Waterford 1-28 Cork 1-24
THE CORK hurlers head for the qualifiers after a hugely disappointing display in the Munster semi-final at Semple Stadium.
They were out-fought and out-thought by a superbly drilled Waterford, with Tadhg de Búrca and Jamie Barron running the show, Austin Gleeson and Dessie Hutchinson sharp up top and Stephen Bennett, for the most part, clinical from frees in Pauric Mahony's absence.
A return of 1-2 from wing-back Calum Lyons was key, and he also contributed defensively in a rearguard that denied Cork the goal chances they were going to need to rescue a game that they trailed at both water-breaks and half-time. They raised a green flag in injury, Patrick Horgan with a pile-driving fee but sub Patrick Curran clipped over an insurance point in reply for the worthy winners.
New Déise boss Liam Cahill has a great record against in his previous roles at underdog level with his native Tipperary and worked the oracle once more in Thurles. It was Waterford's first championship win since beating Cork in 2017.
Positives were few and far between for Cork, who leaned too heavily again on Horgan in attack. Seamus Harnedy did thieve 0-3 from play in the second half, while Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston were good in the opening 35 minutes.
It simply wasn't enough though. Darragh Fitzgibbon was badly missed at centre-field, despite a lively performance from Mark Coleman in his stead.
Cork gave starts to Seán O'Leary Hayes and Daire Connery, and introduced Jack O'Connor, Brian Turnbull and Declan Dalton off the bench, but the question in the next round is whether they go for broke and refresh the team further. A lot of the longer-serving players have suffered some soul-destroying defeats.
There will be six teams, three from Munster and three from Leinster in the qualifiers, with a county from each province getting a bye. Cork, Dublin, Clare and Laois will be joined by the losers of Galway-Wexford and Tipp-Limerick.
Cork need to significantly improve to get back in contention, whatever line-up they go for.
There are certainly ongoing problems at the back. Bennett converted 12 scoreable frees, Horgan just 1-3 for Cork. Discipline is a concern.
And yet the defending for the goal was sloppy, notwithstanding Lyons' neat finish, as Damien Cahalane and Connery allowed him far too much room breaking from the 65 down the right flank.
Cork trailed 0-15 to 0-12 at half-time after an opening 35 minutes marred by some awful shooting on both sides. Waterford hit 14 wides, Cork nine, though eight of those were in the first quarter.
The Rebels had opened brightly, Lehane and Kingston looking especially sharp but after going 0-5 to 0-3 ahead a series of poor misses allowed Waterford to gain the upper-hand, 0-8 to 0-5 after 15 minutes.
The red helmets of de Búrca and Lyons were a feature as the Déise half-back line dominated in the air. Cork were pressed on short puck-outs, and Gleeson, Barron and Hutchinson moved with menace and purpose when the underdogs had possession.
The Rebel rearguard was forced into errors, coughing up sidelines and cheap frees, as they attempted to work the sliotar out and find angles to deliver to the front line. Horgan wriggled loose for a couple of tasty points from play, and recycled the ball for Coleman and Kingston out the field, but Waterford had enough bodies back to largely curb Harnedy and Cadogan.
Debutant Connery sat deeper on the left flank, near Tim O'Mahony who was wing-back instead of midfield in a switch with Coleman. Yet Waterford were still able to carve out scoring chances, putting eight wides with their seven second-quarter points.
Kieran Kingston's last championship game at the helm was against the Déise, the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final loss in Croke Park. Injuries deprived Cork of Fitzgibbon and Eoin Cadogan, while Robbie O'Flynn was suspended after a red card in the last league game up in Galway eight months ago.
The starting 15 initially announced appeared conservative, but by throw-in, Connery and O'Leary Hayes were handed their debuts ahead of Colm Spillane and Aidan Walsh. With O'Mahony and Rob Downey in the half-back line, though they did both start games last summer under previous manager John Meyler, it added the freshness the fans were hoping to see.
Yet the final whistle ended in more disappointment for the Rebel faithful watching at home.
Scorers for Waterford: S Bennett 0-12 f, C Lyons 1-2, A Gleeson, D Hutchinson, J Barron 0-3 each, J Prendergast, S McNulty, K Moran, K Bennett, P Curran 0-1 each.
Cork: P Horgan 1-8 (1-3 f), S Kingston 0-4, S Harnedy 0-3, C Lehane, B Cooper 0-2 each, M Coleman 0-2 (0-1 sl), A Cadogan, C Joyce, D Dalton 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: S O'Keeffe; S Fives, C Prunty (c), S McNulty; C Lyons, T de Búrca, K Moran; J Barron, K Bennett; J Prendergast, A Gleeson, J Fagan; D Hutchinson, S Bennett, J Dillon.
Subs: B Power for K Bennett (54), N Montgomery for Fagan (61), D Lyons for Dillon (63), P Curran for Gleeson (69),
CORK: A Nash; S O'Leary Hayes, D Cahalane, S O'Donoghue; C Joyce, R Downey, T O'Mahony; M Coleman, B Cooper; D Connery, S Harnedy, C Lehane; S Kingston, P Horgan (c), A Cadogan.
Subs: J O'Connor for Connery (40), D Dalton for Lehane (53), L Meade for Cadogan (55), B Hennessy for Joyce (63), B Turnbull for Harnedy (71).
Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).