The rapid emergence of a newly constructed Waterford team took another giant step forward on Sunday in Semple Stadium when they overpowered Cork to claim a national hurling league title.
That this young and exciting team has secured a coveted piece of silverware so early on in their development sets out a clear signal that Waterford will be a force to contend with in the Munster championship.
Their ten point victory, fully deserved on a day when Waterford’s work rate and desire was on a higher register to that of Cork, saw huge celebrations erupt among Waterford supporters who cherished the triumph and only their county’s third National League title.
It brought a fitting climax to a league campaign that was quite remarkable from a Waterford point of view.
They endured an horrendous season last year and given the loss of so many inspirational players at the end of tremendous careers, few expected a young team to bounce back in such style this year.
Waterford were unbeaten in the league, topping Division 1B and gaining promotion back to the top level before they took on the task of taking on much stronger challenges in the knockout stages.
They accounted for Galway and Tipperary and dismissed Cork on Sunday with a powerful display with both teams set to meet again, this time in a championship showdown on June 7.
Criticised this season for introducing a defensive system that has seen the Deise being labelled the Donegal of football, Waterford showed how effective their game plan can be while at the same time challenging the belief that they have become a team that has abandoned the style and freedom Waterford hurled with in previous years.
Within sixteen minutes on Sunday, five Waterford players had registered a score, a tremendous spread of scorers for a so called negative team in the opening exchanges of a national league final.
Top scorer Pauric Mahony opened with a point from a free and one from play and Maurice Shanahan, Michael Walsh, Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran all pointed in that opening sixteen minutes with Cork hanging in with three frees from Patrick Horgan.
Four more Waterford players (Jamie Barron, Stephen Bennett and substitutes Brian O’Halloran and Tom Devine) were to get on the scoresheet on the day, bringing the total to nine which was an excellent return for a team branded as negative.
The quality of Austin Gleeson’s two scores was a highlight of the game. Both came in the first half through a long range sideline cut and the other, after twenty nine minutes. The half back rose to collect an Anthony Nash puck out and surged up the line using great footwork to evade two challenges and keep in play before splitting the posts with a beautiful strike to inspire all around him.
Pauric Mahony registered another awesome haul with 0-11, two of those coming from play, one ‘65 and eight frees with his high scoring competitor throughout the league, Patrick Horgan scoring eight frees for Cork which kept them in the game up to the point when Waterford substitute Tom Devine sealed the game after sixty four minutes with a scrappy goal that gave his team a nine point cushion.
Devine had made a huge impact when he came on, providing Waterford’s hard working half back line, midfielders and deeper lying forwards with another option other than the tiring Maurice Shanahan.
Shanahan had been the lone target man for long periods of the game, foraging for ball often surrounded by two or three Cork defenders. He did remarkably well to win the amount of ball he did, a great majority of it on the ground despite being outnumbered on every occasion.
The quality of the ball played into Shanahan was consistent but on the occasions it went awry, when Waterford players provided ball that was mopped up by unmarked Cork defender that was when the defensive tactics employed by Waterford fell down.
They led from start to finish during this contest on a great occasion for the county and now a team transformed from last year, with promotion and silverware already secured, look forward to June 7 when they will have to stand up to the inevitable backlash from Cork.
Waterford - Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg De Burca, Austin Gleeson(0.2), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron(0.1), Maurice Shanahan (0.2), Kevin Moran(0.3), Pauric Mahony(0.11), Jake Dillon, Stephen Bennett(0.1), Michael Walsh(0.2), Colin Dunford.
Subs - Brian O’Halloran (0.1) for Colin Dunford, Tom Devine (1.1) for Stephen Bennett, Shane O Sullivan for Jake Dillon, Martin O’Neill for Austin Gleeson, Gavin O’Brien for Jamie Barron.
Cork - Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Aidan Ryan, Stephen McDonnell, Lorcan McLoughlin, Mark Ellis, Cormac Murphy, Daniel Kearney, Aidan Walsh(0.1), Bill Cooper(0.1), Seanus Harnedy(0.2), Rob O’Shea(0.1), Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane (0.5), Patrick Horgan (0.7). Subs - Paudie O’Sullivan for Alan Cadogan, Brian Lawton for Aidan Walsh, Luke O’Farrell for Rob O’Shea, Damien Cahalane for Aidan Ryan, Jamie Coughlan for Seamus Harnedy.
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