The game looked to be petering out to a drab draw, until Aidan McCarron, the flying Mary’s full-forward, was wrestled to the ground inside the square.
Cue Mark Harte. The Errigal Ciaran and Tyrone star was under strict orders not to play lest some injury rule him out of Sunday’s All-Ireland Club Football semi-final with Nemo Rangers. On the bus down to Dublin, however, he told Paddy Tally if the team got a last-minute penalty, he would take it.
So, Harte togged out and with his first touch of the ball, swept the ball majestically past Joe Hayes in the Waterford goal. Twenty seconds later, Harte caught a hopeful, long ball, turned his marker and placed the ball between the centre of the posts.
A meleé that brightened proceedings briefly midway through, and saw Kevin Coary and Kevin Coffey booked for throwing punches , meant Seamus McCormack played four minutes of injury time. With a goal between the teams, Kildare star Ronan Sweeney almost levelled with the last chance of the game, but watched his 14 yard free rebound off the crossbar.
Seconds later, McCormack blew the whistle and Harte was lauded as a three-minute the hero. How they could do with him for the Sigerson weekend in Cork, although they will be without him should Errigal Ciaran beat Nemo this Sunday.
If they are missing Harte, they will badly need Ronan Clarke. The Armagh star was out with a groin injury yesterday, but such was their plodding display that they can’t do without him for the weekend.
There were only six scores in the first-half, and one of those was a Sweeney penalty. The Kildare forward struck the ball home crisply after 24 minutes, to level the game at 0-3 to 1-0. It was Waterford’s only score in a first half where they battled a biting, powerful wind.
Although, Mary’s played with the aid of the strong breeze, they only managed three scores in the first 25 minutes, two of those from frees. When they did get the ball into the full-forward line, as they did twice towards the end with the resultant points, the speed of McCarron and skill of Ciaran McElroy caused problems. McCarron, and a free, after McElroy was fouled, converted by Liam O’Hare left Mary’s 0-5 to 1-0 ahead at the break.
The second-half was even more dire, if that was possible. Although, the wind had calmed, players were still making elementary errors. Leo Meenan’s free in the 34th minute was Mary’s last score until Harte’s last-gasp rescue act.
However, Waterford couldn’t take advantage and only scores from Tommy Mahony and Micheal Crowley kept them in the game until McCarron was fouled and Harte was sprang from the bench.
All the same, it is the first time in five years that Mary’s have made it to the weekend.
Scorers for St Mary's: M Harte(1-1, pen), L O'Hare(0-2, both frees), C McElroy, A McCarron, M Donnelly, L Meenan(0-1 each)
WIT: R Sweeney(1-1, pen, free), M Crowley, A Mulhall, T Mahony(0-1 each)
ST MARYS: S Featherstone; S Lennon, C O'Hare, P Toner, B Murray, F Donnelly, K Began; D Gordon, J Haran (capt); L Meenan, L O'Hare, C McElroy,. M Donnelly, A McCarron, K Coary.
Subs: P Hynes for Lennon (26 mins), T O'Neill for Donnelly (39 mins), J Fegan for Gordon (55 mins), M Harte for McCarron (60 mins)
WATERFORD IT: J Hayes; A McLoughlin, D Leahny, M Crotty, K Coffery, F Flynn, P Deane; D Miller, B Kelly; M Brennan, R Sweeney, A Mulhall, E Hogan, M Crowley, T Mahony.
Subs: T Donner for Flynn (44 mins), E McGrath for Hogan (51 mins), D Dillon for Mulhall (57 mins)
Referee: S McCormack(Meath)