The teeming rain, aided by a strong wind, sheeted across the players of Waterford United and Shelbourne for 90 minutes at the RSC last Friday. Since the advent of summer soccer, there’s rarely been a night as bad as this – when games have gone ahead, that is.
This was real Old Testament stuff and really had to be seen to be believed. Even the Blues’ mascot for the night was in his wet gear, while photographer Jim O’Sullivan was involved in an early pursuit of his umbrella as the wind ferried his brolly down track.
At any moment during a nonetheless compelling 90 minutes of football, one expected a long-bearded man with a wooden ship to slip into the Kilbarry car park and intake the players two at a time.
To their credit, both teams gave it their all and tried to provide the 782 mostly saturated souls with some decent football, with both midfields doing particularly well when playing into the gale.
Both Pakie Holden and ex-Blues keeper Dean Delaney had their problems with kick-outs, as any clearance which gathered height flew upwards and, on occasion, ceased forward movement.
Some of the early press box chat focused on First Division top scorer Anthony Flood, whose surname would have led to a suitably cheesy headline had he sent the net bulging on the night.
And the Shels striker was within a whisker of doing so just seven minutes from time, when his beautifully struck 30-yarder drew a magnificent save from a fully extended Holden.
The United keeper was again at his best against the strong finishing Shels when brilliantly denying Mark Rutherford for what would have surely been a winning goal for the table toppers.
But Graham Kelly’s final whistle confirmed that Waterford, who wore blue in the first half and white in the second, had secured a vital point in the hunt for promotion.
Given how appalling a night it was, one would have forgiven either team for opting to drive the ball long and often.
But, to the credit of Gareth Cronin and Dermot Keeley, both teams tried to keep the ball on the deck and remain positive in their respective approaches.
Waterford were the first to strike, although there were some question marks over whether Karl Bermingham or Shels skipper Damien Brennan’s touch took the ball beyond Delaney.
Unfortunately, Cronin’s men held onto their lead for less than 10 minutes, and the manner of the Shelbourne equaliser is one which David Breen will be anxious to delete from the memory bank.
David Freeman’s volleyed cross from the left flank came into the path of the Blues’ captain, who wasn’t under any immediate pressure from a Shels attacker as he moved to deal with the ball.
But, perhaps caught in two minds as to where the put the size five, Breen nodded the ball past Holden, who looked every bit as shocked as the home support were by the centre-back’s lapse in judgement.
Minutes into the second half, Flood had poked a shot onto the crossbar, but the home side’s response to the early Shelbourne foray was prompt.
Bermingham came within inches of putting the now gleaming white Waterford ahead in the 59th minute.
Two minutes later, a brilliant run from Dave Warren ended with the midfielder’s daisy cutting drive ramming off Delaney’s right-hand post, only to be scrambled clear by a back-footing Shelbourne defence.
On a night when the greasy surface was likely to lead to one rash challenge, it unfortunately arrived nine minutes from time when Bermingham caught David McGill, prompting Kelly to brandish a red card. Shels finished strongly, but thanks to Holden, Waterford proved good value for their point on a night when both teams remained tactically positive when route one would have proven the energy-saving option.
Just a point separate three teams at the First Division summit, as the Blues remain firmly in the hunt for an immediate return to the top flight. Victory at Monaghan this Friday would keep things ticking along nicely.