Now that was more like it. On a surface which had held up remarkably well despite the recent snow drifts, Waterford ended their losing streak at Walsh Park, ensuring they didn’t leave the venue in its current guise on a low note.
And while Sunday’s three-point win over a Clare side who’d already qualified for the League Quarter-Final wasn’t enough to avoid a Relegation Final in Cork (Páirc Uí Rinn, to be precise as the Páirc Uí Chaoimh surface rehabilitates), the mood music in Deise ranks has surely improved.
A second successive win, tagging on 24 scores in the process, was more reminiscent of the endeavour and stick work which helped the team advance to an All-Ireland Final last season.
And while this particular win is likely to be more widely recalled as the last inter-county match at Walsh Park prior to its redevelopment above all else, a sense of building momentum was unavoidable come Johnny Murphy’s full-time whistle.
Seeing Patrick Curran catch fire at this level for this first time was a particular pleasure, with his 1-13 haul proving the major talking point among a disappointing attendance of 2656.
The Dungarvan clubman, who has been identified in recent summers as the most discussed non-starter on the Deise panel, looked every inch the matchwinner he proved so regularly during his double All-Ireland winning underage career. Carrying his fine Fitzgibbon Cup form into Sunday’s match underlined his credentials and will surely, at some level, have placated the dissenting voices in the West who have wondered what Curran has to do to force his way into contention.
Another attacker from even further west, Ballyduff Upper’s Mikey Kearney, is putting both hands up ahead of the Munster Championship campaign, and his four points from play on Sunday last will have strengthened his claims to nail down the berth vacated by Shane Bennett.
Speaking of Bennetts, wing-back Kieran, who stepped in for the suspended Conor Gleeson in the All-Ireland Final, produced another intelligent 70 minutes, and also weighed in with a fine point. For the first time this season, Tadhg de Burca was overshadowed by a fellow Deise back, and with Ian O’Regan in razor sharp form between the posts, we got a reminder of how strong Waterford are from one to nine, taking custodial and defensive cover into account.
And what a pleasure it was to see the towering Conor Prunty introduced on Sunday last, after 14 months of quad muscle-related difficulties.
The Abbeyside man, identified by many as a potential long-term option at full-back, could provide Derek McGrath with an option in two, if not three different roles, over the course of the summer, and his physical power, along with that provided with Tom Devine, could prove vital additions in the forthcoming Championship.
‘Dead rubber’ and all that this match was in a purely competitive sense, the all-round performance will surely have provided Waterford support with reasons to be cheerful, regardless of the Relegation Final’s outcome.
By half-time on Sunday last, Waterford led by 1-13 to 1-10, having initially risen slowly from the blocks. Clare full-forward Peter Duggan, who demonstrated his superb sideline passing technique more than once at Walsh Park, got his side off the mark with a free after 72 seconds, while Kieran Bennett tied things up after three minutes.
Duggan converted Clare’s second free in the fourth minute, while Patrick Curran opened his account with a sixth minute free from 35 metres.
Banner wing-forward David Reidy finished off a sweeping move involving David McInerney, David Fitzgerald and Conor McGrath after nine minutes, with Cathal Malone extending Clare’s lead following a fine surge and strike barely 60 seconds later.
Ian Galvin capitalised on a rare error by Tadhg de Burca to send the white flag flying high in the 11th minute but a further free from Curran left Waterford just two points in arrears after 12.
Deise netminder Ian O’Regan comfortably handed Peter Duggan’s 13th minute goal attempt, and from the resulting attack, Conor Gleeson thundered down the inside right channel to bisect the County End uprights.
Tony Kelly, who glided around the paddock on Sunday last, mustered an immediate reply for Clare with a fine point, with Shane O’Donnell’s subsequent effort leaving three points between the sides by the quarter-hour mark.
Stephen Bennett opened his account for Waterford after DJ Foran had lost his footing in the 16th minute, but the Clare support collectively rose to celebrate Conor McGrath’s goal from point blank range following Ian Galvin’s composed assist from the left flank. They then led by 1-7 to 0-5.
And when Seanda Morey bombarded forward from the half-back line to rifle over a superb 18th minute point, matters were bubbling nicely from a Banner perspective, while one feared for the Deise.
See Sport Section of This Week’s Munster Express for full text of this story