Waterford hurling’s period of transition, heralded by sweeping changes in panel personnel and numerous retirements during the off-season, received an unexpected push yesterday afternoon, a swift return to the league’s top flight secured.
For Wexford, last year’s summer adventure has failed to progress to spring renaissance. 8,500 patrons filed into Wexford Park in expectation of a further statement of intent from Liam Dunne’s side. Their challenge never left the runway.
Indeed, their early season report card carries few positives – home defeats to Limerick and Waterford, not to mention a scrape past Antrim on the opening weekend. Moreover, the prospects of a fifth consecutive spring in the second tier doesn’t do much to aid Liam Dunne’s regeneration project.
The game was up on the home outfit well before Kevin Foley and Liam Óg McGovern spurned goal opportunities with 19 minutes of normal time remaining. Even if either had goaled, it’s unlikely to have altered the outcome.
Such was Wexford’s lack of imagination and cohesion. Such, essentially, was Waterford’s dominance.
Derek McGrath’s charges made the short trip down the N25 with a definitive game-plan, one they executed to a tee. Stephen Bennett and Brian O’Halloran operated a two-man full-forward line, Kevin Moran expertly filling the sweeper role. The deep positioning of their half-forward line congested the middle of the field, creating an abundant of space inside.
At midfield, there was hardly a single ruck they didn’t win. Further forward, the likes of Pauric Mahony, Jake Dillon, Colin Dunford and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh were effective in utilising said space.
In defence, those with reservations about McGrath’s strong investment in youth need only look to the confident and mature performances of Austin Gleeson, Barry Coughlan and Tadhg De Búrca. The basics – hooking, blocking and closing down their opponents – each did superbly.
“There is no rocket science to it, every team is trying to keep their defence as condensed as possible. It becomes a war then out around the middle third. It sounds like I am commentating on a rugby game, but we just wanted bodies where the ball was,” said McGrath.
“We are happy with what we are doing, more happy that everyone stuck to it because it can be frustrating to watch and ruckish.”
Colin Dunford (0-2), Pauric Mahony (0-2 frees) and Stephen Bennett swapped early points with Wexford’s Conor McDonald, Ian Byrne (0-2 frees) and Liam Óg McGovern. Tell-tale signs, however, were already evident.
Wexford defenders were at odds as how to deal with the Déise set-up. At midfield, Lee Chin and David Redmond were non-existent. Full-forward Conor McDonald was eventually redeployed such was the lack of ball filtering through. He was returned to the edge of the square for the second period, but his impact was mute – well marshalled by three white shirts.
On 23 minutes, Mahony fired over the first of six unanswered Waterford points. Jake Dillon, Gleeson and three more from the stick of Mahony moved the winners 0-12 to 0-5 clear.
Ian Byrne and Liam Óg McGovern split the posts in quick succession to keep Wexford in touch. In truth, the home outfit contributed largely to their own downfall with a string of unforced errors, misplaced passes and a laissez faire approach in their half-back line.
Kevin Foley and Jack Guiney were introduced to the fray for the second period and the latter did bring about a noticeable increase in intensity. A Paudie Foley point directly upon the change of ends reduced the margin to five (0-13 to 0-8), but no closer would they come.
The unstinting work-rate of McGrath’s players, typified by Kevin Moran’s block on Eoin Moore, kept Wexford out of reach and the home side were forced to live off Guiney’s dead-ball accuracy in the final quarter – the Rathnure forward pilfering six second-half points.
Mahony (0-4 frees), Tom Devine and Jamie Barron swelled Waterford’s tally to cement a quicker return to the top tier than most had envisaged. They’re not complaining, mind you.
Scorers for Waterford: P Mahony 0-13, (0-11f); J Dillon 0-3; C Dunford 0-2; J Barron, T Devine, S Bennett, A Gleeson 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: J Guiney 0-6, (0-5f); D O’Keeffe 0-3, I Byrne 0-3f, L Óg McGovern 0-2; P Foley, C McDonald 0-1 each.
Subs for Waterford: M Shanahan for Bennett (50 mins), T Devine for O’Halloran (59), M Kearney for Dunford (66), M O’Neill for Dillon (68), S O’Sullivan for Barron (70).
Subs for Wexford: K Foley for P Doran (HT), J Guiney for Byrne (HT), H Kehoe for Redmond (41 mins), G Sinnott for Moore (48), S Tompkins for Waters (62).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).
Waterford’s run of six unanswered points between the 23rd and 31st minute moved Derek McGrath’s charges 0-12 to 0-5 ahead. They never looked back, thereafter.
Waterford’s bullying of Wexford on their own patch. Very few envisaged such an emphatic win for the visitors.
The respective subs struggling to find available space to hurl at half-time such was the hordes of young kicks pucking around.
Barry Coughlan and Tadhg De Búrca were excellent in the Waterford defence, but the nod, not for the first time, goes to Kevin Moran. Work-rate was flawless around midfield, made three superb blocks.
McGrath’s game-plan was executed superbly. Crowded out the Wexford attack, while at the other end his players were intelligent in utilising the space created by a three-man midfield and deep positioning of their half-forward line.
Gave very little change to Wexford full-forward Conor McDonald despite the rough treatment of the Waterford full-back line. Should have allowed play continue when McDonald put through Diarmuid O’Keeffe on goal early in the second-half. Colm Lyons called back the play as McDonald lost his helmet when offloading to his team-mate.
Waterford welcome Galway to Walsh Park for the quarter-finals, Wexford face Cork at a venue still to be confirmed.