National Football League Division Four
It’s a misfortunate that the Division Four schedule threw up Antrim and Laois in successive weekends for Waterford.
This mirrors last year’s campaign when successive weekends produced back to back outings against Westmeath and Wexford, when two defeats ended the Deise’s hopes of escaping the stickiest grade of senior inter-county football.
Following Sunday’s eight-point reversal to Antrim at an icy Carriganore, Tom McGlinchey’s men face a trip to O’Moore Park next Saturday night (7pm), to face a Laois side fresh from scoring 3-16 in Carrick-on-Shannon.
“It was hard to break down Antrim,” the Deise boss admitted afterwards. “They were well organised and they got their tackles in well but it was disappointing from our point of view. The two goals they got were definitely against the run of play but they were two goals we shouldn’t have been conceding and ultimately those goals are what cost us the game.”
And taking Carlow’s excellent start to the campaign into account, which has left three teams with perfect records after two rounds, Waterford will have to win on the road next weekend to retain any hopes of promotion.
And that looks like a hell of a task for a Deise side which certainly hasn’t lacked effort over the opening two weekends of the new season, but has, regrettably, lacked goals – having now scored six goals in their past nine NFL run-outs.
Antrim’s Paddy McAleer opened the scoring after 63 seconds, with Jason Curry converting a free to equalise four minutes later. By the ninth minute, Dylan Guiry had steered the ball over the bar off the outside of his right foot following fine approach play by Ray O’Ceallaigh and the hard-working Aidan Trihy, the only time Waterford were to lead all afternoon.
The sizeable Carriganore crowd had to wait seven minutes for the next score, after Peter Healy darted forward from right corner back to point well following a fine assist from James Laverty.
And in the wake of two off-target efforts from Jason Curry and Paul Whyte, Antrim’s Conor Murray ran largely unimpeded towards goal, offloading to Ryan Murray, who tucked the ball beneath Stephen Enright to send the visitors, 207 miles from home, 1-2 to 0-2 clear after 22 minutes.
From the restart, Waterford’s Conor Murray darted well and pointed impressively, only for Matthew Fitzpatrick to respond immediately from the next Antrim attack, with Stephen Enright’s fist preventing the ball from dipping into his top left-hand corner. Tommy Prendergast had a half chance at goal snuffed out after 25 minutes before Aidan Trihy released Joey Veale for a finely struck point to bring Waterford within two points. Antrim finished the half on the front foot thanks to a brace of Paddy McBride frees and another free, converted by Ryan Murray (1-6 to 0-4) but Paul Whyte’s stoppage time effort meant Waterford four point adrift, and kept the hosts in touch.
Jason Curry’s 38th minute free left just a goal between the sides but Antrim pulled five clear thanks to points from Sean Burke and Ryan Murray (a free). Donie Breathnach profited from a mis-placed Chris Kerr kick-out to score Waterford’s seventh point in the 46th minute but the hosts’ hopes were dealt a hammer blow moments later when captain Paul Whyte was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Jason Curry landed another free come the 49th minute and we were down to 14-a-side after Antrim’s Sean Burke picked up his second yellow card following a heavy challenge on substitute Kieran Power. But any hopes of a late Waterford resurgence were snuffed out by Antrim’s second goal after 57 minutes, as Conor Murray found the net from close range following a fine counter-attack involving substitute Kristian Kealy and Niall McKeever (2-9 to 0-8).
Paddy McBride and Ryan Murray extended Antrim’s lead in the 61st and 65th minutes as both managements emptied their respective benches in the closing moments of a match which didn’t feel like a bruiser despite eight yellow cards (two turning to red) and almost 40 blasts of Sean Lonergan’s whistle.
On the officiating, an exasperated McGlinchey stated: “The conditions were summer-like and there wasn’t a puff of wind out there, with two teams who clearly went out to play good football. I can’t talk about referees – that’s the job of the media and the people watching the matches and the assessors at the matches, but I’m blue in the face saying it at this stage: the top referees should be refereeing Division Three and Division Four games – and this isn’t sour grapes – I’ve been consistent about this. There were in and around 40 frees in that game when it should have been fast-flowing and free-flowing and then not giving frees when there should be frees. The mind boggles at times.”
With two minutes remaining, Kieran Power hooked a high ball over the before Antrim’s Conor Murray finished off a sweeping move as stoppage time beckoned.
JJ Hutchinson went for goal with one of the last scoring opportunities of the game, but his free flew over the Arena End crossbar instead. At the full-time whistle, Antrim greeted this victory with the demeanour of a team confident of an instant return to Division Three.
Waterford’s players made for the dressing room cognisant that, just two rounds in, it looks like it’s going to take something special for the white and blue to finish in Division Four’s promotion slots.