Waterford 4-20 Cork 1-23
Mighty fine evening of hurling for the second evening of April, Waterford proving to themselves and everyone else they’re the best team in the land right now, winning only their fourth Allianz Hurling League title in utterly convincing style and substance.
Two first-half goals within a minute from Patrick Curran and Stephen Bennett proved the foundation, two in the second half from Bennett again and Dessie Hutchinson proved the capstone. Bennett finished with 2-11 and at times owned the sacred turf as if he was born to play here.
After trying in vain to break the walled Waterford defence Cork did get one goal back in injury-time thanks to Robbie O’Flynn, only it was far too little and obviously too late. It means their wait for a league title will go into a 25th year, and in truth they never looked like winning this one, Waterford superior across all the lines, Jack Prendergast and Neil Montgomery licking up ample ball too.
Hutchinson had been quiet until he jumped to life to land the fourth goal on 63 minutes, just when a third point from replacement Shane Kingston suggested Cork might somehow rally, bringing the deficit back to four points. The excellent Carthach Daly saw Hutchinson in space and the Ballygunner man duly finished in blazing fashion.
With 18,930 in attendance the atmosphere was lively throughout, Bennett landing his second goal on 48 minutes when he latched on to a long ball from captain Conor Prunty, back to his dominant presence in defence, the team performance marked throughout by skill and athleticism and pace.
Waterford would have had another early in the second half, only that was called back on the advantage rule, denying Curran his chance. With the floodlights on for the second half the quality of shooting improved somewhat, still Cork finished with 13 wides.
Starting without the suspended Austin Gleeson, Waterford hit the hard ground sprinting, Bennett shooting within split seconds. Hawk-Eye ruled that just wide. Daly knocked over their first score seconds later and with that Waterford set the pace and momentum of the first half and rarely let up. Prendergast added a second before Cork got their first from play thanks to Patrick Horgan.
Something wasn’t clicking right with the Cork forwards, not helped it seemed by having the sun in their eyes for most of the first half, still they were sloppy and guilty of a series of errors that appeared to dent confidence too.
Waterford raced on, going three points clear when Bennett added a second free, though he hit a few strange wides too, not like him in good conditions. On the quarter-hour Cork got another back win a Horgan free, won himself in the tussle with Prunty. That turned things briefly in Cork’s favour again, and two quick points in succession – from Séamus Harnedy and then Darragh Fitzgibbon – brought them level on 25 minutes. Very briefly.
In the next play, Waterford ran straight down the middle, Michael Kiely sweetly passing off to Curran, who duly buried his shot at goal into the bottom right. Nothing Patrick Collins could do about that.
Waterford came again, Montgomery finding Bennett in space left of the goal, and his shot from some distance out flew into the roof of the net. Two goals within 60 seconds and Waterford were where they needed to be, 2-7 to 0-7 in front.
They exchanged points for the next 10 minutes, O’Flynn landing the best of Cork’s scores, before Waterford went in 2-10 to 0-10 in front. Shane Barrett did have one great chance to get a goal back for Cork, on 27 minutes, Shaun O’Brien pulling off a brilliant stop.
They came with some recent and distant history between them: Waterford last won the league in 2015, beating Cork in the final; Cork last won it back in 1998, beating Waterford in the final.
Tadhg de Búrca as commanding as ever, Darragh Lyons and Daly lording midfield. Waterford finished with seven different scorers in all, including DJ Foran off the bench at the death.
Waterford had averaged 3-23 in their six games so far, this final score remarkably true to that form, while it left Cork with a fifth league final defeat since they last won.
Bennett brought his league tally to 6-51 and was duly named man-of-the-match. So to the Munster championship beckons in just a fortnight; Cork host All-Ireland champions Limerick, Waterford host Tipperary, and there’s no denying who’ll be more match ready. Waterford have just proved that.
WATERFORD: S O’Brien; C Gleeson, C Prunty (capt), S McNulty; J Fagan, T de Búrca, C Lyons; C Daly (0-1), D Lyons; N Montgomery (0-1), J Prendergast (0-3), P Curran (1-3); D Hutchinson (1-0), Stephen Bennett (2-11, nine frees), M Kiely.
Subs: Shane Bennett for Kiely (57 mins), K Bennett for Montgomery (63), P Mahony for Daly (65), B Power for Curran (69), DJ Foran (0-1) for Prendergast (71).
CORK: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Joyce; T O’Mahony (0-1), M Coleman (capt), R Downey; D Fitzgibbon (0-1), G Millerick; R O’Flynn (1-3), S Barrett (0-2), S Harnedy (0-1); C Lehane (0-2), A Connolly, P Horgan (0-10, eight frees, one 65).
Subs: S Kingston (0-3) for Connolly (h-t), C Cahalane for Harnedy (43 mins), J O’Connor for Lehane (47).
Referee: Liam Gordan (Galway).