A cold and calculated performance from Waterford on a perishing afternoon in Thurles.
Even without All-Stars Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron and Maurice Shanahan along with the Ballygunner contingent, the Déise put a feeble Offaly side to the sword by 27 points in Páraic Fanning’s first NHL match at the helm. A crowd of 2,395 sheltered in the New Stand for a contest that had a challenge match feel about it.
All-Ireland minor and U21 winner Stephen Bennett was on song at full-forward. He clocked up 16 points (six from play) from 20 attempts and almost created a goal for brother Shane with an overhead handpass. In the second half, the Ballysaggart man flicked the ball over Niall Houlihan in front of the Old Stand before striking between the uprights. His 14th point generated the loudest cheer of the day: he won back possession on the ground, combined with Colin Dunford and shot over from 65 metres. DJ Foran (1-3) and Michael Kearney (0-3) also shone up front.
Offaly boss Kevin Martin didn’t hide his dismay: “W are very, very disappointed. We thought that we’d give a much better account of ourselves. It’s a journey for these players and we’ll have to get our heads around it. Waterford just blew us away.”
The Semple Stadium ground staff worked into the late hours to repair the pitch after Tipperary-Clare the previous night. Offaly elected to play with the breeze towards the Town goal but were seven points adrift after the first quarter. Stephen Bennett got five of those (four frees) while DJ Foran picked off two from play. Offaly keeper Eoghan Cahill also dived full length to deny Thomas Ryan.
After shooting four wides, Kevin Connolly registered Offaly’s first point in the 17th minute. Fanning’s charges toyed with the Offaly defence by using the crossfield ball but spurned six goal chances with Cahill keeping his side in it.
The multi-talented Cahill converted a free from inside his own half before Connolly robbed Shane Fives of possession and raised another white flag. Fives came off injured before half time as Jordan Henley sampled league hurling for the first time. The razor-sharp Stephen Bennett added two more before the interval (0-12 to 0-5).
Martin made three half time switches but it made no difference as wind assisted Waterford were ruthless. 90 seconds into the second period, Foran fired across Cahill to the far corner of the net.
They followed that up with six points in a row (four from Bennett) before Cahill nailed his second free. Dominant Déise half backs Kevin Moran and Tadhg De Burca got in on the act before the end.
There was also a debut goal for Jack Prendergast four minutes from time after another slick passing move.
Two-time All-Star Jamie Barron is close to a return according to Fanning as is Austin Gleeson. “Every one of our players could see pitch time. Austin is moving well in training and that’s a good thing for us. He might and he might not. I don’t know yet!”
Scorers for Waterford: Stephen Bennett 0-16 (10fs), DJ Foran 1-3, J Prendergast 1-0, M Kearney 0-3, T Ryan 0-2, T De Burca, K Moran, M O’Brien, Shane Bennett 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: K Connolly, E Cahill (2fs), A Treacy (1f, 1 65) 0-2 each, D Egan 0-1.
WATERFORD: B Nolan; S McNulty, S Fives, N Connors; C Prunty, T De Burca, K Moran; M Walsh, M O’Brien; DJ Foran, B O’Halloran, M Kearney; T Ryan, Stephen Bennett, Shane Bennett.
Subs: J Henley for Fives (35), P Curran for Shane Bennett (45), J Prendergast for O’Halloran (45), C Dunford for Walsh (52), S Roche for Kearney (55).
OFFALY: E Cahill; T Spain, N Houlihan, P Rigney; A Treacy, P Camon, C Taylor; L Langton, K Dunne; S Kinsella, S Dolan, E Callaghan; D Nally, C Gath, K Connolly.
Subs: E Grogan for Rigney (H-T), P Murphy for Nally (H-T), D Egan for Callaghan (H-T), J Keenaghan for Dolan (67), D Murray for Kinsella (67).
Referee: P Murphy (Carlow)