Waterford’s claim to be seen as the biggest threat to Limerick in the MacCarthy Cup race has more wind in its sails after a win in the National League final at Semple Stadium on Saturday, the first in seven years. Led by Stephen Bennett, who scored 2-11, they uncovered worrying weaknesses in Cork’s defense just two weeks before the start of the Munster Championship.
After Kieran Kingston spent an extremely positive and rehabilitating few months, old doubts resurfaced with that loss and his ways.
Two goals within a minute in the first half gave Waterford a six-point lead after Cork equalized again at 7-0 apiece, and two more in the second half meant they skimmed too much water to get over to stay water .
A goal from Robbie O’Flynn in the last few seconds gave the goal line a touch of seriousness but they won’t be able to ignore the defensive mistakes that allowed four goals and more could have leaked out. After Austin Gleeson was suspended and was the top scorer in the semi-final win over Wexford, Bennett joined the team and gave a tour de force.
Patrick Curran, who played the best hurling of his career, had scored his first goal in the 26th minute after a clean approach from Jack Prendergast and Mikey Kiely and within seconds Waterford was celebrating a goal for Bennett, who took over the pass from Neil Montgomery overlap and shoot past Patrick Collins.
Cork showed courage by responding with three straight points, but Waterford scored three in return to lead 2-10, 10-0 at the break.
The second half was again defined by Waterford’s ability to score after he shot five past Wexford. Even without Gleeson and Jamie Barron, and with Dessie Hutchinson kept relatively calm by Seán O’Donoghue, they struck again in the 48th minute, turning a five-point lead into an eight-point lead.
It was unrefined but showed ferocious power and venom as Bennett leaped to retrieve a puck out from Shaun O’Brien and sped forward before passing Collins.
Cork responded again, scoring three straight points and with substitute Shane Kingston making an impression they moved within four points of Waterford in the 64th minute. Seconds later, Hutchinson found the net set up by the superb Carthach Daly, who had a big play down the middle of the field and reduced Darragh Fitzgibbon’s influence. The fourth goal let Cork drift too far.
Cork couldn’t build rhythm and their attacking play didn’t hurt Waterford, whose physical strength and ability to defend in numbers gave them a strong foothold from the start.
Cork fielded Alan Connolly and Patrick Horgan in a two-man forward, with Conor Lehane on a roving commission. But spells of the dazzling game we’d seen earlier in the Cork league were rare.
Cork now have two weeks to prepare for the All-Ireland champion’s visit to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. “Up until tonight I would have honestly said the league is positive for us,” said their manager Kieran Kingston. “I thought we learned a lot from it. In a way we may learn more tonight than we did in previous games, but overall we will take a lot from the league.
“Tonight was hugely disappointing in many ways, no question. But look, we have to… somehow the pre-leaving cert is over now. Tomorrow we need to check that out, recover, hit the reset button and get ready for the start of the Leaving Cert in two weeks.”
For Waterford manager Liam Cahill, focus quickly shifts to the championship opener against his home district at Walsh Park. “The real test starts on Easter Sunday, let’s call it a spade. That’s the real judge,” he said.
At the final whistle, the stadium announcer begged the fans to stay off the pitch, to no avail, as thousands of enthusiastic Waterford supporters poured in from the 18,930 spectators.
If there are concerns, it could be that the team is peaking too soon or overexerting itself. But Cahill welcomed the league’s expanded interest.
“I think every player wants to sling and sling matches and win competitions. There’s a myth out there that the league is depreciating and that it doesn’t matter. I don’t think the league mattered to anyone who wasn’t actually in the final tonight. That’s the reality.
“It’s week to week but for that these guys are training and it’s quite compressed but these guys are big fit men and they’re recovering well and we’re looking forward to what’s to come in a couple of weeks.”
Kingston showed pride in how Cork had recovered in recent months from a grueling final defeat to All-Ireland last August and fought back on Saturday night as they conceded goals. But he accepted that they were well beaten.
“You can’t concede four goals in a national final and expect firstly to win and secondly you can’t have a conversion rate like tonight where I think she missed less than 50 per cent, 17 or 18 chances.”
Around a dozen wides and a scoring chance for Shane Barrett, saved by O’Brien, also undermined them, with Waterford posting just five wides over the course of the game. This kind of clinical spin bodes well for the weeks and months to come.
Scorers – Waterford: Stephen Bennett 2-11 (0-9f); P curran 1-3; D Hutchinson 1-0; J Prendergast 0-3; N Montgomery, C Daly, DJ Foran 0-1 each. Cork: PHorgan 0-10 (8f, 1 65); R O’Flynn 1-3; W Kingston 0-3; C Lehane, S Barrett 0-2 each; D Fitzgibbon, S Harnedy, T O’Mahony 0-1 each.
Waterford – S O’Brien 7; S McNulty 7, C Prunty 7, C Gleeson 8; C Lyon 8, T de Burca 8; J. Fagan 7; D Lyon 7, C Daly 8; N Montgomery 7, P Curran 8, J Prendergast, 8; M Kiely 7, Stephen Bennett 9, D Hutchinson 7. Subs: Shane Bennett for Kiely (57), K Bennett for Montgomery (64), P Mahony for Daly (66), B Power for Curran (69), DJ Foran for Prendergast (72).
cork—P.Collins 6; S O’Donoghue 8, D Cahalane 6, C Joyce 7; T O’Mahony 8, M Coleman 7, R Downey 7; D Fitzgibbon 6, G Millerick 7; R O’Flynn 8, S Barrett 7, S Harnedy 6; C Lehane 7, A Connolly 5, P Horgan 7. Subs: S Kingston 8 for Connolly (ht), C Cahalane 7 for Harnedy (43), J O’Connor 7 for Lehane (48), S Quirke for Millerick (57) , M Keane for Barrett (65).
Ref – L Gordon (Galway)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/deise-must-be-ready-for-real-test-insists-liam-cahill-after-sealing-league-title-41517247.html Déise must be ready for a “real test,” insists Liam Cahill after sealing the league title