Scorelines don’t lie, and they certainly didn’t when it came to the predictably one-sided series of hurling championship fixtures held last weekend.
Saturday’s action at Walsh Park saw Antrim experiencing the same fate that befell Laois in Salthill that afternoon and Wexford at Croker 24 hours later.
A culture of losing is being ingrained into the hurling fabric of the second and third tier of the game, which is not good looking down the line.
A €1000 bet on all three favourites winning last weekend would have yielded a return of only €37 from one prominent bookmaker.
In what amounted to three supposed two-horse races, this must have ranked as an unprecedented happening after a single weekend of inter-county action.
Anyone penning a Leinster final match report could have scribbled most of their work together on Friday evening and left blanks in their copy for Kilkenny’s various scorers. All in all, it was thoroughly depressing stuff.
While they started slowly, Waterford’s greater quality surfaced around the 20th minute of the first half, eventually condemning Antrim to their second 20-plus point defeat in a week.
The energy and link-up play exemplified by John Mullane and Eoin McGrath made them the stand-out performers for Waterford, with Eoin Kelly and Tony Browne also impressing.
McGrath, as he did in the first half against Clare, seems more inclined to look up and seek a team mate when he’s gathered the ball as opposed to shooting from whatever angle he’s positioned in.
Some of his passing on Saturday was exemplary; his pinpoint ball across the goalmouth for Stephen Molumphy’s 51st minute goal was arguably the highlight of the game.
As for Mullane, it was simply a case of maintaining the level of performance he produced in Limerick and he did so effortlessly, slotting home his goals with a minimum of fuss.
In terms of back-to-back displays, it’s difficult to think of the De La Salle man producing better quality than what he’s mustered in championship action this year.
The Waterford game plan showed definite signs of a shift during Saturday’s match, with retaining the ball via handpasses and short, sharp pucking a notable addition not present in their previous outing.
The passing proved a little laboured at times and was exacerbated in the opening exchanges due to the home team’s errant free taking.
Yet as the game proceeded and the green flag came into play at Ryan McGarry’s end of the pitch, the Deisemen visibly improved.
There was plenty of movement from most of the forwards, although Dan Shanahan still looks somewhat off the blistering pace he brought to the championship table last summer.
In saying that, the recently crop-topped Lismore attacker still finished the match with four points from play, but he’ll be demanding more of himself next qualifier out.
It might have been 10 scores each at half-time, but Waterford’s goal scoring prowess left them eight points up at the break.
By the 46th minute, the Deise led by 11 points, having hit 1-6 without reply. Mullane fired over two equally impressive efforts, leaving Antrim corner back Aaron Griffin trailing in his wake.
Despite the best efforts of Paul Shiels and Karl Stewart, and given Ken McGrath and Tony Browne’s growing prominence in Waterford’s defensive spine, the mountain facing Antrim just got steeper and steeper.
Within seconds of picking up a yellow card, Gary Hurney’s hard work was rewarded with his first goal in championship hurling as he charged through a weary Antrim rearguard to put six goals between the sides.
Jamie Nagle enjoyed a productive period on the pitch, knocking over two points, while Paul Flynn will have been happy to have got some game time under his belt.
McGrath the elder at full-back is an experiment we won’t gain any insight on until Saturday week, when Waterford gear up for the third phase of the qualifiers.
That the Mount Sion man has been asked to fill the troublesome slot is of no great surprise.
And while Saturday was hardly the greatest test he’s ever faced, McGrath was bound to occupy the number three jersey sooner rather than later.
Davy Fitzgerald knows his team won’t have the guts of a half to settle next time out.
Hitting the ground running is essential if Waterford are to deliver on the ambition of another Croke Park appearance, something Deise fans have almost taken for granted in recent years.
In what’s been a far from vintage hurling championship to date, it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll end up playing a considerable role in the destination of the All-Ireland crown.
But it would be foolish in the extreme to count the former League and Munster champions out of the reckoning quite yet.
* While it will be of no great consequence to most at Saturday’s game, there were a total of 13 journalists in the press box in Walsh Park on Saturday afternoon, with four reporters forced to stand throughout the entire match.
Considering that one of the standing reporters had driven from Carrick-on-Shannon that morning makes what happened last weekend completely and totally unacceptable. By the way, the same reporter had no socket for his computer until the full-time whistle had sounded either – which is, quite simply, a joke.