Brian Flannery Reports
The National Hurling League got under way on Saturday night last with the reigning league champions Limerick turning in a storming second half performance to just edge out the Liam McCarthy title holders, Tipperary.
This was certainly the proverbial game of two halves with the Premier completely dominating the opening thirty-five minutes to lead by nine points at half-time.
Two second half goals from Aaron Gillane and substitute Gearoid Hegarty had Limerick on top however it was only the width of the crossbar that prevented Jason Forde not snatching victory for the home side with a last minute 20m free.Saturday night lights from Semple Stadium proved entering but all eyes turned to Walsh Park the following day.
Liam Cahill and his new Waterford players left the Keane’s road venue with a pep in their step following an exciting one-point victory. There really is no substitute for winning games and after a miserable championship campaign in 2019 an early season boost is just what the doctor ordered.
I know it’s still January, I know it’s only the league, but still. Túas Maith, leath na hoibre.The four debutants all acquitted themselves well. Iarlaith Daly really looked the part at half-back and boomed a fabulous point in the second half when it was badly needed. Calm in possession and aggressive when needed, the Lismore youngster is throwing down an early marker and is sure to have pleased his new manager. Jack Fagan too claimed many plaudits. A forward who can win his own ball is priceless.
The former Meath man looked comfortable at senior level and with two points in his first outing he will see plenty of game time over the coming weeks. Indeed, Jack Fagan wasn’t backing down when a schamozzle broke out in front of the Waterford dugout just before the break.
The wry smile on the face of the Waterford manager in close vicinity seemed like the seal of approval for a more aggressive approach from the men in white and blue. The inter-county arena is no place for good manners or pleasantries.
Neil Montgomery played his part in Waterford’s crucial goal and wasn’t over awed by the occasion. Dessie Hutchinson had a fantastic year with his club in 2019 and while he didn’t get a run of the ball in this game, his work-rate was commensurate with his colleagues and his talent can only but come to the fore over time.
Another player whose undoubted talent was back front and centre in the Waterford attack was that of Patrick Curran. The Dungarvan clubman may have suffered in the past from the use of ‘sweeper’ systems which reduced the number of attacking places on the starting team but as displayed on Sunday, when Patrick Curran had only his own marker to beat he can be one of the most prolific scorers in the game. Hopefully Curran will now get an uninterrupted spell in the starting line-up to fire his career back into the limelight. Patrick Curran gave man of the match performances in Waterford’s minor and U-21 All-Ireland triumphs and can be a real star for Cahill in this Waterford set-up.
Shane McNulty too has had to bide his time on the panel but looks far more assured in possession and his distribution on Sunday last was both deliberate and accurate. Calum Lyons is a player that I believe has benefited from the experience he has gained over the last couple of years in both WIT and Waterford jerseys. Lyons is both athletic and skilful which gives an attacking threat from half-back. There is no doubt that the real heroes from the game were the Ballysaggart Bennett brothers.
Stephen hits the ball with laser like precision while Kieran Bennett has continued his great club form which brought a maiden Intermediate title to the western team. I suppose the thing that will have pleased supporters most is that you could see how much those players wanted to play for Waterford and how that desire translated into a cohesive team performance.
There was a plethora of non-togged (for various reasons, suspension, injury etc) Waterford players splendid in their new tracksuits sitting in front of the press box at Walsh Park. Any thoughts that these players may have had with regard to the permanency of a starting jersey will likely have been dispelled. A Waterford jersey is precious and if you want one you’ll have to fight for it.Just the way it should be.