‘Every county needs a game like that 2004 Munster final, something to get the blood pumping’
Waterford’s famous 2004 Munster final win over Cork
THE FOLLOWING IS an abridged extract from Ken McGrath’s autobiography ‘Hand On Heart’. Here are more details on the Waterford great’s book.
THAT YEAR’S MUNSTER final against Cork stays in a lot of people’s memories. It helped us that we were used to the experience by then − it was our third in a row.
Myself and Ben O’Connor, the two captains, had a gig with Guinness the Friday week before the game – running around cones, hitting the ball for some fanzone – and the two of us were sitting on the grass chatting for half an hour there in Midleton.
The Cork lads were as experienced as us, so he was looking forward to the game as well without getting wound up about it – ‘See you Sunday’, and off home in the car.
But the Square in Thurles that Sunday was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was heaving. Full on. The Cork support out in force, shaking the bus as though we were Fenerbahçe going to a derby in Turkey. We were laughing our heads off, some Cork lad with a beer in one hand and giving you the finger with the other: how could you not laugh?
Ken McGrath leads the Waterford team before the game
At times you know the game is good, even if you’re in the middle of it. I remember thinking at one stage in the first half, ‘This is unreal.’ I wasn’t admiring everybody’s skills, but it was obvious that if you made a mistake it was going to be punished – Cork were that good at the time, having lost an All-Ireland final the previous year.
At half-time we were a couple of points down but Justin was very positive – he pointed out that we hadn’t played at all, that the game was there for us. Going back out I stopped the players in the tunnel and said, ‘Lads, we can’t come off the pitch unless we win; we’re good enough to win.’
Out, ball thrown in, Mullane gets a point. Great. We won a free on the Cork puck-out, over on the wing, and I went over to take it, but before I did I could see there was a commotion at the Cork end. I heard the roaring of the crowd and then Seánie McMahon, the ref, calling Mullane out of the group of players: red card.
John Mullane was sent-off in the 2004 Munster senior hurling final
For the next ten minutes they were on top; we lost our way. The crowd got behind them, they were dominating. We were hanging on by a thread.
Gradually we got to grips with the game in the half-back line, and started to protect the inside line. Dan won a free and Flynn had a chance of a point, but he went for goal . . .
Even now you’d think they should have stopped it. Going for goal from that range is mad, but that was Flynn. His skills were unbelievable – what he’d do at training was out of this world. If he’d had Mullane’s physique or fitness he’d have been unstoppable, but he could always put the ball in your pocket.
Source: DmG DR1FT/YouTube
That catch in the finale
People said afterwards I must have noticed Diarmuid O’Sullivan nearby, winding up to pull, but I didn’t. It was a stage in the match when you knew a big play was crucial, and I said to myself, ‘I’m grabbing that.’
I fielded it but it wasn’t over then – I tried to get past Timmy McCarthy but he stepped across me. Free. I knew it was over. There is a photo of me swinging the hurley at this point in the game. I don’t even remember doing that, just the feeling that the game was won, surely. They wouldn’t get another point to tie it up. The game was safe.
And there was a sense of satisfaction, being involved in a big play at the end of a game. That’s the kind of thing you’d dream of as a child, and then it happens, just like that. I roared up into the sky, the crowd was going bananas, Tony was screaming next to me – the adrenaline was pumping then.
I threw the ball back for the free – I was blowing hard, the effort was catching up with me, and Sully said something as he passed.
I was still wound up, of course, and said, ‘What did you say?’
I tapped him on the shoulder: ‘Thanks, Sully.’
Diarmuid O’Sullivan in action in the 2004 Munster final against Waterford
Flynn went for a point from the free but it dropped short, and the game was over. It was an unbelievable finish, but then it was an unbelievable game from the start. Playing in it, you wouldn’t be taking a step back and saying, ‘That’s some noise’, but you couldn’t help noticing the roaring that day.
It was deafening (the only other time I heard noise like that was in 2006, taking the free against Donal Óg in the All-Ireland semi-final.) I shook hands with Sully at the final whistle, and I could see the crowds swarming onto the field, and my first thoughts were: ‘Where’s my front teeth?’
I was the captain and I needed those for the presentation. Gerry Fitzpatrick had the teeth, though; I was presentable when I went up to get the cup.
It was all the sweeter being captain after what had happened to my father against Cork in the Munster finals of 1982 and 1983. Cork had destroyed Waterford in those games, and even though Tipperary are the other traditional powerhouse in Munster, for Waterford people Cork are the team that gave us some unmerciful beatings, such as those two Munster finals.
Waterford’s Pat McGrath, father of Ken
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
After the 2004 game, then, it meant something to have won. Those two defeats followed a lot of those Waterford players around, particularly the first one, when Cork ran up a huge score. We were in Kerry once on holidays and when my father got a couple of drinks in a pub, the barman said it came to 5-31, the score Cork got that day. Funny man.
We’d have been aware of that. We lost two Munster minor finals to Cork ourselves, they were the standard bearers, and to beat them in a Munster final in Thurles, a great game of hurling, with a man down for half the game . . . that was something we’d been crying out for, a win like that.
Eoin Kelly celebrates Waterford’s 2004 Munster final victory
Justin was delighted for us too, and for himself as well, probably. He might have felt hard done by in Cork – I don’t know the ins and outs of how he finished up with them – but he could take huge satisfaction in the win, and in the manner of the win.
People always say it’s all about winning, and it is. But there’s more to it. It’s about hurling as well. It always is. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or out of touch, when I say that, but I believe it.
I was proud to play in that Munster final – and proud to have played that Cork team, a bunch of lads we had great time for and who, I’d hope, would have good time for us – and proud to win it.
When I collected the cup I made a conscious decision not to make a massive speech. I said something along the lines of ‘Hopefully this is the first one this year.’
Ken McGrath lifts the trophy after the game
I stumbled through the Irish – I had a couple of sentences ready, but the stewards asked me to ask the crowd to push back, there was a bit of a crush on the field, and that put me off with the Gaeilge. Just got through. They carried me off the field, which was special. I’d never been carried off the field before, which makes it stand out even more.
Those twenty minutes or so after a game – that’s a special time, one that’s hard to describe. The win is just soaking in, and you’re all together to enjoy it. That’s more important than any individual awards.
Every county needs a game like that 2004 Munster final now and again, something to get the blood pumping and to make lads stand up straight.
It can’t all be sterile all the time; that’s not the way the game is played. For the county it was great to have that in the memory bank, because for years to come Waterford teams could say, ‘They did it that time, we can do it now’.
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