Waterford comprehensively defeated Cork at Semple Stadium on Saturday evening last to record a first Allianz National Hurling title since 2015.
The final score-line doesn’t flatter the victors here in the least with Waterford dominant from the opening quarter.
Indeed the opening score from Patrick Horgan aside, Waterford never trailed in this game.
Waterford hit 18 goals in their league campaign prior to last Saturday’s final.
Hitting the back of the net was once again the decisive factor in this game.
Man of the match Stephen Bennett and Patrick Curran had the umpires waving the green flag in the opening half with further majors on the change of ends from Stephen Bennett again and from inside forward Dessie Hutchinson.
Liam Cahill re-introduced the fit again captain Conor Prunty, Calum Lyons and Stephen Bennett to the starting line-up from the semi-final rout of Wexford with Mount Sion’s Austin Gleeson unavailable following his late dismissal in the penultimate round; serving an automatic one match ban.
Cork bainisteoir Kieran Kingston also had three changes to his stating 15 with Sean O’Donoghue, Tim O’Mahony and Seamus Harnedy all getting the nod.
Talisman Patrick Horgan had the opening score of the game with an excellent point from play in the third minute.
However Waterford looked the more decisive in their play and led by double score’s 0-6 to 0-3 by the end of the opening quarter.
Poor shooting and misjudged shot selection had Cork struggling on the scoreboard early.
The Rebels eventually hit 13 wides to Waterford’s six over the 70 plus minutes.
Cork frequently opted to retain possession using a plethora of sideways and backwards passes with frequently only Patrick Horgan operating in front of the Waterford goal.
Liam Cahill’s men looked to have a more threatening inside line with Michael Kiely and Dessie Hutchinson playing close to goal while Stephen Bennett alternated between the half and full forward lines.
Calum Lyons and Jack Fagan both added a threat coming from deep on the flanks with Darragh Lyons and Carthach Daly commanding at centre-field.
Jack Prendergast and Neil Montgomery were busy offering defensive assistance when required and providing an attacking threat at the opposite end of the pitch.
With Tadhg De Búrca also laying deep, the Waterford rear-guard trio of Conor Gleeson, Conor Prunty and Shane McNulty had the better of their immediate opponents.
Shane Barrett, Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon all landed points in the opening period to level the game after 24 minutes as Cork finally made some of their possession count.
However two goals in a minute from Bennett and Curran gave Cork a difficult deficit to overcome.
The opening goal was created by Michael Kiely with the University of Limerick student putting Dungarvan’s Patrick Curran through to shoot low to the net
Less then a minute later Neil Montgomery was racing at the heart of a porous Cork defence finding Stephen Bennett as a willing runner to receive the assist and again fire low past Patrick Collins in the Cork goal.
After 27 minutes Shane Barrett did have a goal effort saved by Shaun O’Brien as the sides shared the remaining scores of the first half equally with Waterford good value for their 2-10 to 0-10 interval lead.
Manager Kieran Kingston introduced his son Shane at half-time which paid immediate dividends when he landed two early second half points to help narrow the margin with Kingston looking dangerous in front goal.
A Neil Montgomery shot on 44 minutes brought a good save from the Cork net minder with Patrick Curran finishing the rebound to the net.
However referee Liam Cordon had blown his whistle prematurely to signal a Waterford free with the Désie having to settle for a Stephen Bennett pointed free instead; and now 2-14 to 0-13 ahead.
Goal number three in front of an official attendance of 18,890 was soon to arrive.
A short puck-out worked back to goalkeeper Shaun O’Brien allowed the De La Salle goalkeeper launch a long delivery at the Cork defence.
Stephen Bennett brilliant caught the ball over his marker and proceeded to accelerate past the covering defence before dispatching the ball off the stick to the back of the net, 3-15 to 0-18, 55 minutes played.
Robbie O’Flynn and substitute Shane Kingston continued to provide most resistance to the ‘White Wave’ but Cork rarely threatened Shaun O’Brien in the Waterford goal.
The impressive Carthach Daly was next to run on the Cork defence setting Dessie Hutchinson up for fourth Waterford goal, 4-17 to 0-22 after 64 minutes with the early leavers already shuffling to the exits.
Curran, Stephen Bennett and substitute DJ Foran all landed late scores for the winners with an injury time goal from Robbie O’Flynn almost going unnoticed.
The new Semple Stadium announcer had long since requested stewards to end-of-match positions but not even an army of volunteers could keep the celebrating Waterford supporters off the hallowed turf to witness Conor Prunty raise aloft the first major hurling trophy of the year.
Waterford are worthy league winners and will enter the Munster championship on Easter Sunday April 17th brimming with confidence for what could be a very special year in the annals of Waterford hurling.
A delighted Waterford captain Conor Prunty lifts the Croke Cup.
With Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron, Iarlaith Daly, Peter Hogan and Ian Kenny all likely to be available for the coming championship, manager Liam Cahill and co appear best placed to challenge reigning champions Limerick for the ultimate goal, the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Waterford: Shaun O’Brien, Conor Gleeson, Conor Prunty, Shane McNulty, Calum Lyons , Tadhg De Búrca, Jack Fagan, Carthach Daly, Neil Montgomery, Patrick Curran, Jack Prendergast, Michael Kiely, Stephen Bennett, Dessie Hutchinson.
Subs: Shane Bennett for Michael Kiely (56m), Kieran Bennett for Neil Montgomery (64m), Pauric Mahony for Carthach Daly (65m), Billy Power for Patrick Curran (69m), DJ Foran for Jack Prendergast (70m).
Scorers: Stephen Bennett (2-11, 0-9f), Patrick Curran (1-3), Jack Prendergast (0-3), Dessie Hutchinson (1-0), Carthach Daly, Neil Montgomery and DJ Foran (0-1 each).
Cork: Patrick Collins, Sean O’Donoghue, Damien Cahalane, Ciaran Joyce, Tim O’Mahony, Mark Coleman, Robert Downey, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Ger Millerick, Robbie O’Flynn, Shane Barrett, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Alan Connolly.
Subs: Shane Kingston for Alan Connolly (ht), Jack O’Connor for Conor Lehane (47m), Sam Quirke for Ger Millerick (56m), Mark Keane for Shane Barrett (64m),
Scorers: Patrick Horgan (0-10, 0-8f, 0-1’65), Robbie O’Flynn (1-3), Shane Kingston (0-3), Conor Lehane and Shane Bennett (0-2 each), Seamus Harnedy, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Tim O’Mahony (0-1 each).
Referee: Liam Cordon (Galway).