Derek McGrath: Waterford did it for Tadhg de Burca

Waterford's Austin Gleeson celebrates scoring a goal in Sunday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Cork at Croke Park Picture by Seamus Loughran
Waterford's Austin Gleeson celebrates scoring a goal in Sunday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Cork at Croke Park Picture by Seamus Loughran

All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Cork 0-20 Waterford 4-19

LEADING your county into only its second All-Ireland Senior Hurling final in more than half a century can understandably fry your head.

Perhaps it was having another man's number written on the back of his left hand but Waterford boss Derek McGrath was momentarily confused about his wife's family ties.

Recalling the Deise's last appearance in the national decider, against neighbours Kilkenny nine years ago, he said: "My wife went to the banquet, it was in the Burlington, she was John Mullane's sister, so we had a kind of connection…[comic pause] she still is."

When the gales of laughter died down, he added: "She still is, sorry. She's still my wife as well, by the way."

That other man's number won't put that marital status at risk.

It was the figure 5, the number of Waterford's usual sweeper of recent seasons, Tadhg de Burca, with McGrath acknowledging that "one hundred per cent" they had done it for the player whose suspension for interference with the faceguard of Wexford player Harry Kehoe in the quarter-final had been finally confirmed by the Disputes Resolution Authority late in the week.

McGrath, who bear-hugged de Burca immediately after the match, described the reigning Hurler of the Year as "everything we feel that we're trying to be as a team – he's a purist, a great lad, and he's tough.

"We had a tough couple of weeks with him and he showed great mental fortitude…We did it for him, year. We make no apologies, that was part of the motivation, not in a corny way…because of what he'd contributed up to this match over the four years."

Indeed, McGrath revealed "I promised him the other night, when he came out [of the DRA meeting], that we'd be in the final, I just promised him."

As for the number five on his hand, McGrath added: "It may seem a bit gimmicky, but he's central to our circle."

Ironically, de Burca's stand-in as sweeper was not only the conveniently-named Darragh Fives (albeit wearing 15) but he played extremely well too.

In another twist, although Clashmore/Kinsalebeg clubman de Burca is now free to play in the final, against Galway, Waterford's number six, Austin Gleeson, could face a similar ban after apparently pulling the helmet off Cork corner-forward Luke Meade in the first half, an incident not punished by the match officials.

Conor Gleeson, who'd done a fine man-marking job on Cork centre half-forward Conor Lehane, received a straight red card in the 68th minute after a clash with Patrick Horgan.

However, Waterford selector Dan 'The Man' Shanahan – who'd rolled back the years with a brief on-pitch appearance in the first half alongside his Cork counterpart Diarmuid 'The Rock' O'Sullivan – indicated that they would contest any ban for the Fourmilewater man.

McGrath said he hadn't seen either incident involving the Gleesons but even if Waterford were fortunate regarding Austin, they merited their place in the final.

While the words 'justice' and 'complaints' came out of the Cork camp, they were in the context of "we didn't do ourselves justice" and "no complaints"; Rebels selector Pat Hartnett and manager Kieran Kingston only differed on whether Waterford were "the better team" or "the best team" on the day.

There was little doubt about the Deise's superiority, even though Cork were a point up midway through the second half, 0-15 to 1-11, when they lost their full-back Damien Cahalane to a second yellow card. His high hurley-led hit on Conor Gleeson could arguably have merited an instant red.

Waterford revelled with the extra man, firing in two goals in a minute shortly before the hour mark, Austin Gleeson setting up the first for energetic midfielder Jamie Barron, then superbly scoring a solo effort himself.

Barron netted goal number four in added time for an outcome that McGrath acknowledged was "Hugely satisfying. A mixture of elation, relief, anticipation now, even at this stage, about what's to come. All those emotions…joy, ecstasy."

Opposite emotions, obviously, from Cork, but they were classy in accepting their deserved defeat.

Their manager Kingston made a point at the end of his press conference of expressing condolences to the family of Galway hurling great Tony Keady, who died during the week.

His loss will give the Tribesmen extra motivation to end their 29-year wait to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup – but Waterford's drought is precisely twice as long.

McGrath recalled another promise, made on June 18, after their Munster semi-final defeat to Cork: "The lads made a promise to themselves that the flatness that day wouldn't be evident today, that there'd be a good level of aggression, that we weren't going to go gently into the night."

Waterford are now one step from hurling's pinnacle; maybe this time McGrath and his wife will enjoy a celebratory post-match banquet.