Hurlers qualify for Croke Park semi-final
Mission accomplished was the message coming out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday evening as Waterford’s hurlers qualified for their third successive senior hurling semi-final under Derek McGrath’s management. In the very warm conditions, the displays of elder statesmen Michael Walsh and team captain Kevin Moran were outstanding which rubbished comments in the aftermath of the Cork game that their time at the top of Senior Inter-County hurling was up. Walsh in particular was giving a Man of the Match performance in the first half and Moran received this accolade from the Sunday Game panellists for his efforts over the course of the full seventy minutes plus.
The performance given by Darragh Fives who was out of top class hurling for so long in recent seasons was also a revelation and he will be needed more than ever now after the dubious sending off of Tadhg De Burca following the unsporting tactics of 59th minute substitute Harry Kehoe prior to and after their entanglement with 65 minutes on the clock.
For once Jamie Barron wasn’t an influential figure, a victim of the game tactics of both sides with up to fifteen players crowding the midfield area while Austin Gleeson is yet to fire on all cylinders and no more crucial time to move into this gear than the semi-final match against Cork on Sunday, August 13th.
A goal in this tactical game was always going to be like looking for hens teeth and when they did arrive they were the result of lapses in defence rather than any well worked team move. Waterford’s goal, in particular, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, the second minute of added time in the first half when we had lost our grip on proceedings. When Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald was leaving his seat in the stand in preparation for the half-time talk, he looked comfortable coming down the steps just 0-2 in arrears but by the time he got to the last step his countenance had changed as Shane Bennett had engineered following a mistake in defence and Kevin Moran executed the defining score of this semi-final, a precious goal, 1-12 to 0-10 at half-time. Wexford’s green flag was more of a consolation score at the very end of the game in the 75th minute when influential substitute John O’Connor pounced on a rebound save from Jack Guiney’s free which could have been very much avoided in the first place and would have given us a more comfortable winning margin.
In contrast to the last two years when we travelled to Croke Park for the penultimate stage of the championship the county now possesses a capable bench and again last Sunday Maurice Shanahan and Brian O’Halloran, in particular, impressed and scored an equal share of four second half points. One of the many post match discussions on the trip home centred on the exclusion of Patrick Curran from some game time and while it shows the strength of the bench it must be most frustrating for the talented All-Ireland under 21 winning captain of last year not to get on to the field.
A crowd of 31,753 saw Waterford advance and that we were the better team can be seen in the fact that we were never led but our lapses before and after half-time would suggest that we are still not the full shilling to go all the way and win the All-Ireland title.
Waterford did most of the running in the opening half but Wexford, who didn’t help their cause by giving away scorable frees, kept in touch. The sides twice exchanged points in the opening four minutes before Waterford pulled away with scores from Moran, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and another free from Pauric Mahony. Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney responded for Wexford before Waterford again hit three without reply with Jake Dillon getting off the mark and Mahony hitting two more frees to lead by double scores, 0-8 to 0-4, after 18 minutes.
Wexford kept a lot of players behind the ball and, after Guiney and Darragh Fives swapped points, Davy Fitzgerald’s men enjoyable a purple patch – Lee Chin, Paul Morris and Diarmuid O’Keeffe landing good points to leave it 0-9 to 0-8 ten minutes before the break.
Waterford pulled away with another free from Mahony and points from play by Conor Gleeson and Austin Gleeson, but Aidan Nolan and Guiney hit back for Wexford. But then came the goal from Moran that goalkeeper Mark Fanning, who had earlier saved well from Jamie Barron, was powerless to stop and that left Waterford leading by 1-12 to 0-10 at the interval.
Derek McGrath’s side shot three wides in the opening five minutes of the second-half and Wexford closed the gap to two with points from Liam Ryan and 18-year old Rory O’Connor, a Leaving Cert student who was one of four pre-match changes by manager Davy Fitzgerald.
But Waterford regained control and responded to each of the Wexford points. By the end, nine players had found the target for Derek McGrath’s men and interestingly one more for Wexford. Both Maurice Shanahan and Brian O’Halloran hit two points apiece after being introduced while Jack O’Connor, Rory’s older brother, scored 1-2 after coming on for Wexford. However, his goal was a consolation in the final minute of stoppage time after a free from Jack Guiney was blocked. Wexford continued with their sweeper system almost to the end and Waterford were well able to deal with it, breaking regularly to pick off scores.
Waterford’s Top Three: Kevin Moran, Michael Walsh, Darragh Fives.
Wexford’s Top Three: Liam Ryan, Sean Murphy, Rory O’Connor.
Observer’s Man of the Match: Kevin Moran.
Number of Scorers: Waterford 9. Wexford 10.
Scores From Play: Waterford 1-13. Wexford 1-12.
Frees For: Waterford 13. Wexford 14.
Wides: Waterford 10. Wexford 8.
Score of the Match: Wexford’s Rory O’Connor takes the sliotar out of a crowded scrum in the 39th minute and finishes under pressure with a point.
Scorers and Teams – Waterford: S. O’Keeffe; S. Fives, B. Coughlan, N. Connors; T. de Burca, A. Gleeson (0-3, 0-01f), Philip Mahony; J. Barron, C. Gleeson (0-1); K. Moran (1-3), Pauric Mahony (0-9, 0-9f), J. Dillon (0-1); Shane Bennett, M. Walsh (0-1), D. Fives (0-1).
Subs: M. Shanahan (0-2) for Dillon (45 mins); B O’Halloran (0-2) for Bennett (46 mins); Stephen Bennett for Walsh (54 mins); C. Dunford for Barron (62 mins); T. Ryan for Pauric Mahony (71 mins).
Wexford: M. Fanning; W. Devereux, L. Ryan (0-1), J. Breen; E. Moore (0-1), M. O’Hanlon, D. O’Keeffe (0-2); S. Murphy, R. O’Connor (0-1); D. Redmond, L. Chin (0-3, 0-2f), J Guiney (0-6, 0-5f); P. Doran, C McDonald (0-1), P. Morris (0-01). Subs: A Nolan (0-1) for Redmond (28 mins); J. O’Connor (1-2) for Morris (41 mins); H. Kehoe for McDonald (59 mins); S. Tompkins for Doran (64 mins).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)