A child at half-time but thankfully found, one of Wicklow full-forward Seanie Furlong’s teeth and Waterford’s lead in the dying seconds when Wicklow corner-back Alan Byrne slotted over a super point off his right boot to send the game into extra-time where a fitter Wicklow pushed for victory.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alan Byrne come past the halfway line,” said a relieved Wicklow manager Harry Murphy afterwards when asked about his side’s unlikely saviour.
The Rathnew man knows full well how fortunate his charges were to emerge with a win from Aughrim after 14-man Waterford had bossed the proceedings following Gary Hurney’s sending off for an off the ball incident with Wicklow’s Anthony McLoughlin after 26 minutes.
“Obviously we’re delighted with the result but it looked dodgy there for a while. Our second-half performance was brutal,” added Murphy.
At the same time Waterford manager John Owens was talking quietly to his heartbroken charges. From outside the closed door at least five hearty and respectful rounds of applause sounded before the tall, powerfully built bainisteoir emerged.
“Another hard luck story,” said Owens about the result. “I’m just very disappointed but I’m very proud of the boys.”
In truth he wasn’t far off the mark. The Waterford men’s bravery and classier play throughout the 70 minutes did deserve more than what they ended up with but despite this it is they who have reached the end of the road for 2012.
The Déise men bagged the opening two scores of the game through the Hurney brothers before John McGrath replied. The Wicklow full-forward line would get little change out of their markers especially Austin O’Malley and Tony Hannon who would not return to action after the opening half.
Patrick Hurney, Wicklow’s torturer-in-chief during the league game earlier in the year and Mark Ferncombe added two for the Déise as they began to lead the home side up the garden path.
Furlong offered hope for Wicklow and moments later Hannon added a free to leave a point in it but Patrick Hurney lofted over a superb point from well out the field.
Wicklow were handed a lifeline when Gary Hurney was then sent off. However, from here on in Waterford got on top.
Paul Whyte dropped over a free before Patrick Hurney gathered a lovely ball from Mark Ferncombe and slotted over. Hannon made it 0-07 to 0-04 and a forgetful eight minutes of aimless football followed until the half-time whistle.
A lengthy break saw little Sean Murphy become separated from his dad Ollie in the crowd but thankfully the pair were reunited as both teams returned to the field.
And before Sean’s eyes had dried he witnessed Wicklow score 1-3 without reply, Darren Hayden, John McGrath and substitute Joey Kelly bagging the points while substitute, the lofty Conor McGraynor, hit a lovely low shot past Stephen Enright.
And then back came the Déise to boss the midfield. Paul Whyte, Shane Briggs and JJ Hutchinson got them back level and Whyte hammered a ball off the post. McGrath replied for Wicklow with a 45 while Ferncombe and Whyte gave the tiny Waterford support something to shout about with two more sweet scores.
And then up popped Wicklow corner-back Alan Byrne right at the death after Wicklow had wasted several chances to draw level and send the sides into extra-time.
From here Wicklow never really looked back. Waterford battled to the end but the home side looked fitter and from McGraynor’s wonderful opening score after 35 seconds to a well-worked score from midfield war horse James Stafford at the end, the result was never in doubt.
For Wicklow it’s a case of stumbling on, while Waterford headed south wondering where it all went wrong.
Scorers for Wicklow: C McGraynor 1-2, J McGrath (1 45), J Kelly 0-3 each, S Furlong 0-2 (1f), T Hannon 0-2 (1f), A Byrne, D Hayden, N Mernagh, N Gaffney, J Stafford 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: P Hurney 0-5, M Ferncombe, P Whyte (2fs, 1 45) 0-3 each, G Hurney, JJ Hutchinson, T Grey, S Briggs 0-1 each.
Subs for Wicklow: Gaffney for S Byrne (blood, 32), C McGraynor for O’Malley (35), J Kelly for Hannon (35), N Mernagh for Burke (67), N Gaffney for Hayden (69), D Woods for J McGrath (82), P Dalton for Healy (83).
Subs for Waterford: C McGrath for Ó Lionáin (61), Tadgh Ó hUallacháin for Hutchinson (72), J Veale for G Hurney (sent off), Eamonn Welsh for Briggs (80); A Brophy for P Hurney (86).
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry)