The Clashmore forward, frustrated with injuries since his championship debut in 2010, hit 1-4 from play and his 45th-minute goal paved the way to victory after an understrength LIT proved sticky opponents.
“He’s a good player and lovely lad too,” noted manager Derek McGrath. “It helps when you are working with a fella that is such a nice man. He has been plagued with injuries and it’s a lovely story to see him coming back.”
LIT boss Davy Fitzgerald handed O’Halloran his big break in the Munster final replay against Cork five years ago and praised his contribution. “A few years ago, when I was manager I brought him on and played him. I really believe that guy has it if they stick with him. He changed the game, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Pa Walsh and Michael Kearney both made their competitive debuts for the hosts for whom Pauric Mahony hit 10 points. The half-back trio of Gavin O’Brien, Austin Gleeson and Walsh also caught the eye.
Considering their training schedule, McGrath was satisfied with how his team finished the job. “I was delighted with the last 10 or 15 minutes when we seemed to come strong. People mightn’t believe it but we only put a hurley in our hands for the first time, in terms of a training session, last Friday. We did no drill or touch drill or anything up to that.”
There was a mostly muted atmosphere among Déise followers for the first half as LIT subdued a sprightly start. Waterford opened up a four-point gap on two occasions. O’Halloran’s point from the sideline raised a huge cheer and that score them 0-8 to 0-4 ahead but LIT reeled them in. This year’s Fitzgibbon hosts started without Clare seniors Jamie Shanahan and Peter Duggan yet stayed close to the county team throughout. With Alan Dempsey acting as sweeper and Austin Gleeson in the same role at the other end, the students enjoyed a spell of superiority. David Reidy rattled over four frees and the busy Sean O’Brien struck two from play to draw level (0-9 apiece) before Mahony edged Waterford two clear (0-11 to 0-9) at the break.
On the resumption, a Mahony brace extended the margin to four but Fitzgerald’s side didn’t buckle. Paul Flaherty, Alan Dempsey, Reidy and O’Brien had points to tie it up again (14 points apiece). Michael Walsh and Pa Walsh recovered Waterford’s lead with scores. On 45 minutes, Jake Dillon and Michael Kearney teed up O’Halloran to crash home from close range (1-16 to 0-14). LIT reduced the damage to a goal entering the last seven minutes as Waterford spurned goal chances through Michael Kearney and Shane Bennett. Substitutes Donie Breathnach and Bennett eventually closed the contest with late points.
Next weekend’s quarter-final away to Limerick will serve as a dress rehearsal for their Division 1B opener on February 14. There will be no holding back, according to McGrath. “We are just going to go for it. We feel we are a team that needs momentum and a bit of a run so we are just going to go for it.”
Scorers for Waterford: P Mahony 0-10 (8fs); B O’Halloran 1-4; G O’Brien, P Walsh, M O’Neill, S O’Sullivan, K Moran, M Walsh, S Bennett, D Breathnach 0-1 each.
Scorers for LIT: D Reidy 0-9 (8fs); S O’Brien 0-3; P Flaherty 0-2; A Dempsey, D Dempsey, P Fitzgerald, B O’Connell 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: I O Regan; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; G O’Brien, A Gleeson, P Walsh; M O’Neill, S O’Sullivan; K Moran, T Connors, P Mahony; B O’Halloran, M Walsh, M Kearney.
Subs: J Dillon for T Connors (42); S Bennett for O’Neill (48); D Breathnach for Kearney (57); C Curran for M Walsh (68); T Waring for Mahony (71).
LIT: A Murphy (Limerick); A Dempsey (Limerick), C Nolan (Clare), D Gough (Clare); K Bennett (Waterford), B O’Connell (Limerick), W Ryan (Tipperary); S O’Halloran (Clare), M Fitzgerald (Kildare); M Gennery (Tipperary), P Flaherty (Galway), S O’Brien (Limerick); D Reidy (Clare), S McGrath (Clare), P Fitzgerald (Clare).
Subs: S Gleeson (Clare) for McGrath (31); D Dempsey (Limerick) for O’Brien (51).
Referee: J Larkin (Cork).