You always become the thing you hate the most. So said that great philosopher Arnold Rimmer, and as we queued for tickets just before seven o’clock you could see his point. Yes, after a spotless record of buying tickets in advance, often being ripped off by Ticketmaster into the bargain, and getting to the appointed vantage point well ahead of schedule, this year’s Munster final replay saw us become the dreaded latecomer, the type who turns up just before throw-in safe in the knowledge that they’ll put back the throw-in. Leaving Waterford around 4.15pm seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t going to be a big crowd, and it wasn’t. The problem is that everyone else had the same idea and there was a tailback at Horse and Jockey. We were in situ by a couple of minutes past seven – kudos to the efficiency of the woman in the ticket office who processed my purchase in about ten seconds – so one could say with a straight face that we didn’t cause the delay. But it feels dirty.
We opted to go on the Killinan End, partly because you wouldn’t feel quite such a dope shuffling on to a terrace late than you would squeezing past people who bothered turning up on time, partly because you wouldn’t get stuck near some Cork baluba – the fella we sat near last week came a whisker from having to extract my size tens from his backside, so obnoxious was he whenever Cork scored – and partly the price. It was a good decision all round as we had no problem finding a decent spec, we stood near a couple of extremely knowledgeable and fair-minded townies, and fifteen yoyos was an utter bargain for such a tumultuous evening’s entertainment.
Waterford are not the team that under Justin McCarthy would sashay out onto the pitch and play from the heart with tactics taking the high road. There’s definitely a lot more method in the madness, so it’s peculiar that the alchemy that produced those thrilling ties throughout the Noughties still seems to be holding true. Something is different though as for the second game running we had a first half of egg-laying tension. Waterford got off to a decent start, Eoin Kelly knocking over a point after a few seconds and tacking on a free soon afterwards. Sloppy play in defence allowed Cork to get one back but Mullane scored a nice point on the run. Looking back, a pattern was emerging of Cork getting more possession – at times it seemed like they had an extra man, so often would a player pop up in support – but Waterford were being more clinical with their shooting, making the space and hitting it straight over the black spot.
Another pattern was Cork trying to get Aisake Ó hAilpín in at every available opportunity. A Waterford back needed to clear a ball which was trickling over the line and Cork scored from the resultant 65, but generally they seemed to be coping. The backs were doing really well, harrying Cork into hasty shots and the wide count racked up. Waterford were taking a lot more care with Eoin Kelly hitting over a great point from way under the Old Stand and generally not even looking like hitting a wide. We weren’t getting a sniff in the danger zone but if Cork were going to insist on hitting in bombs which were drifting wide, why worry? Even when Cork did get an opening through Michael Cussen, Clinton Hennessy made an easy save.
The paucity of options in attack for Cork was mildly shocking. Where are the Joe Deanes or Seanie McGraths to be, to paraphrase Helmut Schoen when talking about Gerd Müller, the scorer of the little points? Only Cathal Naughton seems to fit the bill. I was relatively relaxed approaching half time to the point when Waterford got a sideline cut in a scoring position I eschewed my usual timidity with respect to them and gave what I thought was Shane O’Sullivan my permission – isn’t that magnanimous of me? – to go for a point. Over it went and Waterford had a four point half point lead. Better still, it turned out to be Richie Foley. hurlingstats.com have recorded that there were a grand total of 11 sideline cut scores in all of last year’s Championship. To see that Waterford have two players capable of this most singular of skills is rather gratifying, and the four point lead was pretty sweet.
I was so confident as the second half started that I was able to idly speculate that if we held Cork to the same score as in the first half we’d at least get extra time. Well, hubris thy name is Come on the Déise as Cork scored three points in the first five minutes of the half demonstrating all the space-finding talents that they hadn’t in the first half. Waterford were relieved to get a free when Ronan Curran clobbered Stephen Molumphy but generally the Waterford half forwards were being eaten alive and the backs were struggling to cope as every puck out came back with interest. Cork gained a free wide on the left which Ben O’Connor teed up on the 21m line. I’ve always bigged up my ignorance of hurling but thirty-four Championship matches seem to have rubbed off on me because as Ben O’Connor stood over it I said to my brother that it was odd that he hadn’t moved it further out to give himself a better angle. His forehead wrinkled in perplexed agreement and this concern was justified when O’Connor, aprés Paul Flynn in 2004, brilliantly fired the ball across the bows of Clinton Hennessy into the far corner of the net.
What a disaster, and the confidence of mere moments before had evaporated to the point where I was afraid that we were going to be slaughtered. When Aisake bludgeoned his way towards the penalty area it seemed inevitable that a penalty would follow but Brian Gavin have decided that he was merely trying to pile into the danger zone and instead whistled for a free out. You could see what he was thinking but it could just as easily have gone the other way. Thankfully it went our way, and an excellent point from Brian O’Halloran and a free from Eoin Kelly which could have been a decent goal opportunity in other circumstances went over, but the boat really needed steadying.
