No bells and whistles. No fireworks, unlike what we’ll be treated to on The Quay this Sunday night.
But did that really matter? Bottom line: a win’s a win and that’s all that counts from a Waterford perspective, who now face the mightiest obstacle of all if they’re to advance to an All-Ireland Final.
Kilkenny, the sturdiest hurling oak of all, loom large for the second successive August – but let’s savour the challenge rather than fear it. A second successive All-Ireland semi-final is a welcome achievement but it’s still one match and two wins short of where this team wants to be.
And that will not be lost sight of – nor will the fact that last Sunday’s performance was unquestionably well below what will be required to mount a serious challenge against the All-Ireland champions on August 7th.
In the wake of the psychological battering that the second half in Limerick exposed this Waterford side to, the primary goal worth pursuing last Sunday against neighbours Wexford was winning. End of.
Whether that was achieved with corks popping or by kicks and screams was irrelevant from this juncture. Lest we forget: winning is all that matters.
So, in that context, a two-week long itch was certainly scratched: 10-point All-Ireland Quarter Final wins are thin on the ground from a Port Láirge perspective, and while some will make hay about the team’s 13 first half wides, such a statistic surely merits greater highlighting when a game has been lost.
Yes, Waterford were undoubtedly wasteful, and Austin Gleeson struck nine of his eleven scoring efforts ‘as láthair’, but such number crunching clearly holds more water when a game is drawn or lost.
And so to the game itself in which captain Kevin Moran well and truly led by example, winning RTE’s Man of the Match Award for 70 minutes of lung-emptying endeavour.
A largely forgettable first half saw Waterford lead by 0-12 to 0-5 at the break, after 35 minutes which lacked the bite and aggression of these sides’ League Quarter-Final in March. In fact, it lacked the intensity one associates with hurling in Thurles at this time of year.
In truth, a wasteful Deise side ought to have been out of sight by the break, clocking a worryingly high tally of 13 wides, while Wexford lacked aggression, energy and purpose to their play. And by the final whistle, as manager Liam Dunne conceded, they looked like a team that had simply run out of legs.
Waterford, who went conventional for just a handful of minutes, hit the front inside the opening 60 seconds through Maurice Shanahan, with Pauric Mahony doubling their lead with a free after Jamie Barron was aggressively impeded by Jack O’Connor.
Three minutes later, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh finished off an intricate move instigated by Shane Bennett and Jamie Barron before Lee Chin finally got Wexford off the mark in the sixth minute.
Brick knocked over his second point of the afternoon after Maurice Shanahan had gainfully dispossessed Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning of the ball twice over.
Mahony, who had a somewhat off-colour 70 minutes with the dead ball, pointed again in the ninth minute before Austin Gleeson (who registered six wides in the opening half; three mkre in the second) opened his account 60 seconds later.
The loss of Darragh Fives after 11 minutes will be of major concern to Derek McGrath given the challenge Kilkenny will pose at Croke Park a week on Sunday, but Conor Gleeson’s superb display as his replacement was perhaps the most noteworthy feature of this victory.
Seven minutes elapsed between scores, with Conor McDonald’s free leaving Wexford four adrift, and a fine move involving Chin and Liam Óg McGovern sent David Dunne through for a super point down the right flank.
That was to prove the highlight of Wexford’s first half from open play, as Waterford replied through Pauric Mahony (a free), Shane Bennett and Jamie Barron to lead by six after 23 minutes.
Conor McDonald (a free) and Mahony traded scores in the 24th and 26th minutes before the excellent Barron – the Deise’s player of year thus far in my view – produced his second point three minutes from the break.
Lee Chin, possibly the only Wexford player operating at Championship pace in the first half, landed a point in the 34th minute, only for Shane Bennett to reply immediately at the opposite end to complete the opening period’s scoring.
The second half felt similar to the first half, possessing as few bubbles as a 7-Up bottle uncapped in January.
But that’s never as problematic when your team is doing what it needs to do, and the fact that Waterford won in relative comfort despite not scoring for 18 minutes speaks volumes for Wexford’s lack of all-round grunt.
Waterford made the start to the second half that Wexford desperately required, as Pauric Mahony, Austin Gleeson and Maurice Shanahan sent the Deise 10 points clear by the 41st minute.
