The loose ball was snapped up by Luke Meade and popped to Conor Lehane who fired it between the posts to a massive Rebel roar. The score, Lehane’s fourth from play, nudged Cork two points in front, 0-17 to 1-12, but also signalled they simply would not be beaten.
In the dramatic finish, when Cork were reduced to 14 men, every bit of that defiance, fitness and physicality would be needed.
Like they had when John McGrath netted in the Tipp game, Cork’s overall response to Maurice Shanahan’s goal after 46 minutes was essential to the result. Harnedy forced a free straight from the puck-out, then came Lehane’s score by way of Cooper’s controlled aggression, and when Colm Spillane found Alan Cadogan on the right wing, Cork had fired three points in a row to cancel out the green flag.
There’s no doubt the gutsy manner of this victory made it all the sweeter for the Rebel faithful that thronged the sun-scorched pitch in Thurles afterwards, but it also franked Cork resurgence as a hurling force. They were far superior to Waterford in general, even conceding it took every ounce of cuteness, slick hurling and bottle to survive and set up a showdown with Clare on July 9.
A few missed goal chances, the concession of a sloppy one, and a red card for Colm Spillane looked to have cost Cork even though they led 0-20 to 1-13 after 62 minutes when the Castlelyons corner-back picked up his second yellow. Given the blistering conditions and the support-play Waterford have trademarked Cork could have been picked open.
They had lost their top-scorer Lehane, devastatingly effective despite hurling with a badly damaged ankle which forced him off, as well and the back-door beckoned. Make no mistake, for all the talk that Waterford had to win yesterday, Cork needed to build on their Tipp display.
Instead of fading – helped it must be said by Pauric Mahony missing a very scoreable free right after Spillane’s dismissal – Cork showed incredible character and class to survive across eight minutes and then five of added time. They not only held on, thanks to a ferocious defensive effort and Anthony Nash’s cool head in goal, but outscored the Déise 0-3 to 0-2 during an intense finale.
They simply refused to wilt in scorching Semple, powered by Harnedy and Patrick Horgan as the attacking spearheads, Cooper and sub Daniel Kearney tracking across the middle, and Mark Ellis and Damian Cahalane anchoring the rearguard.
Three subs contributed, with Kearney fouled and Luke O’Farrell and Michael Cahalane at the end of slick low ball in from Harnedy, for three decisive points.
Waterford didn’t have a whole lot of answers but then leaving Maurice Shananan, who was well held by Damian Cahalane apart from the goal, isolated inside didn’t help their cause. Nor did the withdrawal of Hurler of the Year Austin Geelson, whose departure was greeted by a cheer from the Leeside masses on the Blackrock Terrace.
Of course Gleeson wasn’t afforded the chance to cut loose, which was a credit to Cork’s structure and strength. He did flick up and clip over a wonder point in the first half, but the suggestion his presence up top would discomfort Blarney tyro Mark Coleman was wide of the mark.
Indeed Coleman was an utter joy to watch again. Waterford hounded him as he carried ball up the left wing but he still had three scoring assists for Harnedy and Lehane (2). He ‘out-Gleesoned’ his initial marker by nailing a soaring sideline.
While, unsurprisingly, the rookies in the Cork team found the going tougher here after announcing their arrival against the Premier, Coleman was still one of the leading performers. Darragh Fitzgibbon was all action in the opening period, though eventually he tired, but for Spillane, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade this was harder going.
Still you wouldn’t be changing the starting 15 against Clare. Cork are more settled than they’ve been for some time and firepower in reserve is critical.
The only doubt might be over Lehane, who deserves special credit for landing four points from play, including his first-half gem after a Teddy Mac-esque leap, despite that bad ankle injury. He also had three more shots that just whizzed wide, was fouled for a Horgan free and had an assist for Cooper’s point.
His marker Tadhg de Burca was only able to make an impact when Waterford pulled bodies back, but under real pressure when Lehane was isolated on him.
Even though they were favourites yesterday the Déise refused to take Cork on in a traditional game. That’s the ultimate compliment to the threat posed by the Rebel attack, but also shows how Kieran Kingston and his management have rebooted their back-line and a general improved attitude.
It’s hard to beat Cork in a shoot-out if they outhustle you.
Can the Rebels do the same on July 9? Let’s hope so.