In Nowlan Park on Saturday evening, it felt like a celebration. Waterford were hardly a piñata but their low numbers in support suggested they are a county that has partied too hard. Spoiled by having had it so good these last 16 or so years. Wexford, on the other hand, have been starved of such occasions and milked this qualifier for everything it was worth.
That their team read the script once more helped considerably. Again, there was no sign of killer instinct from this rapidly improving side. Waterford could have been put to the sword earlier than they were, and Wexford’s wides mounted again but then nothing was going to be perfect after their bruising encounters with Clare. Very little will rein in the air of delight that permeates the county now.
“It’s fantastic for everyone,” said Liam Dunne. “They’re looking for a team to follow for a long time and they have a team now.
“But we have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of improvement to do. Against better opposition again, you can’t afford to be missing the chances that we are.
“At least we’re being put under pressure and in situations where it’s not so easy to hit a ball over the bar. It might look easy from the stand but when you’ve got fellas like those Waterford guys down in the other dressing room and the guys from Clare on your heels, it’s not so easy.”
Momentum will rightly be reasoned as one of the differences between the sides but the character shown by Wexford has to be considered too.
In the first half, Waterford sent over six points without reply between the 23rd and 27th minutes to go ahead for the first time and yet it was Wexford who went in ahead at the break, 2-9 to 0-12.
The first goal came in the 11th minute when Paul Morris took delivery of a long David Redmond ball and turned to score.
The second goal came as Conor McDonald fired to the net after Liam Óg McGovern had made the most of a Liam Lawlor fumble to set up his team-mate.
A third was registered in the 40th minute when David Redmond made a beeline for Stephen O’Keeffe’s goal, sending a rasping shot past him.
Just before it, O’Keeffe pulled off an acrobatic save from Diarmuid O’Keeffe and the weighty Wexford following in attendance cried for their men to finish off their neighbours.
Redmond’s goal put them seven ahead, but nine minutes later, they were a point in arrears. They may have switched off but Kevin Moran’s crossfield pass to provide Colin Dunford with the first of his brace of goals in the 46th minute was a majestic piece of skill.
That score was preceded by a Pauric Mahony free, the last of his seven from placed balls, and Waterford were thriving with a more direct tactic via substitute Seamus Prendergast.
It was his presence that bothered the Wexford full-back line into allowing Dunford steal behind their cover to goal again in the 49th minute.
Amid the euphoria, Waterford almost conceded a third goal straight after but Stephen O’Keeffe was again level to the strike, this time from McGovern. In the same passage of play, Morris posted a point and the sides were level for a sixth time.
Just six scores came in the final 21 minutes, Stephen Molumphy’s point Waterford’s sole offering. Wexford kept the scoreboard operator busier, Morris showing leadership in adding a couple of frees before finding himself unmarked in the 55th minute to launch his third point from play.
Molumphy’s successful effort cut the gap to two with 14 minutes of normal time remaining but Ian Byrne’s point from distance was the only score in what remained.
Stephen Bennett had a goal chance near the end but Liam Ryan stopped his shot. Waterford manager Derek McGrath rued his side’s lack of composure in the closing stages. “We had a couple of opportunities and on reflection we had a couple of point chances to peg it back. We showed a bit of naivety going for goals with seven minutes remaining.”
With so much young blood given their head, this was a season of exploration for Waterford. But for Wexford, it rolls on. “It’s games like this that will make this team,” said Dunne. “There’s no better way to prepare a team than getting games, week in, week out.
“We’ll look forward to next week now. It’s another massive challenge going down to Thurles, a fourth week in a row. We had the Leinster U21 final thrown in as well. We’ll talk about player burnout in January when there’s nothing else to talk about. If anyone wants to come down to Wexford, we’ll be able to tell them about it!”
Right now, Wexford’s story of adventure is much more compelling.
P Morris (1-6, 0-3 frees); C McDonald (1-2); D Redmond (1-0); L McGovern (0-2); P Doran, J Guiney, D O’Keeffe, P Doran, I Byrne (0-1 each).
P Mahony (0-7, 6 frees, 1 65); C Dunford (2-1); A Gleeson (0-3); J Dillon (0-2); S Walsh, S Molumphy (0-1 each).
D O’Keeffe for H Kehoe (23); W Devereux for K Rossiter (inj 28); I Byrne for W Devereux (54); G Sinnott for D Redmond (65); R Jacob for L McGovern (67).
G O’Brien for S Walsh (inj 15); S Molumphy for D Fives, S Prendergast for J Dillon (both 43); M O’Neill for P Mahony (56); S Bennett for L Lawlor (65).
C Lyons (Cork)