Taking Munster Hurling Final weekend into account, this week’s Throwback Thursday looks at the best Munster final in recent memory, and in many people eyes the best they have ever seen.
The year was 2004. Cork and Waterford both descended on Thurles. Cork were defending Munster champions who were hurting following an All-Ireland final loss from 2003. They disposed of Limerick in the Munster semi-final and looked ahead to the Munster hurling final.
Waterford had two big games under their belt. They hammered Clare and went on to beat Tipperary in a cracking encounter in Páirc Uí Chaoímh. With Ken McGrath now at centre-back and Dan Shanahan on fire, the Deise had a new look about them.
Everybody went to Thurles in anticipation of a good game. Both sides had provided a great encounter in 2003, and more of the same was expected. Nobody ever thinks a classic will unfold in front of them, but Cork and Waterford delivered one that day.
Cork played into the wind in the first half, but their new running game suited the conditions perfectly. They got off to a great start when debutant, Garvan McCarthy goaled after a mistake from Waterford’s Stephen Brenner. Cork hurled with swagger as Ben O’Connor, Tom Kenny, Brian Corcoran and Joe Deane put Cork in front.
Waterford needed something. Dan Shanahan did his best by catching three puck-outs and putting all three shots over the bar. Then Eoin Kelly provided the real moment of inspiration. He took off an run down the right wing before cutting in along the end line and rifling the ball passed Donal Óg Cusack.
This goal inspired Waterford and the game became a real contest. It ebbed and flowed from there on. Waterford began to gain momentum. Two further first half instances started to put Waterford in the ascendancy. Ken McGrath provided an inspirational score from the bones of 100 yards.
Then Dan Shanahan struck again. As only he could do, he drifted in from the right wing, fielded a high delivery before turning on to his left side and rifling the ball into the back of the net.
Cork still had the advatange, leading at half-time, but a lot of the momentum was with Waterford.
Cork had the wind at their backs in the second-half, and then received another boost. John Mullane had scored an early point that enhanced Waterford’s chances, only for a moment of madness resulting in a straight red card a few minutes later. Mullane saw red for an off the ball altercation with Brian Murphy.
Wind advantage and an extra player, all the positives pointed in Cork’s direction.
But Waterford had other ideas. Despite Cork still playing well, Waterford kept coming back with emphatic answers. Cork remained on top and Waterford needed something special to get back in front.
Cue Paul Flynn. Flynn stood over a free around thirty yards from goal. Everyone expected him to take his point. But Flynn showed his exquisite skills, to dip the ball into the top corner while Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan were left with egg on their faces.
Waterford were back on top and an epic finale was in store. A titanic battle commenced for the concluding quarter. Scores and blows were traded. Seamus Prendergast launched a huge score from under the New Stand in Thurles to give Waterford a two point lead.
Cork responded with a score to make it a one point game. They launched one last attack to try and secure an equaliser, but Ken McGrath stood firm. He rose to catch a ball over Diarmuid O’Sullivan, burst out of defence and was fouled by Timmy McCarthy; game over.
The final whistle blew following the resultant free and jubilant scenes commenced. The field in Thurles was a sea of white and blue. Tears flowed as John Mullane declared his love for his county.
Cork may have had the last laugh in going on to win the All-Ireland. But as a Munster Hurling Final, it was one of the greatest, and it was a huge win as well as a deserved one for Waterford.
Let’s hope we see something similar in Limerick on Sunday.