Tom Hunt Reports
A disappointed Waterford senior football manager Benji Whelan acknowledged the superiority of the Westmeath performance following their comprehensive win over Waterford in the first round of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifier at Cusack Park in Mullingar. “We played against a better outfit who moved the ball far faster through the middle third of the field than we could. This ability showed the gulf of class really”.
Whelan was happy with the Waterford response after half-time but was extremely annoyed at the officials refusal to award Waterford what looked like a clear penalty. “We fought back well into the game in the second half but the missed decision by the officials was absolutely scandalous to be honest with you. It would have brought it back to two points and I felt we were on the front foot and they weren’t. That’s not sour grapes, that’s actual facts. Now that said we had to push on at that stage. We opened ourselves up at the back and they kicked on very, very well after that. No complaints with the way the game finished out but just disappointing not to maybe get the rub of the green. The guys gave everything they had, we could ask for no more than that, I’m happy enough with what they did”.
Waterford lost goalkeeper Darren Mulhearne to injury in the warm-up which was not the start to the game the Waterford manager wanted.
“We think he’s cracked his ankle. It was very unfortunate. We were over in Mullingar Shamrocks just warming up there and it was just an innocuous incident. The ground was absolutely perfect but whatever way he came down we think it’s broken so we had to make the change but Paidi Hunt did really well when he came in. It’s the death knell for anyone to come and be a keeper for us. That’s the ninth keeper we have in from start to finish.”
Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire gets to the ball ahead of Waterford’s  James McGrath
Benji Whelan revealed that the long serving J.J. Hutchinson was contemplating retirement and may have played his last game for the county. “He’s been a fantastic servant to Waterford football down through the years. He’s been there whenever we needed to call on him. He’s just so proactive within the group, such a leader, it would be a shame to lose him but priorities change. If it is his last game he’s been a fantastic servant.”
Th manager’s thoughts were focussed on the future as he departed from Mullingar. At the half-way stage of a two-year term Benji was optimistic despite the heavy defeat: “We feel we’ve built an awful lot in the first year. We made a good bit of progress and we intend to build on that next year. We intend to go headlong into the league campaign and hopefully we’ll be better prepared as we have a lot of work done and we’ll be in better fettle this time next year … some guys that we’ve only seen bits and pieces from are going to be stronger and fitter, have more confidence and play bigger parts next year.”.