AFTER the final round-robin game in Semple Stadium, and one of the best Munster senior hurling championships we have seen, it is Cork and Clare again in the final.
A very good Clare, who have made significant progress since their first-round defeat to Cork, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Cork weren’t sure what Waterford would bring. The Déise were already gone. However, despite having nothing to play for, they dictated the game for long stages.
It stood to them that this was their fourth successive weekend of hurling — and, of course, they were saluting Michael Brick Walsh. Cork, after a break, were slow to get going.
It seems harsh to criticise a an unbeaten team that has two wins and two draws.
There is a chance now to make history and claim back-to-back Munster titles. Cork will want to make a statement and will go all out to retain the silverware.
Back to Semple Stadium. Waterford supporters were in the minority of the 14,737 attendance.
Yet, with the wind at their backs, their team took the game to Cork and, apart from the opening point, were never behind, not until Seamus Harnedy’s brilliant goal, in the 66th minute. Cork’s shooting was off; some of the statistics will make grim reading for John Meyler today.
Pauric Mahony gave a man-of-the-match performance in the first-half; he was afforded far too much space around the half-forward line.
Man-marking appears to be a thing of the past. He scored six points, three of them from play. A chance of a Cork goal fell to Bill Cooper, but credit Ian O’Regan, who wasn’t slow coming off his line.
Cork were lethargic in the opening half. That was disheartening, for fans and players alike. Daniel Kearney said they hadn’t expect anything less than full commitment from their near-neighbours.
“Waterford are not going to give you an easy ball, because they are playing with pride. They gave a great performance there today and we knew it was going to be as intense as it was.
“The first-half was frustrating, because of the way they set up. They don’t leave you play. They are difficult to organise against. We stayed patient, stayed in the game, and stuck to the game plan.
“We had a few bad wides, but we never panicked or started to change the process. We stayed in the zone.”
Waterford had the aid of the wind for the first 35 minutes, and they took full advantage.
“The wind was definitely a factor. In the first-half, they were withdrawing fellas and it was harder to get our set-up. Now, we weren’t happy at all with our shooting. Some of the chances we took, they weren’t the right options. Hopefully, we will get that right for the next day.
“At half-time, we knew we had to be patient. Waterford are just very hard to play against. It is important not to let that get to you.
“Because you could easily just start launching the ball. I thought we held our nerve very well, and that keyword: patience. You could see that in the second-half; we didn’t panic. We kept going to the very end. Seamie (Harnedy) stepped up again and got a great goal.”
Cork were the first team out, following the interval. It was a slow process. There were glimmers of hope, amidst the negatives.
Bill Cooper, for one: his work-rate was phenomenal. But Cork were still making silly and untypical mistakes.
Waterford were erratic, too. A short puck-out by O’Regan was fumbled out over the line by Ian Kenny. As a result, Mark Coleman fired over an astonishing sideline cut. Austin Gleeson (who admittedly is carrying an injury), all alone, failed to control the sliotar and it went out for a 65m.
Just when Patrick Horgan equalised came a cracking goal from Waterford. Ten minutes later, Harnedy’s decisive strike put Cork on the front foot, with four minutes, plus seven for injuries, left to play.
Back and forth we went. Cork’s strong finish yielded the three winning points in the 74th, 76th, and 77th minutes from Horgan, Colm Spillane, and Harnedy. Horgan’s was a real beauty. It came from Cooper’s block-down, which is one of the great tackling techniques in the game.
So, the build-up to the Munster final begins. From what we have seen — albeit they have yet to put an entire 70 minutes together — Cork are good enough to win, provided they play to their strengths.
It cannot be the Jekyll and Hyde Cork that turns up. The concern would be inconsistency. But they have survived a gruelling championship campaign. However, Clare will be a far different test, this time around, than they were in May and they must be ready for that.
They will have to be fully tuned-in, and right from the start.