26AH yes, the Munster Hurling Championship has once again proven the Championship that enthralls like no other. And yes, Waterford remain the side that, despite all the doomsday predictions, refuse to fade quietly into the background. Not for the fi rst time, national commentators and pundits had pitched Waterford as rank outsiders in advance of the Championship, so much so that you might have wondered if the Deise hadn’t in fact been transported to Connacht or some other province. Waterford left their indifferent League form behind them and gave last year’s All-Ireland fi nalist’s Cork the fright of their life before fi nishing on level terms 1-21 apiece. Despite a lingering feeling that this was an opportunity lost and a game that should have been won, Waterford can take a huge amount of confi dence from this performance and result. The Deisemen completely dominated the fi rst half and were good value for their six-point half-time advantage. The main difference between the sides at this stage was Waterford’s accuracy in passing and the precision and speed of transfer from defence to attack. Half backs Jamie Nagle and Tadhg Burke hit three points from play between them while the prodigious Austin Gleeson hit two fi ne points including a beautiful side-line cut from nearly 50 yards. De La Salle’s Eddie Barrett unfortunately suffered a dislocated kneecap in the opening half which will likely see him out of action for quite some time. In attack, Jake Dillon operating on the 40 was a constant thorn in Cork’s side and chipped in with a fi ne score to booth. This was top class hurling, energy, movement, work rate and accurate execution. That middle third we hear so much about these days was controlled by Waterford in the opening half with Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran, Jake Dillon and Pauric Mahony all hurling up a storm. Eight minutes into the second half Austin Gleeson picked up the ball on the 50-yard line and he meandered his all the way to the edge of the large parallelogram before dispatching a wristy stroke past All-Star goalkeeper Anthony Nash for what is one of the best goals I’ve ever seen live in Semple Stadium. Brian Flannery reports In a way Gleeson’s stunning score reminds me of Maradona in the 1986 world cup for Argentina against England, with that Jimmy Magee commentary, “Different class, different class! The minor star of just a year ago came of age on the big stage and produced a moment worthy of winning any tie. Waterford tapped on another score to lead 1-17 to 0-11 after 47 minutes. Nine points up by then, I really felt that this was going to be our day. Cork got right back into with a goal of their own soon after when substitute Bill Cooper scrambled the ball over the line after Stephen O’Keeffe had brought off two fi ne saves. On refl ection there were at least a couple of opportunities for the ball to be cleared and the goal gave Cork a bit of belief that didn’t seem to be there earlier. The momentum was all Cork’s at this stage and we seemed to lose confi dence a little bit. It was a bit like Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Final the other night defending a lead for a long stretch and getting caught just before the fi nal whistle. Brian O’Sullivan had one great goal chance near the end but hand passed way too soon without committing the last defender and the chance was lost. In hindsight maybe a point was the better option but I admire the ambition to risk it all trying to win the game. In the end a draw was probably about right and with a number of Waterford players pulling up lame near the end it was as well that there wasn’t extra time to be played as I fear Waterford may have suffered the same faith as those Atletico lads! This was a magnifi cent effort by management and players alike and Derek McGrath was rightly proud of their efforts in his post-match interview. There were plenty of star performances with Tadhg Burke, Jamie Nagle and Austin Gleeson all vying for the man of the match award. Jake Dillon too had a very productive outing and I was surprised when he was withdrawn. I know he missed the recent club action with injury but he was very effective while on and his departure lessened the pressure on the Cork defence. The use of the bench I’m sure will be reviewed by management as with all fi ve used Waterford had to carry a visibly uncomfortable Austin Gleeson who seemed to be suffering from cramp for the remaining minutes. With the return of Shane O’Sullivan and hopefully Stephen Molumphy for the replay we may have a stronger hand to play in this regard. The axiom that the underdog usually doesn’t win a replay will be tested to the full by Waterford. This was a fi ne effort but there is room for improvement. We lost confi dence for a period in the second half and perhaps this indicated a certain lack of belief that we could win the game, there should be no such doubt come the replay. The slowing down of game and the delay in the puck-outs in the second half was a visible expression of this doubt. The centre of the Cork defence is soft and players like Austin Gleeson, Jake Dillon and Brian O’Sullivan had plenty of success running through the centre. This is something we must repeat on Sunday week. The offi cial attendance was 16,025 and it felt at times that only the 25 were from Waterford. This Waterford team deserve better and deserve our support. I can’t remember the last time I remember such a poor cheer for a Waterford senor team as they entered the arena in Semple. There is a €5 reduction on tickets for the replay which is not being shown live, despite all the hoo-hah between RTE and Sky and ‘Baywatch babes’ so plan ahead and make your way to Semple for 3.30pm (more than likely) on Sunday week on June 8th. It was very noticeable the number of juvenile groups from the Rebel County at the match. There is a special group package available for clubs from the Munster Council. The group package offers a €3 ticket for each juvenile player with one free adult ticket with every 10 kids. I think every club in Waterford should avail of this and run a bus to Thurles, your county needs you. There is no greater day out than watching your team live in Semple Stadium. It’s a gift and memory that lives a lifetime for the child in us all.

Brian Flannery