By Mark Jones
Cork 2-14, Waterford 0-13
This first National Hurling League title since 1963 may not suddenly transform Cork into one of the county’s vintage teams, but victory last Sunday at Thurles was an important step for manager Jimmy Barry Murphy and his young players.
In truth, Cork’s performance was far from convincing and they were by no means seven points the better side. However, as Barry Murphy later pointed out, the display was full of determination.
“We didn’t play all that well, but we showed great character when things were going against us,” he said.
Playing in a first League decider since their only appearance back in 1963, Waterford definitely had the winning of this thrilling contest. Critically, though, they were let down by a forward line that was badly out of synch.
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“Cork seemed to do a lot with very little ball, whereas we had a lot of possession and we didn’t do much with it,” was the rueful analysis of Manager Gerald McCarthy. A second-half tale of 10 wides summed up Waterford’s scoring predicament.
Their two star forwards, Paul Flynn and Ken McGrath, who had contributed so much to the semifinal success against Limerick, failed to rekindle the spark this time as Cork proved far more adept at snapping up the chances.
Thanks mainly to stirring performances by the halfback line of Stephen Frampton, Fergal Hartley and Brian Greene, Waterford were level with 9 minutes left, and despite that costly tally of wides, they were dominating the exchanges when Cork unexpectedly changed the course of the game.
Mark Landers floated a high ball in from the right wing, the hard-working Sean O’Farrell managed to put Alan Browne clear behind the defense and, abandoning his hurley, Browne booted his low shot into the corner of the net. In an instant, you could sense Waterford losing their momentum.
Cork, meanwhile, gained in confidence and five points from play in the closing stages gave the scoreboard an unbalanced appearance.
Still, even if the finish didn’t reflect the overall trend, the winners had stubbornly refused throughout to let Waterford out of their sights. Six times Waterford had led by a point and five times Cork had leveled matters within a minute.
While the Waterford shooting left much to be desired, credit must also go to the Cork defense, which did yeoman restrictive work. Once again, Brian Corcoran was a key figure as he mixed terrier-like tackling with several touches of sheer class.
A well-taken O’Farrell goal meant that Cork were in front by 1-6 to 0-7 at the interval, but some accurate free taking by Flynn during the second half had nudged an ever-improving Waterford ahead by the 45th minute.
Let down in the end by poor finishing, Waterford will hope that their wayward shooting is just a passing phase, with the Munster championship tie against Kerry scheduled for Sunday.
Cork: G. Cunningham, F. Ryan, J. Browne, D. O’Sullivan, M. Landers, B. Corcoran, S. O hAilpin, P Ryan (0-2), M. Daly, S. McGrath (0-3), F. McCormack (0-1), K. Morrison (0-2), S. O’Farrell (1-3), A. Browne (1-0), J. Deane (0-3). Sub: B. Egan for Daly, 49 mins.
Waterford: B. Landers, T. Feeney, S. Cullinane, M. O’Sullivan, S. Frampton, F. Hartley (0-1), B. Greene, T. Browne, P. Queally, D. Shanahan (0-1), K. McGrath (0-1), D. Bennett (0-3), B. O’Sullivan, A. Kirwan (0-2), P. Flynn (0-5). Sub: M. White for B. O’Sullivan, 51 mins.
Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).