The great Waterford teams

It helps as well when management do something clever and around this time John Mullane moved out to the middle of field allowing Waterford to staunch the loss of blood in that part of the game. Kevin Moran flexed a few muscles, a thunderous clearance allowing Shane Walsh to bat the ball to Maurice Shanahan for a score then another fine effort from Moran, this time a rampaging run, caused consternation in the heart of the Cork defence before Maurice Shanahan opted to tap the ball over. A super effort from Paudie Mahony from under the stand reduced the gap still further. Points had been exchanged from frees but Mullane’s bossing of the midfield continued to keep Cork on the back foot and a wonderful catch it on allowed him to set up Stephen Molumphy for the equalising score from distance.

It scarcely seemed believable, all done with an economy of effort – no wild pulls, no rushed shots, no crappy wides – that would have done the great Waterford teams of yore proud. It is perhaps typical of our low expectations that when Cork reacted to Shanahan putting Waterford ahead from an easy free by retaking the lead themselves, Cian McCarthy scoring a great point from out wide then Horgan knocking over a simple free just before half-time, I was still thrilled with the way things had panned out. We were dead and buried. Now a hammering was improbable. How’s that for a glass-half-full way of looking at things?

The half-time buzz on the terrace was about the remarkable sight of John Mullane out in the middle of the field. It seemed blatantly obvious now that you were looking at it – employ Mullane’s incredible ball-winning skills in the heart of the action where they could do the most damage. When Cork midfielder Daniel Kearney was replaced at half-time, I couldn’t suppress a snort of indignation as the thought rose up that someone was being sent on to dish out some timber to our new Lory Meagher. This was (mostly) a jestful thought, and in fairness to Michael Ryan and co it wasn’t a long-term strategy. Just as playing the best centre-back in the country at centre-forward during the League was never a runner, playing the best corner-forward of his generation in the midfield was a nice wildcard, but Cork would be wise to it now so it made sense to revert to normal for the start of the second half. The point was emphasised early on as Thomas Ryan went from being anonymous to actively poor, making a hash of a splendid through-ball from Seamus Prendergast. Oh, for Mullane to have had that chance. He was taken off and Eoin McGrath came on, a decision that made me frown. Had Gavin O’Brien been so bad in the Munster final that he was being ignored in favour of what not so much a blast from the past as a mild breeze from the Stone Age?

The early exchanges had been even enough, Cian McCarthy scoring a fine point from range only for Walsh to manufacture a great score at the right end and Shanahan to level matters after Molumphy had eschewed all efforts at finesse by barrelling through the Cork defence and earning a rather soft-free. Horgan restored Cork’s lead after being set up by the evergreen Seán Óg Ó hAilpín before Walsh nearly engineered a goal from nothing, his tap-down producing a half-chance for McGrath and the follow-up from Walsh ending up in the side netting. It would have been an astonishingly good goal to have gone in, but it was a sign that Walsh was well on his game and he demonstrated it again as he came deep shortly after Shanahan pointed from a 65 to put Waterford soccer game in front.