But Derek McGrath’s men took the foot off the pedal between then and the hour mark as Wexford finally found some momentum, scoring five unanswered points through Liam Ryan, Conor McDonald (3) and Éanna Martin to give the large Model following something to shout about.
Yet Wexford failed to find the goal they clearly needed, as Barry Coughlan, Tadhg De Búrca and the excellent Conor Gleeson led the way for the Deise defence.
With both hands now firmly high when it comes to pressing for a starting berth against Kilkenny, the excellent Brian O’Halloran ended Waterford’s long wait for a point in the 59th minute, with Mahony tagging on a free 90 seconds later.
Mahony converted a 62nd minute free following a rampaging run by Austin Gleeson to send Waterford eight clear, effectively ending the game as a contest.
Substitute Jake Dillon found his range in the 65th minute before the fleet-footed O’Halloran pointed again a minute later.
Pauric Mahony’s late free completed the scoring for Waterford while Jack O’Connor’s injury-time effort brought the curtain down on Wexford’s campaign, in what was only their seventh point from play that afternoon.
This was about as forgettable as knock-out Championship hurling gets, and Derek McGrath will know his men will have to produce a more clinical and efficient brand of hurling to provide Kilkenny with a test worthy of an All-Ireland semi-final.
But it’s worth recalling that just two years ago, following qualifier elimination to Wexford in Nowlan Park, that particular campaign had yielded just three wins for Waterford – both in Walsh Park – in League and Championship combined.
Since then, Waterford have played in two League and Munster Finals apiece and reached successive All-Ireland semi-finals.
And that, despite all the criticism that has come Derek McGrath’s way with respect to the ‘system’, does constitute notable and commendable progress. The task now is to improve on that. And Sunday week in Croke Park provides Waterford with an opportunity to do just that.
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Tadhg De Búrca, Darragh Fives, Philip Mahony; Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron; Kevin Moran, Pauric Shane Bennett, Michael Walsh; Patrick Curran, Maurice Shanahan,
Substitutes: Conor Gleeson for Darragh Fives (11 mins), Jake Dillon for Maurice Shanahan (50), Brian O’Halloran for Patrick Curran (55), Stephen Bennett for Shane Bennett (60) and Colin Dunford for Michael Walsh (70+).
Scorers: Pauric Mahony (0-8; 0-6f), Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron, Shane Bennett, Michael Walsh, Maurice Shanahan and Brian O’Halloran (0-2 each) and Jake Dillon (0-1).
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Eoin Moore, Matthew O’Hanlon, Liam Ryan; Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Paudie Foley, Éanna Martin; Jack O’Connor, Eoin Conroy; Liam Óg McGovern, Lee Chin, Harry Kehoe; Paul Morris, Conor McDonald, David Dunne.
Substitutes: Andrew Kenny for Eoin Conroy (27 mins), Nicky Kirwan for Harry Kehoe (45), Simon Donohue for Eoin Moore (51), Aidan Nolan for Paul Morris (64), Joe O’Connor for Liam Óg McGovern (68).
Scorers: Conor McDonald (0-5; 0-4f), Lee Chin (0-2), David Dunne, Jack O’Connor, Liam Ryan and Éanna Martin (0-1 each).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)
Waterford selector Dan Shanahan saluted the resolve of his young charges, given how well they regrouped in the fortnight between the Munster Final and last Sunday’s quarter-final win over Wexford.
“We’re after getting criticised in our county by local newspapers and stuff like that,” said the Lismore clubman, referring to post-Munster Final coverage, a comment he later repeated on radio to RTE’s Marty Morrissey.
“But we’re back in an All-Ireland semi-final for the second year in a row, which is a great achievement, and the last time we did that was in 2011, so we’re happy, we’re happy with the performance; we won the game and that’s the most important thing.”
Shanahan said the panel had consciously parked the memory of the Tipperary defeat as swiftly as they could, adding that the attitude in training just two nights after that reversal in Limerick was top class.
“We didn’t overly concentrate on Tipperary. We had to concentrate on the Wexford game…you can’t go back, you have to go forward and now we know that Kilkenny are sitting, waiting in the long grass for us, but we’re looking forward to it. What young fella wouldn’t want to play in Croke Park? Sure it’s the dream for every young fella picking up a hurley. And you never know…Kilkenny are favourites and All-Ireland champions and we’ll give them the respect they deserve but we’ll give them one hell of a battle, and Brian Cody knows that too.”