Waterford 3-7; Leitrim 1-10
A beautiful day, a firm sod and one of the best backdrops of any GAA venue in the country, Fraher Field was no bad place to be on Sunday afternoon.
And it proved as much a relief as it did a pleasure to see Waterford get their promotion hopes back on track following that weekend to forget in Ruislip.
This three-point win over Mickey Moran’s Leitrim was hard earned but, in the overall context of the game, well deserved.
While the customary Dungarvan wind blew towards the Colligan end and certainly played some part in the outcome of the game, Liam Ó Lionáin’s early brace of goals, scored despite the headwind, proved crucial.
The An Rinn forward could well have had a hat-trick despite being on the field for just 16 minutes, the recurrence of a thigh problem forcing him to make way.
Just three minutes in, he darted towards goal, leaving two Leitrim defenders in his wake as Waterford began brightly. But his powerful drive zipped past Enda Lyons’s left hand post and wide.
But Ó Lionáin made no mistake in the 12th minute after Michael O’Gorman picked him out with a delicate pass, as he made no mistake from close range.
Just moments earlier, it appeared that Gary McCloskey had fisted the ball over Tom Wall’s head and into the net for a Leitrim goal.
However, the umpire indicated that the ball had in fact gone over and rolled down the back of the net for a point. To Leitrim’s credit, there was no dispute of the decision.
Come the 14th minute, the razor sharp Ó Lionáin had the net bulging again, this time put through on goal via a fine Stephen Cunningham pass. The finish was even more emphatic than the first and it put Waterford six points clear.
But the next 20 minutes belonged to Leitrim as Waterford failed to add to their tally, with the visitors adding five points, leaving just the minimum between the sides.
Forced to ring the changes due to injury, Moran’s charges benefited from the arrival of wing forward Emlyn Mulligan – a name to remember come the Connacht Championship.
His distribution was excellent, combining fine football skills with the necessary physical edge and he ended the game as his team’s top scorer with four points.
Just before the break, Brian Wall finally got the scoreboard moving again for the Deise and despite overplaying the ball too frequently at either end of the field; they went in two points up. Not bad at all considering the breeze they played into.
During the second half, with the excellent Liam Lawlor playing like a sweeper cum holding midfielder, Waterford maintained their advantage.
Wayne Hennessy, who had a storming second half, converted a glorious 46th minute point from distance after a surging run from deep by sub Tony Grey, who replaced the yellow carded Edmond Rockett.
Three minutes later, with Waterford availing of the wind, dragging Leitrim backs into wide positions and opening up possibilities thanks to better distribution of the ball, the Deise won a penalty.
The impressive Wall, whose run was halted by McCloskey (who was carded for the offence), left Brian Tyrell with little alternative but to extend the arms.
Striding up from full-back, Tomás O’Gorman slotted the ball home with consummate ease to put the hosts five points up.
A super point off the boot of Michael O’Gorman on 51 minutes restored the six-point gap and a Waterford victory looked assured.
Leitrim, despite enjoying some good possession and territory, were largely off-radar in the second half shooting department.
Just shy of the hour, Tom Wall dived smartly to his right to deny midfielder Shane Foley a goal after his initial poor clearance, the slightest hint of panic emerging in Leitrim’s play.
Michael Foley knocked over an excellent point to reduce the gap to five, but with six minutes remaining, Sean Fleming’s last contribution was to bisect the posts with a free to restore the two-goal lead.
In the 68th minute, the westerners got a goal that their efforts thoroughly deserved, with corner back Dermot Reynolds joining the attack to bundle the ball home after Foley’s deep ball in.
Suddenly, the comfortable lead was reduced to a single score as two minutes of added time were announced.
Seconds later, Tomás O’Gorman threw himself in the way of Philip McGuinness’s goalbound shot, the last chance to come Leitrim’s way.
The day, thankfully, was Waterford’s, who, ahead of next weekend’s clash with Carlow, sit third in Division Four, still in promotion contention.
Waterford: Tom Wall; Maurice O’Gorman, Tomás O’Gorman, Mark Prendergast; Wayne Hennessy, Shane Briggs, Edmond Rockett; Brian Wall, Sean O’Hare; Liam Ó Lionáin, Ger Power, Stephen Cunningham; Liam Lawlor, Michael O’Gorman, Sean Fleming. Substitutes: Cillian O’Keeffe for Ó Lionáin (16 mins), Tony Grey for Rockett [YC] (45 mins), Stephen Prendergast for Power [YC] (58 mins), Conor McGrath for Fleming (64 mins), John Seward for Michael O’Gorman [YC] 69 mins.
Scorers: L Ó Lionáin (2-0), T O’Gorman (1-0p), B Wall (0-4f), Michael O’Gorman, W Hennessy (0-1 each) and S Fleming (0-1f).
Leitrim: Enda Lyons; Dermot Reynolds, John McKeon, Barry Prior; Barry McWeeney, Adrian O’Flynn, James Glancy; Gary McCloskey, Shane Foley; Brendan Gallagher, Michael Foley, Philip McGuinness; Ray Cox, Declan Maxwell, James Holohan. Substitutes: Emlyn O’Mulligan for Maxwell (13 mins), Darren Duignan for Holahan (19 mins), Tomas Beirne for Cox (31 mins), Daniel Beck for Glancy (42 mins), Shane Canning for McCloskey [YC] (50 mins), Pat Gilmartin for Duignan (57 mins).
Scorers: E Mulligan (0-4; 0-2f), D Reynolds (1-0), R Cox (0-2; 0-1f), M Foley, B Gallagher, P McGuiness and G McCloskey (0-1 each)
Referee: Brian Tyrell (Tipperary)