It was in such a Dickensian setting that Galway’s championship hopes came so close to an inglorious end as Waterford came within a whisker of perhaps their greatest football win of the modern era.
It was dark and gloomy by the seaside and Galway’s football reflected that. They were 23 minutes of the second half without getting a score into the stiff wind. In that time, Waterford turned around a three-point interval deficit with six unanswered scores.
Rightly, they started to dream big. They were three up with 15 minutes left and Galway, who won their first qualifier game in nine years the previous week, were struggling to get a foothold.
Another Waterford point would probably have sealed it. Instead, Sean Armstrong stopped the rot with a free 12 minutes from time, then sub Michael Martin reduced it to the minimum before Armstrong set up Michael Meehan for the decisive score, a goal six minutes from the end.
“I am so proud of them,” said Waterford manager Niall Carew. “But we are devastated. We left it behind us. We were three points up midway through the second half and we had two other chances and missed them. You have to take those chances at this level and we rued them at the end. We are gutted.
“We worked so hard since the Kerry game. I supposed people forgot we were right in the Kerry game for 40 minutes but we knew there were positives from that game and while we got a performance today, it wasn’t enough and I’m gutted for the lads,” said the Kildare native who took charge last December.
The last time Galway won successive qualifier games, they went the whole way and won the All-Ireland in 2001 but for long periods on Saturday it seemed that the latest chapter in their dismal back door exits was unfolding.
“We are relieved. We got the result we wanted, we definitely didn’t get the performance we hoped for. We managed to get out by a point, we are happy with that, we are in the pot for the next day,” said Galway manager Alan Mulholland. “But we were up against the wall at the end. With about 15 minutes left, we were three points down and playing into a stiff breeze, so we battled hard, got 1-2 in the end and managed to squeeze it out.”
Paul Whyte was the key figure for Waterford. The 21-year old hit eight points, half of them from play, in a magnificent performance.
His accuracy helped Waterford recover from a blistering start by the Tribesmen which saw Meehan shoot three points in the opening six minutes.
Whyte led the comeback along with Andy Doyle and they were in with a fighting chance when they only trailed by 0-10 to 0-7 at the break, having pulled plenty of men back behind the ball and crowded their defence.
The constant mist and rain made conditions difficult for both sides but Waterford used wind advantage well after the restart with skipper Gary Hurney landing a brace of points as Whyte continued to torment the home defence.
Waterford landed six points in a row before Armstrong finally got the home side’s first point of the half after 58 minutes after Paul Conroy got on top in the middle of the field for Galway.
Sub Michael Martin reduced it to the minimum two minutes later before Armstrong had a chance to equalise but spotted Meehan free inside and the Caltra man blasted the ball to the net from close range.
It was a cruel blow for Waterford and while Whyte reduced the margin to a point with a 45, Galway kept possession in the dying moments. The final whistle was greeted with relief from the home following in the crowd of 2,345. By the time they got to their car radios, cold and wet, they were reminded that the rest of the country was struggling to deal with the sunshine. Farmers and fishermen pay a lot of heed to the weather. Perhaps footballers should do so too.
Scorers for Galway: M Meehan 1-5 (0-1f), P Conroy 0-4 (2f), S Armstrong 0-1 (f), D Cummins 0-1, M Martin 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: P Whyte 0-8 (3f, 1 ’45), G Hurney 0-2, A Doyle 0-2, T Grey 0-1, B Wall 0-1.
Subs for Galway: K Kelly for Forde (28), M Martin for Hehir (45), T Flynn for Higgins (49), S Denvir for Doherty (52), F O Curraion for O’Brien (60).
Subs for Waterford: R Ahearne for Wall (60), D Allen for Prendergast (68).
Referee: D Fahy (Longford).
GALWAY: M Breathnach; C Forde, F Hanley, J Duane; C Doherty, G O’Donnell, G Sice; P Conroy, G Higgins; J O’Brien; S Armstrong, M Farragher; D Cummins, M Meehan, M Hehir. WATERFORD: S Enright; N Walsh, T O’Gorman, M O’Gorman; C O’Keeffe, S Briggs, C Phelan; T Prendergast, S Ahearne; T Grey, G Hurney, A Doyle; B Wall, P Whyte, L O Lionáin.