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Leesiders back in the big time

IF the sign of a good team is how they perform under what is widely known as 'the cosh', then Corkonians of a small ball persuasion can spend the next fortnight in high spirits.

Their hurlers, under the distinguished guise of Jimmy Barry-Murphy, are now back in the big time, an All-Ireland semi-final on the side of the draw which also represents the path of least resistance.

Yesterday, they stared defeat by Waterford in the eyeball, decided it wasn't for them. They then drove on, finishing in a youthful flourish, inspired equally by knowing oldies and zestful newbies to prevail by 1-19 to 0-19 and set up a semi-final with Galway in Croke Park on August 12, while the 'big two' of the past three season squabble amongst themselves for the privilege a week later.

"We're in an All-Ireland semi-final and that's where we wanted to be," reflected Barry-Murphy after a breathless finish from his men which saw the Rebels turn a 0-18 to 1-12 deficit into a three-point win, claiming seven points to the Déise's lone score over the final 10 minutes.

"I'm delighted. I'm always making the point that we are making progress but it can be difficult. They're hard games to win. We're coming from a long way back against these teams who have been at the top for a number of years. Some of our players are maturing.

"Obviously, that display wouldn't be good enough against Galway. There is no doubt about that but when you're there, you have a chance."

And what will please the Leeside icon the most, was the hard evidence that the squad he intended on building at the start of the year and which he has exposed in rotation to the rigours of championship hurling, came so good yesterday when in mattered.

Take, for example, young Stephen McDonnell, the Glen Rovers full-back who flopped so badly in the league final. Yesterday, he was given a second chance and while all around him were, for a significant period, sinking fast, McDonnell held impressively firm.

"Stephen McDonnell really answered us," JBM beamed. "Maybe we gave him a bit of a hard time after the league final but he was magnificent today."

Or Darren Sweetnam, the Leaving Cert kid who came on at half-time, a period of reflection no doubt for Cork's managerial think-tank after a couple of switches from the brains in the opposing dugout had seen the Rebels wiped for the back end of the opening half.


John Mullane had moved to wing-forward and Kevin Moran into midfield, the latter winning a collection of puck-outs and the former setting up three points and winning two pointed frees, oozing class and panache all over Semple Stadium.

It saw a five-point lead into a hefty breeze wiped to just a single score at half-time and all the momentum was suddenly with Michael Ryan's men.

"It's always a concern," Barry-Murphy conceded. "We didn't seem to win any breaking ball from puck-outs. It was a concern at half-time."

In comes Sweetnam and then Cathal Naughton, both of whom added renewed verve to Cork's make-up, particularly after they fell into a three-point deficit with 10 minutes to go.

Speaking of icons, what of Seán Og O hAilpín? Having endured a torturous spell on Mullane, Tom Kenny was given the task of quelling Waterford's dervish and O hAilpín recovered in spectacular style, driving Cork on and clipping a cool, decisive point late on when Maurice Shanahan had converted his seventh free and ninth point in all to cut the gap to one.

"Seán Og was outstanding in the last quarter, when we needed him, and lifted the team, I thought," said his manager, who probably has more selection posers in front of him now than he did prior to yesterday's win.

Waterford, meanwhile, will rue this defeat into the winter. They never had the sort of bustling options off the bench available to Cork and didn't make enough use of the wind.

That said, Mullane, Pauric Mahony and Moran were probably three outstanding candidates for man of the match but, in the close, Cork played like the team with more purpose.

"At the end of the day, they were that little bit better than us, to be honest about it," conceded Ryan.

"They took their chances and seemed to get scores more easily than we did.

"Congratulations to them - they're a fine side," he concluded.