On Friday afternoon, the rain came down in torrents and by 5.30pm, most people with any distance to travel reluctantly decided not to make the trip to the RSC. It was very understandable but they missed a thriller.In the end, 2,500 to 3,000 arrived in anticipation of history being made. Waterford FC were back in the Premier Division after a 10-year absence and the sense of optimism was palpable.
The rain had stopped in the hour before kick-off but officials and ground-staff spent so long inspecting and repairing the pitch that the stands were almost full when they finally trudged off towards the tunnel.
A discreet thumbs-up to the press-box from communications assistant, Adrian Flanagan, was spotted by some in the crowd. But it wasn’t until stadium announcer, Michael Butler, officially informed the fans that, with 20 minutes to go, the game was on that jangling nerves were eased.
For returning supporters the team line-ups in an excellent, new-style programme were slightly confusing. There were two locals, Kenny Browne and Dean O’Halloran, in the Waterford first XI with two more, Matthew Connor and Dean Walsh on the bench.
The slight confusion was caused by the appearance of the two Hale brothers, Rory and Ronan, in the Derry City team. Wha? Who the feck were they? Did Alfie have cousins we didn’t know about? It turned out that Rory and Ronan are Belfast boys with no known connection to the Suirside football dynasty. However, like their Waterford namesakes, they could certainly play a bit!Slip-sliding in atrocious conditions, the Blues were looking good until a moment’s lack of concentration allowed Armin Aganovic in for an opening goal on 19 minutes that the visitors scarcely deserved.
But, from then on in, Waterford were the better team and when Gavan Holohan produced a great run and a brilliant goal just before half-time, the RSC exploded.
When Dean O’Halloran got on the end of a super move to score what would prove to be the winning goal on 78 minutes, the roar was such that cats and dogs in Ferrybank went berserk and low flying gulls were temporarily disorientated.
A great start then to a new-era for Waterford FC. Man-of-the-match, Bastien Héry, just about tipped Kenny Brown for the accolade while captain, Paul Keegan, was as influential as ever. Every player performed well while big man Izzy Akinade had the fans drooling over what he might do on a dry sod. Champions Cork City await at Turners Cross on Friday.