Waterford beat Cork in Munster Hurling Championship
WATERFORD 3-19 CORK 1-21
Hail the arrival of a new force in the 2015 All-Ireland hurling championship.
Waterford repeated their League final success over Cork to qualify for their first Munster final since 2012 in front of an attendance of 21,047 at Semple Stadium in Thurles.
Their four-point winning margin scarcely did justice to their superiority in the last forty minutes.
There was late drama when Patrick Horgan fired a Cork penalty to the net in the 70th minute to cut the deficit to two points.
With four minutes of injury time to be played it offered Cork an opportunity for an undeserved reprieve. However, their joy was short lived.
Two minutes later Waterford substitute Tom Devine beat Anthony Nash from close range to seal the Deise's place in the Munster final against either Tipperary or Limerick on July 12th.
In their current mood and form Waterford will fear no one as they bid for their first provincial title since 2010.
They made light of the loss of their ace marksman Pauric Mahony. Maurice Shanahan - who himself was doubtful prior to the contest - stepped up to the mark hitting 1-9 and brilliantly leading the line in a Man of the Match performance.
But Waterford's success owes everything to the system which team boss Derek McGrath has devised.
Cork coped with it during the first quarter - they deservingly led 6-2 after 22 minutes. But goals change matches and Waterford struck for two in the 27th and 30th minutes respectively to take the lead for the first time.
The first was a brilliant individual effort from Shanahan who outmuscled Stephen McDonnell and drove a magnificent shot to the roof of the net. The goal changed the whole mood of the game.
Within three minutes the Cork defence was completely exposed by the Waterford system as Stephen Bennett and Michael Walsh combined before releasing Jake Dillon who ghosted in completely unmarked from the left flank and found the net.
Significantly, Waterford were never subsequently behind. Incredibly, Dillon almost scored a carbon copy of his first goal a minute later when again he ghosted in from the left.
Anthony Nash saved his effort but Shanahan nailed the 65 to effectively put the league champions on the road to victory.
Pa Cronin, a late replacement for hamstring injury victim Seamus Harnedy, was the one Cork forward who rose to the challenge - he finished the game with an impressive tally of five points from play.
The centre forward had more space than he might have normally expected as Tadhg De Burca, who was the nominal centre back acted as a sweeper rather than a marker and excelled in that role.
Cork hit the last three scores of the half to cut the deficit to a point (2-6; 0-11) but they were already facing difficulties.
The gamble of switching Aidan Walsh to wing forward didn't work - he hit four wides, including three on the spin in the first half and was well marshalled by Austin Gleeson.
In truth it was mostly one way traffic in the second half. Cork reverted to type - abandoning the smart slick passing game they had used in the opening quarter and played the game on Waterford's terms.
The ability of the Waterford forwards to create space and get loose was astonishing. Cork will argue that Waterford seemed to be able to win frees far more easily - the Rebels were only awarded two in the opening half.
Noel Connors restricted Patrick Horgan to a single point from play; Luke O'Farrell - who was red-carded in the 64th minute following an off-the-ball incident involving Waterford full back Barry Coughlan - failed to make an impact and frankly Cork never looked like creating, never mind scoring a goal from play.
Three Waterford points - two from Shanahan frees - early in the second half stretched Waterford's lead to four. And that's basically how it stayed throughout the half though Waterford did stretch their lead to six points after 54 minutes.
Sure, the late drama kept the fans in their seats until the final whistle but in the end it had no real impact on the outcome. It is interesting to note
that between them the substitutes Waterford introduced scored 1-3 between them from play.
Significantly, Waterford hasn't lost a competitive match since their qualifier defeat to Wexford last summer and have now won eight on the spin.
Derek McGrath's management style has helped create a unique bond among the players and their total belief in the system means they will be very difficult to beat.
Regardless of what happens in the Munster final they are assured of a place in the last six of the All-Ireland series.
For Cork the decline continues; they now have to salvage their season through the back door. There is a one-in-four chance of them being drawn against Dublin in the first round of the qualifiers. Now that would be an interesting match.
Cork: A Nash; S O'Neill, S McDonnell, B Murphy; C Murphy, M Ellis (0-1), D Cahalane; D Kearney (0-1), B Cooper (0-1); C Lehane (0-1), P Cronin (0-5), A Walsh (0-1); A Cadogan (0-2), L O'Farrell (0-1), P Horgan (1-7, 1 gl pen 6f). Subs:R O'Shea for C Murphy 47m, D McCarthy (0-1, 1 65) for Kearney 51m; P O'Sulllivan for Walsh 57m;
Waterford: S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; A Gleeson (0-1, 1f), T de Burca (0-1), P Mahony; J Barron, K Moran (0-2), M Walsh, C Dunford (0-1), J Dillon (1-0); B O'Halloran, M Shanahan (1-9, 7f, 1 65), Stephen Bennett (0-2). Subs: Shane Bennett (0-2) for O'Halloran 46m, T Devine (1-0) for Stephen Bennett 60m, E Barrett for Dunford 63m; P Curran (0-1) for Dillon 69m
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)