Qualification beckons for impressive Waterford

Waterford coped brilliantly following the questionable sending off of skipper Michael Walsh. 									| Photos: Noel Browne

Waterford coped brilliantly following the questionable sending off of skipper Michael Walsh. | Photos: Noel Browne

A three-point victory over reigning Leinster champions Dublin has put Waterford in a very strong position with two rounds to go in Division 1A of the National Hurling League.

The win was all the more impressive when one considers Waterford played the majority of the game with 14 men after captain Michael Walsh was controversially sent off in the first half.

It was slow start for Waterford as Dublin led by 0-4 to 0-1 after 10 minutes and the Dubs had also spurned a couple of goal chances with last ditch efforts from Shane Fives and Noel Connors saving the day for the home side.

But when Waterford did settle into the game they made maximum use of possession and their chances.

Seamus Prendergast gave All-Star full-back Peter Kelly a torrid afternoon and hit two splendid points in the opening half.

The Ardmore man’s most important contribution came after 23 minutes when the entire Dublin defence seem to stop playing in anticipation of the referees whistle but ‘Prender’ had the intelligence to place Mahoney in for a clear run at goal and the Ballygunner man duly obliged sticking the ball past Gary Maguire.

How many times to we tell youngsters to “play the whistle”? I’m sure Dublin manager Anthony Daly will be reminding his charges during this week in training at Parnell Park.

The sending off near the half hour mark left the Waterford management team perplexed with selector Dan Shanahan particularly incensed at the bizarre decision.

Referee Cathal McAllister was drawn to an incident involving Michael Walsh and Dublin centre-forward Alan McCrabbe by his umpires; the upshot of which was a red card for the Stradbally man. McCrabbe offered his hand to a departing Walsh but the Waterford captain was in no mood for pleasantries.

Indeed Alan McCrabbe should feel ashamed of his reaction to Walsh’s challenge, going to ground covering his face, a reaction which was more Wembley Stadium than Walsh Park.

The Dublin player was clearly not hurt or injured as he jumped back to his feet after Walsh had received his punishment.

This looked to me sitting in the stand a simple example of a player trying to get an opponent sent off, not something you like to see in the game.

Nonetheless, Waterford continued playing as before with Kevin Moran dropping back to man the pivotal centre-back slot, Shane O’Sullivan moved to midfield and Ray Barry out on the wing leaving Dublin corner back Niall Corcoran as the spare, unmarked defender.

Given the fact that Waterford was using possession with mostly pin point accuracy the numerical disadvantage never really told. The five-point half-time lead was well merited as the impressive crowd of 4,363 digested the opening 35 minutes action.

The second half surprisingly only yielded three scores for each team with Waterford adding just three points to their half time total, while the visitors registered a mere 1-2 despite their numerical advantage for the most of the second half.

It actually took Dublin 27 minutes in the second half to get their first score – a remarkable defensive performance by McGrath’s team with all 14 players acting as a defender when not in possession of the ball.

In the past, Derek McGrath has availed of psychological buzz words for players and even had it stitched into official teamwear. Well, I would suggest ‘Honesty’ would be an appropriate word to associate with this Waterford team.

Honesty of effort and total commitment has been the hallmark of Waterford’s three NHL games to date.

The ability to control and play the ball is another noticeable feature of these players. Each player from one to 15 is comfortable handling the sliothar with accuracy another feature.

Dublin, for all their possession, were reduced to hitting long aimless balls at the Waterford goal which the likes of Fives and Moran dealt with most capably.

The score of the game came when Clashmore youngster Tadhg de Burca fetched a puck out over his marker and placed substitute Brian O’Sullivan on the run and the Gunners’ forward hit a beautiful point on the run.

It’s difficult to pick out individual performances as all contributed to a fantastic win. Fives and Connors both made goal saving interceptions with their colleague in the full-back line Tadhg Burke had an outstanding outing.

The half-back line has a Championship look about it even at this early stage. Shane McNulty gained valuable game time at this level with Moran very assured at both centre field and later at centre-back.

Shane O’Sullivan looked much happier at midfield with Pauric Mahoney once again the main scoring threat hitting 1-8 (1-1 from play) with Shane Prendergast, Ryan Donnelly and substitute Brian O’Sullivan all making it onto the scoresheet.

The timely use of the bench with appearances from Stephen Roche, Eddie Barrett, Barry Coughlan and Gavin O’Brien all contributing to the victory.

Looking down from my commentary position in the stand I noticed players currently on the extended panel and/or injured all present together in their Waterford tops.

Players like Stephen Bennett, Austin Gleeson, Stephen Daniels, Liam Lawlor and Richie Foley will add further options for the team management on their return to full fitness.

As I mentioned previously the most heartening aspect of the League to date is that there is now real competition for jerseys numbered 16 to 26 as well as for the starting XV on the Waterford panel.

Given other results last weekend and a head-to-head advantage over both Galway and Dublin, it’s difficult to envisage Waterford not qualifying for the quarter-finals.

The trip to Ennis next Sunday will afford a further opportunity to test players against the best team in the country and I expect we may see a start for one or two more fringe players who haven’t got game time to date.

Clare will be difficult to knock on home soil but we did win there last year and after two successive wins, confidence won’t be a problem – another handy two league points then!

Speaking of points or lack of them, the footballers’ defeat to London in Carriganore highlighted once again how difficult inter-county football is becoming for Waterford.

Three defeats and a single draw leaves Déise footballers rock bottom of Division Four on just one point and with a scoring difference of minus 28.

There is no relegation from Division Four; there is nowhere to go, no lower division to compete in and at this stage we are probably just a step away from falling out of competing at senior level. I know we spend over €100,000 on our senior footballers which team manager Niall Carew has correctly identified as being inadequate to compete with other counties, even in Division Four. The fact that we haven’t prepared sufficiently at Under-21 or minor level for successive seasons has left the senior footballers with virtually no new players coming through and little prospect of improvement in the short term.

Waterford U-21 footballers play Tipperary this Wednesday in Fraher Field. Team manager Jimmy Healy has decried the fact that he was only appointed a couple of weeks ago and once again we’re sending out a team out with little or no preparation.

If you don’t prepare underage football teams in the county properly to compete, there is no viable future for football in the county, which is a disappointing prospect for those devoted to the code in the county. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Brian Flannery

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