Cork and Waterford take on one another this Sunday in a highly anticipated Munster semi-final. It is a game which will differ hugely from the classics of the 2000s. Here we select an All-Star XV of both sides from that great era.
On Sunday the stars of the show are likely to be players such as Austin Gleeson and Conor Lehane. Young men like these will have no doubt taken inspiration from the Ken McGraths and Ben O’Connors before them.
Cork and Waterford had a rivalry in the 2000s matched by none. Each game produced classic after classic. The country eagerly awaited each clash with great anticipation, and rarely were they left disappointed.
Cork viewed themselves as innovators, the pros amongst the amateurs. And they were right, this Cork side revolutionised the game.
Waterford on the other hand were polar opposites. The Deise were a side who appeared to enjoy the game more than any others. Justin McCarthy’s side seemed to be of the mindset: no matter what you score, we will score more. And on many occasions they did.
So, which system worked best? In the end Cork achieved two All-Irelands, so you would have to say the Rebels. Yet the stats show that there were four victories each and a sole draw in this period. So perhaps the systems were more equal than many believe.
We’re going to take on the task of selecting an All-Star side from a combination of both.
1. Donal Óg Cusack (Cork)
This was one of the easier selections. Donal Óg was a mainstay of the rivalry, missing just one clash through suspension. The Déise on the other hand varied between Stephen Brenner and Clinton Hennessy.
In any case, it was irrelevant who the Déise played in goal. Donal Óg will go down as one of the true greats of the game. A revolutionary, Donal Óg changed how keepers looked at puck-outs forever more.
2. Eoin Murphy (Waterford)
At times forgotten due this Déise side’s amazing attacking abilities, Murphy was Justin McCarthy’s go-to man-marker. Joe Deane will be the first to acknowledge Eoin Murphy’s defensive abilities.
A native of the Shamrocks club in Knockanore, Murphy grew up right on the border of Youghal. Luckily for the Déise, he grew up on the right side of the bridge. Murphy would fit in well with the Déise side of today.
3. Diarmuid O’Sullivan (Cork)
In similar circumstances to the goalkeeping choice, this was a no-brainer. As well as the fact the Déise failed to settle on a full-back, O’Sullivan is a great of the game.
Now a selector with the Rebels, ‘The Rock’s’ toughness is something that has been missed in the Rebel defence ever since his retirement. O’Sullivan played a huge part in the rivalry of the decade.
4. Brian Murphy (Cork)
Another Murphy in the corner, Murphy was also one of the best in the game. A native of Bride Rovers in Cork, Murphy was a crucial cog in the Rebels’ defence.
John Mullane will tell you just how much of a nuisance Murphy was. Getting the better of Mullane was no easy task, Murphy made it look easier than most, however.
5. Tony Browne (Waterford)
The toughest selection so far, we give the nod to Browne over Cork’s John Gardiner. The Déise’s first line of attack was their half-back line and Browne was a constant wearing the number five shirt.
The Peter Pan of hurling, Browne would hurl for the Déise into his 40s. During the 2000s he was one of the standout players in this rivalry and produced some magnificent displays.
6. Ken McGrath (Waterford)
More so than the number five jersey, Cork fans may argue this one even more. Edging out Cork’s Ronan Curran by the slightest of margins, McGrath is a legend of the game and simply could not be left out.
The highest compliment which could be paid to Ken is that were a captain needed for this side, it would be him. A real warrior, Ken matched incredible toughness with beautiful skill. One of the all-time greats of the game.
7. Seán Óg Ó hAilpÍn (Cork)
Another man who just simply cannot be left out of this team. Sean Óg was the perfect role model for any young hurler.
The Na Piarsaigh club man was impossible to get the better of. No matter what was tried, the best option was simply to avoid Sean Óg’s wing and this is the sign of an outstanding hurler.
8. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh (Waterford)
Once again, we face a tough task in midfield, and while it is tempting to select an all-Cork midfield pairing, we can’t forget Michael Walsh. Still hurling as well as ever, there is no man more fitting of his nickname.
A crucial part of this Waterford side, ‘Brick’ provided a link between defence and attack. Walsh’s outstanding attribute is his ball-winning ability, whether in the air or on the deck.
9. Jerry O’Connor (Cork)
This decision was once again tough as it is very difficult to select between O’Connor and Tom Kenny. O’Connor just shades this one, however, due to his superior attacking skills.
Cork’s entire game revolved around the simply astonishing engines of their midfield pairing. Hurler of the Year in 2005, O’Connor was untouchable at midfield in his pomp.
10. Ben O’Connor (Cork)
You can’t have one without the other. Newtownshandrum’s twins are the most famous Ben and Jerry in the county of Cork, and share the same pace and outstanding engine.
Ben’s combination of physical attributes with his outstanding skill made him a nightmare for defenders during the 2000s. O’Connor captained the Rebels to All-Ireland glory in 2004.
11. Niall McCarthy (Cork)
Edging a decision over Seamus Prendergast by the slightest of margins, Niall Mc was a crucial component of Cork’s forward sextet.
The Carrigtwohill native went toe-to-toe with Ken McGrath almost every time these two sides locked horns. The robust centre-forward was Man of the Match when Cork captured the All-Ireland in ’04.
12. Paul Flynn (Waterford)
Flynn divided opinions during the early and mid-00s. Ballygunner’s legendary sharp-shooter had more talent than most, yet appeared at times as though he was happy to leave the game pass him by.
When he was needed most, however, Flynn rose to the occasion always. For anybody doubting this, have a look at the 2004 Munster final and compare Flynn’s first half performance to that of his second half.
13. John Mullane (Waterford)
A crowd favourite in one terrace, the villain in the other. John Mullane often took centre stage as these two sides clashed. Mullane followed up his 2003 heroics by receiving a red card the following year.
When all is said and done, however, Cork supporters will remember Mullane as the lethal attacker who went to town on the Rebel defence. Even Cork supporters will have a soft spot for the De La Salle man.
14. Dan Shanahan (Waterford)
Dan the man, another crowd favourite, perhaps less divisive as Mullane, Shanahan saved his best performances for the Rebels.
Hurler of the Year in 2007, Dan always found a way to terrorise Cork’s defence. He will be remembered best as a goalscorer, and rightfully so, he found the Cork net on seven occasions.
15. Joe Deane (Cork)
Rounding off this team nicely is of course, Killeagh’s Joe Deane. Far from the biggest player, Deane excelled without the use of physicality, instead depending on an insane skill level.
More renowned as a point scorer, Joe Deane excelled at the trade. Cork’s close range free taker was the most reliable of his time. ‘Deano’ will be remembered as a great by both sets of supporters.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena