While a ten-point winning margin was a fair reflection of Waterford’s enterprise and workrate, Laois manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett was disappointed his side hadn’t built on a decent season.
However, the home team were clearly keen to make amends for their Munster championship defeat to Cork. “We needed it – as a team, as a management, plain and simple,” admitted Waterford boss Derek McGrath.
“It was a pressurised environment, playing at home against a team I feel have the seven-man defence down to a tee in terms of how they play it, a fine team and a fine manager.
“We were very worried. The pressure of not performing in the replay (against Cork), of playing at home, the pressure of outside gossip – ‘you’re playing Laois, that’s a handy one’.
“If I had a euro for everyone who sent me ‘nice draw’ last week . . . I thought it was a very difficult draw.”
Laois came to Walsh Park with a well-earned reputation for tactical nous, but Waterford moved early to counter that, switching speedy corner-forward Colin Dunford out on sweeper Dwane Palmer.
Still, there were questions for the Deise to answer from the start. Before a minute had elapsed a Waterford defensive mix-up left Neil Foyle in for a tap-in, and Willie Hyland showed up well for Laois early on.
On ten minutes Shane Walsh goaled for Waterford after good work by Dunford, and the home side began to settle, driven forward by Padraic Mahony’s metronomic free-taking and the powerful play of Kevin Moran and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh in the middle.
The teams were level, 1-5 each, when Moran drove through the heart of the Laois defence and forced a fine double save from ’keeper Eoin Reilly before Walsh doubled home his second goal. Waterford hammered over five more points without reply to leave it 2-10 to 1-5 at the break.
The game meandered on until midway through the second half, when Waterford were 11 up, before Laois mounted a comeback. They knocked over five consecutive scores, including two good points from substitute John Purcell.
“There were times we were struggling to get into the game but in the second half we pulled it back to six points,” said Plunkett.
“But then gave away a couple of frees and missed a chance ourselves. If we’d brought that back to three or four points, who knows?”
Who knows indeed, but Waterford, with Darragh Fives and Tadhg De Burca impressing in the home rearguard, weren’t in the mood to concede the goal that might have sparked an unlikely comeback. They attacked with purpose and hit four points on the bounce to reassert their authority and secure the win.
“We were nervous in the first half especially, and made fundamental mistakes, spilling ball, that we haven’t been making all along,” said Plunkett in a sharp analysis of the proceedings from the midlanders’ perspective.
“That said, I don’t want to hide from the fact that we were a bit off the pace tonight and we got punished for it.”
For Derek McGrath, the dynamic was a little different. The Ken McGrath All-Star Challenge had to be an inspiration rather than a distraction for his players last weekend, particularly the younger members of the panel.
“We didn’t tell them not to come to it, we just said, ‘if you’re going to go then get out early’,” he said.
“We wouldn’t have said that (not to go) when it’s a man who gave everything for the county. There was huge emotion, and a sense that we owed it to him, and to everyone, in the week that was in it to do ourselves justice.”
There was. They did.
Scorers for Waterford: P. Mahony 0-11 (0-10 fs); S. Walsh 2-1; J. Dillon 0-3; G. O’Brien 0-2; D. Fives, K. Moran, A. Gleeson, C. Dunford and S. Prendergast 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: W. Hyland 0-5; N. Foyle 1-0; S. Maher (fs), R. King (fs), M. Whelan (65s), J. Purcell 0-2 each; J. Campion, C. Dwyer (f) 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, L Lawlor, P Prendergast; D Fives, M Walsh, T de Burca; K Moran, S O’Sullivan; J Dillon, P Mahony, A Gleeson; R Donnelly, S Walsh, C Dunford.
LAOIS: E Reilly; J.A. Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney; D Palmer, P Purcell; J Campion, W Hyland, S Maher; N Foyle, C Dwyer, T Fitzgerald.
Subs for Waterford: S. Prendergast for Donnelly, 30; G. O’Brien for Gleeson, 50; M. O’Neill for S. Walsh, 63; J. Nagle for O’Sullivan, 63; R. Foley for D. Fives, 68.
Subs for Laois: J. Walsh for Campion, D. Maher for Stapleton, HT; C. Collier for Palmer, 41; J. Purcell for P. Purcell, 50; R. King for Maher, 52.
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).