WATERFORD and Galway provided an enthralling spectacle for the 11,000 attendance at yesterday’s All-Ireland qualifier in Walsh Park, Waterford.
It was high octane hurling from first to last and Waterford squeezed home at the end of a rip-roaring contest, but the Decies shot 19 wides to Galway’s seven.
Many of those misses fall into the "inexplicable" category, but that wayward shooting was the only criticism of an excellent Waterford performance.
Galway began the game in the more wasteful manner, shooting five wides within as many minutes of the start but then Waterford took over.
"It’s a worry no doubt, and something we’ll have to work on," team manager Justin McCarthy said.
"On the other side of the coin we are creating the chances and if we can manage to turn them to good account we will provide anyone with a decent challenge."
With their place in the All-Ireland quarter finals now virtually assured, none of the other All-Ireland contenders will take the Waterford threat lightly.
"Can we put it all together on the same day?" pondered McCarthy, "that is the trick of the trade, but if we can then we have a definite chance."
Galway played the last 21 minutes a man short following the dismissal of midfielder David Collins in the 49th minute for his second yellow card offence in five minutes, and team manager Conor Hayes believes that refereeing decision may have cost them the spoils.
"We were getting our act together when our man was sent off and the decision definitely upset us," said Hayes. "I thought the second booking was very harsh, given to him for looking crooked at Dan Shanahan. It was a harsh decision and for us a very costly one."
Early on Galway looked the sharper, though they fell behind to a first -minute point from the flying John Mullane. David Forde landed a fourth- minute Galway equaliser, but from then on there was never more than a puck of the ball between the sides and they were level on an amazing 10 occasions before Galway retired at the break a solitary point to the good at 0-14 to 0-13.
Many of those 27 points were out of the top drawer, with scores by Eoin Kelly, Derek Hardiman and Damien Hayes especially memorable. Goal chances were few and far between, with Michael Walsh denied by a super stop from goalkeeper Liam Donoghue in the 10th minute.
There was no let-up on the turnover, and inside 30 seconds Waterford net-minder Clinton Hennessy made a great save from Richie Murray. It was the only noteworthy contribution from the full forward on a day when he was completely outplayed by the magnificent Tom Feeney, who edged out Tony Browne and Declan Prendergast for the man of the match accolade.
The dismissal of midfielder Collins was followed by Ken McGrath points from 65s’, but it was back to the minimum by the 51st minute when team skipper Paul Flynn came in from the subs’ bench.
Four minutes later a flash of Flynn magic settled the issue as he crashed a 20-metre free to the net and widened his side’s advantage to four points.
Dan Shanahan, winning more and more vital possession, extended the Waterford lead with a brace of great points in the 59th and 62nd minutes only for Damien Hayes to throw Galway a lifeline a minute later with a cracker of goal that narrowed the deficit yet again to two points.
The Waterford response was telling. Bennett rifled over a prodigious point on 65 minutes, Eoin Kelly (his fourth) went even better with arguably the point of the game, and when Michael Walsh also found the range, Waterford’s lead was back to a seemingly safe five points.
Ger Farragher (free) and Mullane exchanged points and with Galway throwing everything into a desperate last throw of the dice, Feeney twice came to the rescue with match-winning clearances but Galway just wouldn’t accept defeat.
In the dying seconds Farragher’s free was scrambled to the net by substitute Cathal Connolly, but it was too little too late.
Scorers: Waterford: D Bennett (0-7, 0-6 frees); E Kelly (0-4); J Mullane (0-4); K McGrath (0-4, 0-3 65s); P Flynn (1-0, f); M Walsh (0- 2); D Shanahan (0-2); S O’Sullivan, T Browne (0-1) each. Galway: D Hayes (1-4); G Farragher (0-7, 0-5 f); D Forde (0-3); C Connolly (1-0); F Healy (0-2); A Kerins, A Keary, D Hardiman, N Healy (0-1) each.
WATERFORD: C Hennessy; D Prendergast, T Feeney, E Murphy; T Browne, J Murray, B Phelan; K McGrath, D Bennett; D Shanahan, E Kelly, S O’Sullivan; J Mullane, M Walsh, E McGrath.
Subs: P Flynn for O’Sullivan (51); J Kennedy for Bennett (68); C Coffey for Browne (70).
GALWAY: L O’Donoghue; D Joyce, T Óg Regan, O Canning; D Hardiman, S Kavanagh, David Hayes; F Healy, D Collins; G Farragher, D Forde, A Keary; Damien Hayes, R Murray, A Kerins.
Subs: N Healy for Murray (46); D Tierney for Kerins (50); G Mahon for David Hayes (55); C Connolly for Keary (56).
Referee: S McMahon (Clare).