Waterford 2-17 Laois 1-13
DOGGED and determined Laois made Waterford work harder for the victory spoils than most pundits had predicted in a competitive All-Ireland hurling qualifier at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, on Saturday.
There was no doubting the Decies superiority but a seven-point margin of defeat hardly reflects the strength of the Laois challenge which only capitulated in the closing quarter of an hour when the outstanding Michael Walsh’s goal put the game beyond the midlanders’ reach.
It was fitting too that Walsh should be the scorer of that decisive second Waterford goal on a day when he illuminated a rain-sodden afternoon with a virtuoso display. To the surprise of many Walsh again started at full-forward, but it was his switch outfield after 20 minutes that gave him the freedom to parade his array of skills and ultimately to plot the Laois downfall.
"In every game different players impose their will on the proceedings", said Waterford manager Justin McCarthy. "Today it was Michael Walsh who gave a class display".
The Deise boss was relieved to have this game "out of the way", clearing the path for the All-Ireland quarter final in two weeks time.
"We got a really competitive game from Laois today and I would expect that will stand us in very good stead for that quarter final game", McCarthy said.
For a time, however, the chance of a major upset was a realistic one as Laois tore into the red-hot favourites. Dave Bennett’s opening point was quickly neutralised by a fine score from excellent midfielder Joe Phelan, and goalkeeper Patrick Mullaney provided the side with another uplift when he denied Dan Shanahan a goal with a superb sixth-minute save.
Twice more in that opening half Mullaney came to the rescue with wonderful saves from Walsh and Eoin McGrath, but he sustained a nasty facial injury in keeping out that latter effort and had to be replaced.
With James Young displaying his point scoring ability from play and frees Laois remained in touch in the opening quarter before Walsh’s switch outfield gave Waterford a definite grip.
Walsh, Bennett, and Eoin McGrath eased their side into a double scores lead, 0-8 to 0-4, by the 23rd minute.
Inside seven minutes Laois were level, inspired by Damien Culliton’s goal in the 29th minute for which defender James Murray must share a fair measure of culpability. Sixty seconds later Young rifled over the equaliser and Laois were on a roll.
"I thought then that we might really rattle them", manager Dinny Cahill said. "To their credit Waterford steadied, the sign of a good side. Still we had plenty of chances, didn’t take them, and we can have no argument about the result even if the margin is flattering to Waterford".
The Decies finished the half strongly with Bennett (free) and, Walsh (2) tacking on the points that gave them an 0-11 to 1-5 half-time cushion.
Waterford displayed a far great purpose and commitment level on the turnover. Mullane’s goal in the 41st minute opened up a five-point gap and when Walsh widened it still further with one of the points of the game they looked poised to win with ease.
Laois responded with a brace of points to give Waterford a timely reminder they still had work to do.
Further points from Young and Fitzpatrick left them just three behind, 1-14 to 1-11, with 14 minutes remaining. It was a time for cool and calm in the Waterford camp, and how fitting that Bennett with a pointed free and Walsh with a goal of real quality were the duo to kill off the Laois challenge.
Dan Shanahan too had been winning more possession and putting it to good use, and though not among the scorers himself his contribution overall was an important one.
Waterford finished the scoring with points from Seamas Prendergast and Bennett (free).
Scorers for Waterford: M. Walsh(1-5); J. Mullane(1-3); D. Bennett(0-6, 0- 4 free s); E. McGrath(0-1); K. McGrath(0-1, "65''); S. Prendergast(0-1).
Laois: J. Young(0-8, 0-6 frees); D. Culliton()1-0); J. Fitzpatrick(0-2); J. Phelan(0-2); S. Dollard(0-1).
WATERFORD: C. Hennessy; J. Murray, K. Moran, E. Murphy; T. Browne, D. Prendergast, B. Phelan; K. McGrath, D. Bennett; D. Shanahan, E. Kelly, S. O’Sullivan; J. Mullane, M. Walsh, E. McGrath.
Subs: A. Kearney for Murphy, inj (22 mins); S. Prendergast for O’Sullivan (32 mins); J. Kennedy for Kelly(44 mins); S. Molumphy for Murray(52 mins).
LAOIS: P. Mullaney; B. Campion, P. Cuddy, J. Walsh; C. Healy, P. Maher, M. McEvoy; J. Phelan, J. Fitzpatrick; T. Fitzgerald, J. Young, S. Dollard; D. Culliton, M. Rooney, D. Carter.
Subs: T. Doran for Mullaney, inj (32 mins); G. Delahunty for Carter (35 mins); S. Dyer for Dollard (49 mins); P. Russell for Fitzgerald (69 mins).
Referee: E Morris (Dublin).