(originally posted by Giveitfong on boards.ie)
Ando’s Soggy Bottom thinks watching games by text message is bad for the nerves. Well, can you imagine what actually being at this game was like! This was one of the most nerve-jangling hurling games I was ever at, with very little (or nothing) between the teams throughout the second half and most of extra time until Waterford finally pulled away in the closing minutes.
There was so much depending on this game, not just for this particular Waterford team, but because of the opportunity it offered to finally lay the bogey of the Déise never having won an under-age game anywhere in Cork. After 20 minutes I was seething with irritation, as yet another Waterford team with immense ability and potential were struck down by the nerves which have destroyed countless Waterford teams against Cork over the years. All the symptoms were present – poor first touch, poor decision-making, poor striking (especially for scores), second to the breaking ball everywhere, standing off their opponents rather than driving into them.
Cork’s opening score set the scene, with Michael Cahalane sailing through the Waterford defence untouched to flash the ball to the net. Stephen Bennett’s super strike after five minutes might have settled the team down, but ended up making matters worse. He knocked a long ball into the Cork goalmouth down in front of him and then sent a bullet to the net with a super strike on the half-volley. The ball was already in the net when the referee blew up for a free. Not only did he not allow the advantage, but I do not even know what the free was for in the first place. Bennett missing the ensuing penalty only put more pressure on a Waterford team already short on self-confidence.
After playing second fiddle all over the field, and going nine points down, Waterford finally began to steady the ship, inspired by Austin Gleeson who decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck, winning possession and driving out of defence repeatedly. Another key development was the introduction of DJ Foran in the half forward line in place of Adam Farrell after 25 minutes. Cormac Curran had been unable to reproduce his ball-winning exploits against Clare, but Foran (whose omission from the starting team had surprised me) had an immediate impact in this department, and in the second half and extra time was immense, repeatedly winning ball and driving at the Cork defence.
However, while Waterford managed to stop the Cork scoring machine, they were finding it impossible to make an impression on the scoreboard at the other end. Both Stephen Bennett and Conor Gleeson missed a series of good chances, with Bennett even flicking the ball wide from the edge of the square having been set up by a good hand pass. A couple of scores before half time reduced the Cork lead to a reachable six points. Waterford were now at least competing for possession and creating scoring opportunities, but one felt that they needed an early goal in the second half to really get them back in the game.
And that is exactly what happened. Just after the restart, Patrick Curran soloed in from the left, and although his shot was blocked, Colm Roche (who had a big game for Waterford) pounced on the breaking ball to shoot to the net. Roche followed up with a point, and then Stephen Bennett finished off another good attacking move by flicking to the net to put Waterford in front.
We hoped that Waterford might push on from here and put Cork to the sword, but the home side were in no mood to throw in the towel, and a mighty contest ensued with both sides going at it hammer and tongs and neither capable of opening up a significant lead. In the closing stages of normal time, Austin Gleeson made some majestic catches and clearances to repel Cork attacks. Just after the public address announced at least one minute of additional time, with the scores level, Cork launched a dangerous attack down the right but it was brilliantly stopped by the Déise defence and the subsequent clearance found its way to an unmarked Conor Gleeson straight in front of the Cork posts, but just as he was about to shoot the lead point for Waterford, the referee blew the full time whistle with just 45 seconds of additional time indicated on the electronic clock on the scoreboard. Would the Tipperary referee Fergal Horgan (with a suspiciously Corkonian surname) have blown up if a Cork forward had been in a similar situation?
Just after the start of extra time the Cork right half back received a second yellow and follow-up red card for a high tackle, and the space which this created for Waterford was to eventually take its toll. Cork actually went into the second period of extra time a point ahead, but when DJ Foran fired the ball home after a bout of interpassing in front of the Cork goal, it seemed that Waterford were set for victory. However, Cork managed to reduce the lead to two points – the most dangerous lead in hurling – and came close to regaining the lead when one of their forwards came in along the end line but, with several colleagues waiting in front of goal, he went for glory only to shoot into the side netting.
Waterford then took over completely, and late scores from Conor Gleeson, Patrick Curran and substitute Paul O’Connor gave them a rather flattering five-point lead when the referee finally called a halt to an enthralling contest.
Apart from Austin Gleeson, who provided marvellous leadership and some spectacular hurling, one should also highlight the magnificent contribution at left half back of Shane Bennett, especially in the second half of normal time and in extra time. His was an extraordinarily mature performance from a player who will be a minor again next year. As already mentioned, DJ Foran’s contribution when introduced was crucial to Waterford’s success, while Colm Roche’s 1-3 from play was also vital to this win.
Ultimately Waterford’s win was due as much to hard work and a refusal to admit defeat as anything else. There is a lot more to this team than we saw in this game. A crucial factor in ultimate success was the quality of their substitutes. Apart from DJ Foran, Mark O’Brien made a tremendous contribution when introduced at midfield at halftime for Mikey Kearney, who shipped a bad injury during the course of the first half. Christy Breathnach put in a typically hard-working shift (and contributed a good point) when introduced for Cormac Curran in the second half, while Paul O’Connor also weighed in with an excellent point after replacing Colm Roche who was struck down by cramp as he knocked over his third point in the second period of extra point.
In my view, this Waterford team has much more to offer. Tom Devine, while doing well, can reach an extra level and, along with Austin Gleeson and Shane Bennett, makes up as good a half back line as one will find in minor hurling. Cormac Curran had an off-day on this occasion but we know what he is capable of. Conor Gleeson repeatedly got into good scoring positions and will hardly be as awry in his shooting again. This was Stephen Bennett’s first full game at this level this year, and his lack of match practice showed. I expect him to improve 100% the next day. Even Patrick Curran, despite his final haul of 0-12 (including three points from play) showed a lack of sharpness on occasions and is also capable of significant improvement. If Curran and Bennett can reach the levels of which they are capable simultaneously, they will constitute an awesome attacking force.
I was at the Laois/Wexford Leinster semi-final last week, and the level at which they were playing was well below the fare in Páirc Uí Rinn last night. Kilkenny had to work hard to beat Dublin in the other Leinster semi-final, and I don’t expect them to be world beaters this year. You never know how good Galway will be, but Waterford must have a great chance of ultimate success this year.