Faith repaid: Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald and second-half goalscorer Dan Shanahan embrace at the end of Sunday’s gripping All-Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-final win against Wexford at Semple Stadium.   | Photo: Michael Kiely

Faith repaid: Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald and second-half goalscorer Dan Shanahan embrace at the end of Sunday’s gripping All-Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-final win against Wexford at Semple Stadium. | Photo: Michael Kiely

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Another fleeting half-time guest spot with WLR FM and this time a bold prediction. Waterford, your correspondent confidently asserted, would go on “and win by seven or eight points”. Not exactly what you’d call an inspired forecast, was it? Yet at the time it seemed a not unreasonable thesis, Eoin Kelly’s goal in first-half injury time having given the Deise a four-point interval lead. Some goals win games, other goals change games; this was now a changed game and Waterford, who’d taken time to come to terms with the movement of the Wexford forwards but had found their feet during the second quarter, would have no excuses for failing to kick on from there. As it transpired they failed utterly to kick on from there. But hey, a win is a win is a win, and to beat Wexford by a point was infinitely preferable to beating them by seven or eight points. Waterford have had two matches – two tough matches – since Tipperary’s last outing. Whatever their other faults and failings, they will not lack for momentum in the run-up to August 17th.

The first man Davy Fitz made for at the final whistle was Dan Shanahan. This was interesting indeed. While it’s far too soon to claim that the Lismore man’s season has taken a turn for the better, at least he’ll have left Semple Stadium a rather happier man than he entered it. At one stage midway through the first half he’d embarked on a run that the Dan of 2007 would have topped off with a point. This being 2008, Dan was dispossessed and Wexford worked the ball down the field for a point by Willie Doran. At that instant it was a perfect cameo of his changed fortunes, but the moment was rendered irrelevant once he pounced for a goal in the 46th minute and followed it up with a point 11 minutes later. Though All Star-winning stuff it wasn’t, an improvement on his recent form it most certainly was and for the time being that will suffice.

The improvement in the man was of a piece with the improvement in the team. Waterford hurled a little better on Sunday than they had against Offaly eight days earlier. Only a little, but better nonetheless. Call it mildly encouraging. Encouraging too was the degree of balance about their performance. They hit 1-10 in the first half and 1-9 in the second half; that represents equilibrium, not schizophrenia. Their finishing tally of 2-19, moreover, echoed the 2-18 they scored against Offaly. If Waterford as a unit are not playing brilliantly, then, they’re not playing badly either. And of the key trio identified here last week as having been deserted by their form of 12 months ago, Dan and Michael Walsh, who made a couple of good runs in the first half, gave grounds for optimism that better afternoons lie ahead. Only Stephen Molumphy, still showing the effects of his truncated National League campaign, was again off the pace.

Browne’s birth cert

Another reason for Deise folk to take heart from the afternoon is that Wexford set a stern test and Waterford responded to it. From a neutral point of view, Stephen Doyle’s early goal was precisely what the game needed. John Meyler’s side adopted not so much a pass-and-move strategy as a move-and-pass strategy, with the forwards careening off into space at all angles and their colleagues out the field channelling the ball into that space for receipt. Declan Prendergast was horribly caught for the goal when Rory Jacob played the ball across the field from under the New Stand and Ken McGrath wasn’t enjoying things either against the awkward if limited Stephen Banville. But help was at hand. Waterford had Tony Browne.

We’ve suggested here before that Tony’s birth cert is a work of fiction. We’re now convinced of it. Either that or he has a portrait in his attic that would be well worth a view. Whatever the case, when the ship was being tossed around during the first half he stepped in and provided a steady hand on the tiller, covering in all directions behind the half-back line and processing an ocean of ball. So influential was he that the experiment with Ken at full-back – and Ken did grow into the proceedings as the game wore on – will surely not be abandoned, if only because there’s no reason to move Browne out of centre-back. Elsewhere Eoin McGrath is clearly thriving under the Davy Fitz regime while John Mullane can also draw considerable encouragement from his day’s work. Not because he was brilliant or anything like it, but rather because this was a rerun of his display in last year’s National League final. Totally at odds with his game for 45 minutes (Dan’s goal resulted from an attempt at a point by the De La Salle man that dropped short), Mullane kept plugging away, refused to become frustrated, won two important frees that Kelly converted and finished with three points to his name. A mature individual performance in the context of a mature team performance.

It was a hugely enjoyable afternoon that had something for almost everyone in the audience. The two losing sides hurled splendidly, redeemed themselves after their respective recent provincial-final disappointments and departed the championship with heads held high – far higher, it might be proposed, than would have been the case had they won and progressed to next month’s semi-finals. The two classier sides won, albeit with varying degrees of fortune. And then there were four. Championship 2007 finally caught fire over the past two weekends. The blaze will crackle all the way through to September 7th.

* Enda McEvoy is the hurling correspondent of the Sunday Tribune.