Waterford were the beneficiaries of the draw this time, their 29-point winning margin surpassing Wexford’s 12-point win this time last year and Clare’s 27-point mauling the summer previous.
A distant memory now is Antrim’s shock semi-final win over Wexford at this grade in 2013. The likelihood of such a scalp ever being repeated? Going on Saturday’s evidence; doubtful, extremely doubtful.
Said evidence: the Ulster champions went scoreless for the opening 18 minutes and closing quarter of an hour of this terribly one-sided fixture; Ollie Bellew’s side managed a paltry three second-half scores and their 1-8 total was bettered by Patrick Curran alone, the Waterford corner-forward finishing with 2-7.
It all contributed to the Déise sauntering into a first All-Ireland U21 final since 1992 and perhaps the stroll in the park is what the county required after the two previous weekends, punished at that, at the hands of Kilkenny. For Austin and Conor Gleeson, Stephen and Shane Bennett, Patrick Curran and Tom Devine, all of whom featured in the replayed fixture, the contrast couldn’t have been greater. .
Such was their ease in disposing of the northerners manager Seán Power was able to remove Shane Bennett a quarter of an hour in, with Austin Gleeson also withdrawn long before the finish.
“Shane had a troubled ankle – it didn’t go so well in the warm-up but we gave him a few minutes and he got a good score as well. He was delighted to play his part,” said Power.
“Austin’s shoulder’s a bit sore. We’ll have the medical team assess them straightaway and see where we are then.”
The Déise boss knew there was little to be gained from such a facile victory, but was still extremely proud of his charges for having bridged the 24-year gap to their last final appearance.
Their progress was assured as early as the first quarter, the Munster champions racking up an unanswered 2-5 before Antrim even left the grid. Tom Devine took a questionable amount of steps en-route to blasting home the opening goal 11 minutes in and Waterford celebrated a second when Antrim corner-back Eoin McManus touched a DJ Foran shot into his goal.
Saul McCaughan, provider of 1-4, had the northerners off the mark midway through the first period and while two more from the corner-forward and a point apiece from Maoi Connolly and Domhnail Nugent did marginally reduce the gap, a third Déise goal courtesy of Patrick Curran, followed by a Curran free and Foran minor, had Power’s charges 3-10 to 0-6 clear at the break.
A 32nd minute Saul McCaughan goal opened the second-half brightly for Antrim but they would add to their tally on only two further occasions thereafter. Austin Gleeson and Curran set up Stephen Bennett for goal number four, with Curran bagging his second and Waterford’s fifth on 49 minutes. The winners hit 1-10 without reply coming down the home stretch.
“We knew how bad our preparation was, this team was only pulled together in five weeks, and things in Antrim are a wee bit messy at the minute,” said losing manager Ollie Bellew.
“It’s been a tough couple of years and that cements it – it tells us where we are and what needs to be done. It’s a bit embarrassing for us.”
Surely, the county would benefit from moving their underage teams into Leinster so to end the annual ritual of being flogged in the minor quarter-final and U21 semi-final?
“I sort of try and stay out of the boardroom politics. I don’t know what the answer is, but we really need to be doing something, we need to be competing at a higher level. .”
P Curran (2-7, 0-4 frees); T Devine (1-2); Stephen Bennett (1-1); E McManus (1-0, OG); M Kearney (0-1 sc), DJ Foran (0-4 each); A Gleeson (0-2); M O’Brien, Shane Bennett, A Farrell, P Hogan, J Fagan (0-1 each).
S McCaughan (1-4, 0-3 frees); M Connolly (0-2, 0-1 free); D McMullan (0-1 free), D Nugent (0-1 each).
G Power (Dungarvan); W Hahessy (Clonea), C Gleeson (Fourmilewater), D Lyons (Dungarvan); M Harney (Bunmahon), A Gleeson (Mount Sion), C Prunty (Abbeyside); Shane Bennett (Ballysaggart), C Roche (Shamrocks); Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart), T Devine (Modeligo), M O’Brien (Ferrybank); P Curran (Dungarvan), DJ Foran (Portlaw), M Kearney (Ballyduff Upper).
P Hogan (Ballygunner) for Shane Bennett (16 mins, inj); A Farrell (De La Salle) for Roche (38); B O’Keeffe (Ballygunner) for Lyons (41); J Fagan (De La Salle) for Devine (44); D Ryan (Fourmilewater) for A Gleeson (50).
R Elliott (Dunloy); G Walsh (O’Donovan Ross), T Burns (Glen Rovers), E McManus (Cushendall); D McMullan (Loughgiel Shamrocks), P Burke (Cushendall), R McCambridge (Cushendall); C Ross (Whitehall Colmcille’s), A Delargy (Cushendall); M Connolly (Loughgiel Shamrocks), D Nugent (Lámh Dhearg), J O’Connell (Clooney Gaels); TT Butler (Ballycastle McQuillan), S McCaughan (Ballycastle McQuillan), R McKee (Loughgiel Shamrocks).
J Connolly (O’Donovan Rossa) for Ross (28 mins); R Gillan (Naomh Éanna) for Walsh (40); C McNaughton (Cushendall) for Nugent (43); C McAllister (Cushendall) for O’Connell (46); R Delargy (Cushendall) for McManus (51).
D Hughes (Carlow).