mullane, 0-2), Kevin Moran, Stephen Molumphy, Thomas Ryan (1-0), Shane Walsh (Dan Shanahan), Eoin McGrath (Maurice Shanahan)

Cork: Anthony Nash (Donal Óg Cusack), Kevin Hartnett, Brian Murphy, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Shane O’Neill, Ronan Curran, Michael Walsh, John Gardiner (0-1), Cathal Naughton (0-3), Ben O’Connor (0-8, 0-7f), Cian McCarthy (Tom Kenny, 0-1), Niall McCarthy (Mark O’Sullivan), Kieran Murphy (Luke O’Farrell), Michael Cussen (2-2), Pat Horgan (1-2)

HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Cork 2-9 (15)

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

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