Davy Fitzgerald and Waterford rebound from dismal league campaign to power past Cork

Brilliant opening quarter, in which the Déise blitzed Cork, laid foundation for victory that rarely looked in doubt

Munster SHC: Waterford 2-25 Cork 1-25

This must have been the plan. After a dismal league, when Waterford were missing many of their load-bearing players, Davy Fitzgerald stacked all his chips on a flying start to the championship and the casino was made to pay. Waterford were aggressive and smart and more confident than you could imagine for a team that had flunked last year’s championship and floundered since. Who knew?

Waterford blitzed Cork in the opening quarter, and although the mood of the game changed from time to time Waterford deflected whatever resistance Cork could muster. The visitors scored first and never held the lead again; they drew level once, early in the second half, during their best period in the game, but Waterford’s response was firm and coherent. There was never a sense that they would lose.

Cork’s discipline failed them in the end and that was the final twist. With 12 minutes remaining Ciaran Joyce was black-carded for taking down Jack Prendergast in a goalscoring position and Stephen Bennett buried the resultant penalty. Then, five minutes later, Damien Cahalane was sent off on a second yellow card, which meant that Cork played with 13 men for the remainder of Joyce’s sinbinning at a time when they were already losing blood.

Some of Waterford’s pillar players have been around for a long time, but Tadhg de Burca and Jamie Barron rolled back the years. De Burca played his first game of the year, having returned from a third long-term injury, and he was formidable at the heart of Waterford’s defence.


Barron’s form had trailed off so much in the last couple of seasons that it seemed like his best days were behind him, but he was terrific around the middle third and the 1-3 he racked up was more than anybody managed from play.

“If you really look at the league we’d a lot of injuries,” said a clearly exhausted Fitzgerald afterwards. “We were missing six or seven every game. We were within a score and I kept telling them that we weren’t too far away. To go out missing as much as we were and still be right there, I knew we weren’t far away. I knew we just had to not listen to what was being said outside.

“As I told you earlier in the year when you heard rumours about certain players not playing, don’t always believe what you are hearing. All you can do is work hard. We will enjoy today but we still know we have work to do. We are not there. We have work to do. But the fight and spirit we showed, really happy.”

Waterford made an explosive start. Shaun O’Brien went long with his first puck out, and, by prescription, most of Cork’s defenders were sucked into positions where they could not influence the play. The ball dropped into an open space where you would normally expect to find a functioning half-back line. Barron gathered possession with 40m of open field in front of him and rifled a bullet to the Cork net.

Waterford added the next three scores to lead by 1-4 to 0-1 after 11 minutes and everything important about the game was at their dictation. They brought furious intensity and aggression, and if this was a rugby match they were dominating the gain line.

For the opening 20 minutes Cork were bamboozled. Waterford were fluid in their design, with a platoon of players getting up and down the field. Cork’s defence looked exposed, Cork’s forwards look unsupported and the connection between back and front was like the signal on an old transistor, dropping in and out.

Waterford maintained a four-point lead for much of the first half, and they were six clear after half an hour, 1-10 to 0-7. But Cork reeled off three quick scores in succession just before the break, and registered the first three points of the second half.

The sides were level for the only time in the game nine minutes into the second half, but Cork could not build on their brief surge and Waterford stretched into a three-point lead before Cork scored again. The remainder of the second half followed that pattern: Waterford pushing, Cork chasing.

Dessie Hutchinson, who was surprisingly tasked with hitting the frees, only missed a couple, including a sitter at the start. In general play, though, he was influential, and so was Stephen Bennett. Calum Lyons, who spent a few months in Australia during the winter, was powerful and dynamic, and marched down the field to land three points. It was like they got the band back together.

Alan Connolly pounced for a Cork goal in the last minute of normal time to briefly reduce Waterford’s advantage to two points, but the home team replied immediately and there were no other alarms.

WATERFORD: S O’Brien; I Daly, C Prunty, K Bennett; C Lyons (0-3), T de Burca, M Fitzgerald; N Montgomery (0-1), D Lyons; J Barron (1-3), J Prendergast (0-2), M Kiely; D Hutchinson (0-11, 10 frees), S Bennett (1-3, one pen, one free), K Mahony. Subs: Patrick Fitzgerald for Mahony (58 mins), P Curran (0-2) for Montgomery (63 mins), Padraig Fitzgerald for Kiely (70+3 mins).

CORK: P Collins; G Mellerick (0-1), D Cahalane, S O’Donoghue; R Downey, C Joyce, M Coleman (0-1); T O’Connell, D Fitzgibbon (0-4); S Barrett (0-3), C Lehane (0-1), S Harnedy (0-2); S Twomey, A Connolly (1-5, two frees), P Horgan (0-7, seven frees). Subs: R O’Flynn (0-1) for Twomey (h-t), B Hayes for Lehane (52 mins), L Meade for Harnedy (60 mins), E Downey for Horgan (63 mins), J O’Connor for Coleman (70+1 mins).

Referee: M Kennedy (Tipperary).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times