IN a word it was robbery.
In another it was heroic.
Depends on whether you were wearing dearg or bán at Walsh Park last night when the final whistle sounded and the scoreboard read Waterford 1-19 Cork 2-17.
The Cork U21s didn’t perform to their potential in what was a real dogfight at blustery Walsh Park. They couldn’t make the strong wind count enough in the first half and after getting their noses in front in the second ceded momentum in the last 10 minutes.
When Darragh Fitzgibbon was red-carded deep in extra time – with the large Waterford crowd goading him as he trudged to the sideline – that appeared to be it. It was hard to begrudge the Déise their win.
Shane Kingston had been bottled up completely. Mark Coleman was good without dominating. Luke Meade’s absence with a broken finger robbed Cork of a leader on the half-forward. That Fitzgibbon, who was electric at times and hit three from play, was dismissed probably summed it up.
This is the Cork hurling season that keeps on giving though. There was time on the clock for one last play and Waterford went long with the puck-out when they probably should have used their extra man to run it.
Instead Michael O'Halloran snared possession. He didn’t go for glory and sensibly popped it off to Coleman. Subs David Lowney and Jack O’Connor broke through the Déise cover and when the Sars man was hauled down, Cork had the most unlikely of shots at redemption. Deccie Dalton was entrusted with the penalty, despite a bit of debate from the bench about Coleman taking it.
It was all or nothing stuff. A two-point lead is the most dangerous in hurling, but penalties aren’t the bankers they were before the modern rule change.
This was Dalton’s chance to be a hero or to be haunted the rest of the year.
So there’s another word that captured this game: bottle.
Dalton had a case of it last night. The Fr O’Neill’s tyro is as good a keeper as he is a forward and was between the posts and on the long-range frees when the Cork minors lost to Limerick by three points in the 2015 Munster semi-final.
That night in the Gaelic Grounds the team shot 14 wides to Limerick’s three and Dalton missed seven, some of them very convertible from the 65. This time he was the primary reason Cork can look forward to a provincial final against Limerick on Wednesday week.
His haul was 1-12, two from play, two sidelines, and eight frees, many of them from tricky angles as the teeth of the wind bit at the sliotar. He’d just one wide. He was a beast under dropping deliveries from Pa Collins. Savage going.
They’ll need the same in the Munster final and a vastly improved showing across the field to have any chance against an extremely strong Limerick unit who shredded Tipp and Clare in their games to date. Peter Casey, Cian Lynch, Tom Morrissey, Barry Nash, Kyle Hayes, Ronan Lynch, Aaron Gillane, Sean Finn… just loaded with talent.
Meade’s broken finger won’t be healed in time and Fitzgibbon will serve a one-match ban. The hope is the rest of the players will now be determined to do themselves justice.
Billy Hennessy stood out in defence and Eoghan Murphy, Darren Browne and sub Eoghan Healy had their moments. Michael O’Halloran worked hard and was the only forward apart from Dalton to point from play.
Sub Tim O’Mahony caused problems with his height and fed Robbie O’Flynn calmly for the opening goal. Sars flier O’Connor was a livewire in the closing stages.
The sense of relief was very palpable after from the management. It’s now 11 matches unbeaten – 10 wins and a draw – in the Munster championship for Cork across U17, minor, U21 and senior, with three of the four trophies secured. A clean sweep looks unlikely but it’s still a possibility.
Manager John Meyler – who is also a senior selector – has a fine backroom team, with Eoin Cadogan doing the conditioning. Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy coaching, and Padraig O’Sullivan and Seanie Barry as selectors. While the core of their squad have been involved with Kieran Kingston’s crew, the U21s have been targeting this game for 10 months.
That might have been a factor here, plus the weight of expectation, against a riled Déise in what’s always a tough ground to dig out a result at. You’d have to give the management credit for making a few decent switches, including replacing Shane Kingston with O’Connor who won the penalty.
This group are capable of hurling with a bit more abandon up in Limerick, even if the odds will be against them. While the Cork support last night was sparse, it was encouraging to see Anthony Nash lent a hand by warming up Pa Collins beforehand. Minor management members Denis Ring, John Dwyer and Liam Martin were the first onto the field to congratulate the young guns.
Dalton was the focus of the attention though. And he deserved it.
Goalie with Imokilly, marquee forward with Fr O’Neill’s who he drove to the IHC title last year, the 20-year-old apprentice electrician with RMC Electrical headed into work today with a smile on his face.
Didn’t we all!
Scorers for Waterford P. Curran 0-10 (0-6 frees, 0-1 65), C. Roche (0-5); S. Bennett (1-1); C. Curran (0-2); J. Prendergast (0-1).
Cork: D. Dalton 1-12, (1-0 pen, 0-2 sidelines, 0-8 f), R. O’Flynn (1-0); D. Fitzgibbon (0-3); M. O’Halloran, P. Leopold (0-1 each).
WATERFORD: B. Nolan, D. Prendergast, C. Gleeson, D. Lyons, J. Henley, C. Prunty, C. Lyons, A. Molumby, C. Roche, J. Prendergast, C. Curran, S. Ryan (c), P. Curran, S. Bennett, P. Hogan.
Subs: E. O’Halloran for Molumby, D. Lynch for C. Lyons (both 42); A. Casey for C. Curran (50); JP Lucey for Ryan (58).
CORK: P. Collins, S. O’Donoghue, E. Murphy, D. Griffin, B. Hennessy, D. Browne (c), M. Coleman, P. Leopold, D. Fitzgibbon, C. O’Leary, D. Dalton, A. Myers, R. O’Flynn, S. Kingston, M. O’Halloran.
Subs: T. O’Mahony for Myers (30); E. Healy for O’Donoghue (32); J. O’Connor for Kingston (50); D. Lowney for O’Leary (54) Referee: F. Horgan (Tipperary).