Before a 4,127 gate on Thursday last, John Meyler’s side edged out the Deisemen in a pulsating encounter, a tremendous contest which tilted in one direction and then the other.
While it will be of scant consolation to Sean Power’s charges, the hosts certainly died with their boots on, and appeared to have just cause in citing what went against them in the closing seconds of a breezy, dry evening’s hurling.
And it’ll probably mean even less to them that this was an absolutely riveting hour’s hurling (and then some), featuring some outstanding talent in each camp, several of whom will probably leave us slack jawed at senior level of many summers to come.
A gripping conclusion, which included a straight red card for Cork midfielder Darragh Fitzgibbon (outstanding prior to his dismissal) saw the clinical Dalton punish the apparent indiscretion of Waterford’s Darragh Lyons, who pulled the jersey of the advancing Cork substitute Jack O’Connor.
Well, that was how it appeared on naked eye viewing from the press box in real time last Thursday evening, as the sun faded beyond Tycor and Cleaboy.
“I have to admit, and I said as much to you after the full-time whistle, that I initially felt it was a penalty, but, hand on heart, I’m after watching the incident back at least 50 times since and a free should have been awarded to Cork rather than a penalty,” Sean Power told me on Sunday evening.
“I thought it was a penalty, that was my first instinct, and I know decisions made in split seconds are always tough ones to make for a referee, but having looked at it again, and seeing that, in my view, that the footage proves that it wasn’t a penalty, I’m just totally, totally gutted for the lads. It’s an even tougher one to take now, having looked back on it.”
One suspects that Fergal Horgan’s officiating of next Sunday’s Senior Quarter Final will be scrupulously monitored by Waterford management at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the wake of this match-turning decision.
But despite this unsatisfactory element to proceedings, nothing should be taken from the quality and resilience which Cork, managed by John Meyler, commendably demonstrated over the course of an absorbing encounter. The Rebels are well and truly back, and now on the brink of a clean sweep of all provincial hurling titles.
At the break, and playing with a significant wind advantage, Cork led by 0-10 to 0-8. Waterford opened the scoring after just 18 seconds through centre-forward Cormac Curran, with the Rebels drawing level less than 50 seconds later thanks to a Declan Dalton free. Dalton latched onto Darragh Fitzgibbon’s sideline to send Cork ahead in the fifth minute, before Patrick Curran’s free restored parity two minutes later.
The impressive Dalton landed the first of two converted sidelines after eight minutes, only for the superb Colm Roche to reply immediately from the hosts’ next attack.
Dalton sent over another free in the 10th minute before Cork corner-forward Michael O’Halloran increased their lead. Shane Bennett, who roamed deep to gain possession on several occasions, pointed well for Waterford in the 12th minute, with Cork midfielder Paul Leopold next to point after 16.
The energetic Sean O’Donoghue, somewhat fortunate to escape with a yellow card late in the first half following a heavy challenge on Shane Bennett, assisted Dalton who converted Cork’s seventh.
But Waterford remained well in the contest thanks to a fine Colm Roche point in the 20th minute. Patrick Curran converted frees in the 23rd and 25th minutes to bring the sides level, before Declan Dalton converted another superb sideline after 26.
Darragh Fitzgibbon landed a fine point from halfway before Roche struck his third from play as half-time approached. Dalton’s injury-time free, moments after O’Donoghue’s carding, completed the opening half’s scoring.
Waterford had inched their way back into the contest having trailed by four points after 37 minutes following Robbie O’Flynn’s well-taken goal for Cork, expertly crafted by substitute Tom O’Mahony.
Roche’s heroics from midfield hauled Waterford back into contention, and Andrew Casey sent Shane Bennett through to bat home a 51st minute goal to send the hosts a point clear.
The end to end battle sustained itself all the way through this semi-final’s dramatic conclusion, as Curran and Dalton continued to pepper the board.
But at the end, to the agony and subsequent grievance of the Deisemen, Cork remain standing and have advanced to a Munster Final against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on Wednesday, July 26th.
“We’re heartbroken,” said Sean Power just moments after Fergal Horgan’s final shrill blast of a riveting evening’s hurling.
“We fought so hard to get on top, and then we got on top and they came at us – these things happen. We thought we had it in the bag, but it’s never in the bag until it’s over and I’m very proud of the lads; they really showed great intensity and effort and that’s what we want from guys wearing the Waterford jersey and we can’t fault them on that front. But look, sometimes games go like that – and that’s the glory of sport. These things happen…but of course it’s very hard to take.”
Waterford: Billy Nolan; David Prendergast, Conor Gleeson, Darragh Lyons; Jordan Henley, Conor Prunty, Callum Lyons; Andy Molumby, Colm Roche; Jack Prendergast, Cormac Curran, Shane Ryan; Patrick Curran, Shane Bennett, Peter Hogan.
Substitutes: Edmund O’Halloran for Andy Molumby and Darragh Lynch for Callum Lyons (both 42 mins), Andrew Casey for Cormac Curran (49) and John Paul Lacey for Shane Ryan (58).
Scorers: Patrick Curran (0-10; 0-7f, 0-1 65), Colm Roche (0-5), Shane Bennett (1-1), Cormac Curran (0-2) and Jack Prendergast (0-1).
Cork: Patrick Collins; Sean O’Donoghue, Eoghan Murphy, David Griffin; Billy Hennessy, Darren Browne, Mark Coleman; Paul Leopold, Darragh Fitzgibbon; Chris O’Leary, Declan Dalton, Aaron Myers; Robbie O’Flynn, Shane Kingston, Michael O’Halloran.
Substitutes: Tim O’Mahony for Aaron Myers (30 mins), Eoghan Healy for Sean O’Donoghue (32), Jack O’Connor for Shane Kingston (50) and David Lowney for Chris O’Leary (55).
Scorers: Declan Dalton (1-12; 0-8f, 0-2Sl), Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-3), Robbie O’Flynn (1-0), Paul Leopold and Michael O’Halloran (0-1 each).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)