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5 big picture takeaways from the classic 2004 Munster final between Waterford and Cork

The Deise prevailed to land their second provincial title in three years.

Image: INPHO

Waterford’s 2004 Munster final win over Cork was aired on TG4 earlier today.

1. Famous Mullane red card

A couple of weeks before the game, Paul Flynn and Mullane went down to watch Waterford United take on Cork City in a League of Ireland clash. Mullane arrived into the stand donning his Deise colours and was spotted by the Rebel supporters who started chanting, ‘Sully’s gonna get ya, Sully’s gonna get ya!’

As it transpired, it was a red card that would tarnish Mullane’s afternoon.

He had two points scored and looked to be motoring nicely early in the second-half when disaster struck. A flare-up with Brian Murphy saw Mullane lash out and Seanie McMahon flashed the red card.

Mullane was lauded in the years since for taking his punishment and refusing to go the appeal route, as so many players did before and since. As a result, he missed the All-Ireland semi-final, which they lost to Kilkenny by three points.

ben-oconnor-2762004 Ben O'Connor runs at the Waterford team. Source: INPHO

2. One of the games of the decade

On a scorching hot afternoon in late June, supporters travelled to Semple Stadium expecting an exciting encounter. The 70 minutes that followed exceeded all expectations.

Waterford refused to buckle despite conceding a sloppy early goal. Their response in beating a Cork side that would reach the next three All-Ireland finals summed up the overall skill and talent of the Deise team.

Waterford were a man down for most of the second-half and facing into the breeze, but led by inspirational centre-back Ken McGrath they clawed a way back into the game.

Dan Shanahan ad Eoin Kelly buried a stunning goal each, while Paul Flynn rocketed a free into the net which turned out to be the catalyst for a famous Waterford victory.

3. The greatness of that Waterford team

Waterford hadn’t beaten Cork in a Munster final since 1959 and despite arriving into the game as underdogs, there was a good deal of pressure on Justin McCarthy’s side to end that run against the Rebels.

They won the game but by September it was the Rebels who toasted glory in Croke Park.

Waterford’s season was ended by the Cats in the last four of the All-Ireland series and further semi-final defeats followed in ’06 (to Cork by a point) and ’07 (to Limerick by five points).

They made it to the final in ’08 but suffered a humiliating 3-30 to 1-13 pummeling by a Kilkenny team in its pomp.

It was a golden age for Waterford hurling with stars like Shanahan, McGrath, Mullane, Kelly and Flynn at or nearing their peak. They were a breakthrough team that radically changed the culture of hurling in the county, but a failure to get over the line or replicate that form on Jones’ Road will forever haunt them.

garvan-mccarthy-2762004 Garvan McCarthy of Cork celebrates his goal. Source: INPHO

4. Cork’s impressive comeback 

Cork’s response to that Munster final defeat was cold and clinical. They recovered to hammer Antrim in the All-Ireland quarter-final and easily cast aside Wexford in the semi.

An eight-point final victory over Kilkenny – where Joe Deane clipped over 0-5 -firmly established Cork as hurling’s top dogs.

As Donal Og Cusack revolutionised the game with his puck-out strategies, Cork worked the ball through the hands with a hard-running game that was built on a commanding half-back line of John Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Sean Og O’Hailpin.

In ’05 they reclaimed the Munster crown and won a second successive Liam MacCarthy Cup. In ’06 another provincial crown followed before they fell to Kilkenny.

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Father time eventually caught up with the Rebels as a new power emerged in Munster towards the end of the decade in the form of Tipperary.

eoin-kelly-2762004 Eoin Kelly celebrates a score. Source: INPHO

5. Glorious Deise-Rebel rivalry

Cork’s rivalry with Waterford gave Munster an electric glow during the noughties as both teams cast all inhibitions aside in a series of titanic tussles.

Both sides had undergone managerial upheaval in the years leading up to this encounter. Gerald McCarthy walked away from the Deise job in 2001 with the narrative that he had taken the county as far as he could.

The following year, the Cork players initiated the first players’s strike in GAA history to remove Bertie Og Murphy from this position. It was to the good fortune of both sides that Justin McCarthy and Donal O’Grady stepped into the respective hot-seats.

Waterford were Munster champions in 2002 while O’Grady set about building the Rebels into the best-prepared side in the country. Cork would lift three of the next four provincial crowns and go up against Kilkenny in a trio of All-Ireland finals between ’03 and ’06, yet their meetings against the Deise remain unforgettable.

From Mullane’s hat-trick in the ’03 humdinger to the nervy All-Ireland semi-final of ’06 or the replayed All-Ireland quarter-final the following year, there was rarely a dull moment when the sides met in championship hurling. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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