Incredibly the ship had been steadied and with Mullane doing his thing from way out wide and Shane Walsh performing a superb catch-and-turn (his reward for which was to be substituted soon afterwards) the goal had been erased. Cork came right back at us to level matters then Eoin Kelly edged us back in front with a long range free. It was at this stage that Cork’s dropping bombs finally yielded something tangible, although it was Cussen rather than Aisake who managed to get the penalty. Should we play Cork again in the Championship what I say at this point will be the least of our worries so I feel comfortable enough to say that Aisake is a total carthorse. Yeah, he got a goal in the drawn game but if even half of the balls that were cleared by Waterford were knocked over the bar Cork would have been a lot better off (although given the woeful nature of their shooting, perhaps they had no other option).
John Gardiner took the penalty which was flicked over the bar by Richie Foley and was celebrated more by Waterford than Cork. A two point lead at this stage would have been insurmountable. It was next-score-the-winner time and Eoin Kelly is surely the man you’d want in these circumstances. Free out wide on the left – just wide. Running around the whole Cork defence to create the space – wide again. Ticking into injury time, free out near the 65 – wide! You really wouldn’t expect him to be 0 for 3 but that’s what happened and we had yet another draw.
It took so long for the extra time to start that I briefly wondered whether the conditions meant that the game wouldn’t be restarted. In the end, Waterford came out way late. Am I the only one unimpressed by such nonsensical mind games? Anyway, Kevin Moran scored within a few seconds and as the players dragged their tired limbs around the sodden pitch you seriously wondered whether that could be it. It wasn’t, Cork were soon level, but you could feel the weariness.
This was clearly an opportunity for some young Turk like Maurice Shanahan to shine. Cue the Tony Browne Show. A free out on the 65 right at the end of the first half was sent over by Mr Eternal Youth and he would prove crucial in the second half, routinely winning possession and offering one moment for the ages. But not before the truly decisive moment of the match. Eoin McGrath had come on and you hoped his effervescent style would prove useful, and when a long clearance from Michael Walsh was gathered by Eoin Kelly he released the onrushing McGrath. Suddenly the Cork defence was exposed and McGrath popped the ball into Dan Shanahan in soooo much space. Time suddenly seemed to elongate. He had to move in on the goalie and bat the ball past him. Instead he did the exact opposite, pulling the trigger instantly from a long way out towards the far post. It was utterly insane, and the sensible man behind me would admit that he thought, in common with lots of other people in the ground and those watching at home, that he thought it had gone wide. God bless my contact lenses though, I could see that it was a goal.
The relief on the Killinan End was explosive, and you just knew with just six minutes to go that this had to be a knockout blow. Cork would get a point back quickly but they needed a goal and in the conditions Waterford just (!) had to spoil every ball, something that is easier when a) the conditions are like a monsoon, and b) you have Tony Browne bringing his granite jaw to the proceedings. Watching the highlights later you could see him at the heart of everything and when Cathal Naughton managed to contrive an opening, albeit a long way out, he stuck his head in the way of the shot. I don’t care if you’re wearing a helmet, that’s bravery way above and beyond the call of duty. And all we can offer you is our heartiest appreciation and affection. Hope that is enough.
One more clearance and it was over, we had done it again. Time to strike a blow for the plain people of the GAA as the repeated exhortations of the announcer to stay off the pitch were ignored. Sorry, Christy Cooney, your ‘watershed‘ will have to wait a while longer. It was great to be on the pitch, even if I took a series of woefully inadequate photos and couldn’t hear a word of Stephen Molumphy’s acceptance speech. It was just great all round. It wasn’t quite the Thunder-and-Lightning final but it had an undeniable intensity and we had overcome. Thoughts will turn to the semi-final and beyond *cough* Kilkenny *cough* but for now we have lowered Cork’s colours. Rejoice.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Liam Lawlor (Jamie Nagle), Noel Connors, Tony Browne (0-1f), Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Richie Foley (0-1 sideline), Seamus Prendergast (Brian O’Halloran, 0-1; Eoin McGrath), Kevin Moran (0-1), Eoin Kelly (0-8, 0-6f), Stephen Molumphy, Shane Walsh (0-1, Maurice Shanahan), John Mullane (0-3; Dan Shanahan, 1-0)
Cork: Donal Óg Cusack, Shane Murphy, Eoin Cadogan, Brian Murphy, John Gardiner (0-2, 0-1 65, 0-1 pen), Ronan Curran (William Egan, 0-1), Shane O’Neill (Reamonn Ryan), Tom Kenny, Cathal Naughton (0-2), Ben O’Connor (1-5f), Michael Cussen (0-1), Niall McCarthy, Kieran Murphy (Luke O’Farrell), Aisake Ó hAilpín, Patrick Horgan (Paudie O’Sullivan, 0-2)
HT: Waterford 0-8 Cork 0-4
FT: Waterford 0-14 (14) Cork 1-11 (14)
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)