How fine are the margins, exactly?
This fine: deep in injury time at the end of this Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash in Walsh Park Galway were pressing hard for an equaliser and Waterford had their noses in front thanks to a brave run and point from sub Peter Hogan.
An equalising chance fell to Galway sub Jason Flynn and his shot looked good, but the ball struck the post and came outfield: the home side held out for the win, James Owens’s final whistle was answered with interest from the home supporters in the stand.
“It’s great, absolutely brilliant, I’m delighted to hear the Waterford roar,” said Déise boss Liam Cahill after the game.
“That’s what it’s all about, as I said from the start, when the Waterford people look out at a hard-working Waterford team I don’t think they’ll have too many complaints. Today that’s what they’re looking and they’re enjoying it and please God we’ll continue to do that.’
The 3,652 in attendance got an entertaining game, with a result that was in doubt until the very last puck of the game.
Waterford’s greater efficiency saw them over the line, with Galway left to rue their radar in a misfiring first half in particular — and the absence of Joe Canning with a tight calf to be even more particular.
For much of the game Waterford had an advantage in captain Pauric Mahony’s freetaking. The Ballygunner man knows every swirl and eddy in the breeze around Walsh Park, and he was on hand to keep his side in touch early on.
Galway were reliant on Conor Whelan as an attacking spearhead, and Tadhg Haran was reliable from placed balls, but they couldn’t quite find their range into the goal at the dressing-room end in that first half, hitting nine wides. The sides were tied at eight points apiece coming to the break when Mahony (two) and Kevin Moran had three in a row for Waterford; Galway had three wides in response, and it was 0-11 to 0-8 at half-time.
Galway restarted brightly, with two points, but four points on the trot from Waterford gave them a five-point lead. Credit Galway, they dug in, and with Cathal Mannion driving them on from midfield, they were level at 0-16 apiece with 70 on the clock.
In the four minutes of injury time, both sides had chances. Waterford took theirs: Hogan’s late winner. Galway didn’t.
Interestingly, visiting manager Shane O’Neill didn’t bite when the excitement of those closing stages was mentioned.
“I was saying to the boys inside that there’s a tendency to look at what happened in the last few minutes, with the post and so on, but the five minutes before half-time was what got us.
“We allowed them to go three ahead when it was level, we just seemed to tune out. We lost our bit of structure, which we had kept fairly well for most of the first half. That seemed to be the difference in the end.”
The pluses on the Waterford side included game time for Austin Gleeson and Jamie Barron, said Cahill: “There’s nothing like matches. These guys are coming back from injuries and are training but there’s nothing like a few matches to see where they’re at. They’ll improve from today.”
Shane O’Neill saw positives for the long trip west: “It could have (gone away from us), a few of the lads looked out on their feet and we were five points down, but they dug in and drove on. And we could have won it. One of the things coming in here was we wanted to create as competitive a squad as we could. We’re on the right road to creating that for the Championship.”
To that end O’Neill was happy with debutants Conor Walsh, Evan Niland and Shane Cooney— the last-named was particularly good at centre-back, but the centrality of Joe Canning to the maroon cause endures.
Before the game, when it was announced that Canning would not be playing, there was a crackle and buzz among the Waterford supporters, clearly energised by the suddenly increased possibility of victory.
That was sketched out in realtime by the unfolding narrative. Within the Galway attack, while Conor Whelan couldn’t be faulted for effort, he lacked support: late on, when he moved outfield to act as playmaker, it removed the biggest Galway threat from the danger area.
In the white and blue corner, Liam Cahill has been on the road too long not to notice what his side need to work on. Too often Galway won the (depressingly frequent) rucks that developed around the middle of the field, and a touch more composure from the visiting forwards would have silenced the roar in Walsh Park at the final whistle.
Cahill’s side is taking shape nicely, however. Austin Gleeson saw plenty of ball as he sat deep, and Jamie Barron got through a lot of work around the middle of the field, though he was nominally the centre-forward. Perhaps a fluid approach to positioning would get the best out of both men in the Waterford colours.
The Waterford manager will also have noted the return from Billy Nolan’s long puck-outs.
With the modern onus on retaining possession the short restart is in vogue, but Nolan’s booming deliveries caused chaos in the Galway defence when he opened his shoulders: one of the game’s few goal chances fell to Stephen Bennett after one of those puck-outs, for instance.
Why did Waterford not go long every time? Well, even in springtime summer casts a shadow, and Cahill may want to retain the element of surprise with Nolan’s deliveries. The margins are even finer in the championship, after all.
P. Mahony (8 frees, 1 65)(0-8); J. Fagan (0-2); S. Bennett, A. Gleeson (free), K. Moran, P. Hogan, C. Lyons, J. Barron, P. Curran (0-1 each).
C. Whelan (0-4); T. Haran ( frees) C. Mannion (0-3 each); B. Concannon, E. Niland (frees) (0-2 each); S. Loftus, S. Bleahane (0-1 each).
B. Nolan, S. Fives, C Prunty, S. McNulty, C. Lyons, C. Gleeson, K. Moran, A. Gleeson, P. Mahony (c), N. Montgomery, J. Barron, J. Fagan, J. Prendergast, S. Bennett, P. Curran.
P. Hogan for Curran (HT); MJ Sutton for C. Gleeson (blood 58-82); MJ Sutton for Montgomery (62); D. Hutchinson for Bennett (68).
J. Skehill, D. Morrissey, G. McInerney, S. Loftus, P. Mannion (c), S. Cooney, F. Burke, C. Mannion, A. Touhy, N. Burke, B. Concannon, T. Haran, S. Bleahane, C. Whelan, C. Cooney.
S. Linnane for P. Mannion (inj, 18); J. Flynn for Bleahane (44 ); C. Walsh for C. Cooney (50); E. Niland for Haran (57); TJ Brennan for Burke (65).
J. Owens (Wexford)
Thegame in 60 seconds
Peter Hogan’s match-winner was a crucial score for all the obvious reasons, but it was a fitting microcosm of Waterford’s performance. The substitute had a lot of work to do when he gained possession but he took on his man, drove forward and finished well to get his side over the line.
There was a moment in the first half when Jamie Barron came onto the ball, killed it on his hurley and flicked it sideways to the onrushing Neil Montgomery, who carried it upfield before playing Callum Lyons in for a point. Barron’s execution had the crowd purring.
Liam Cahill started Austin Gleeson and Jamie Barron, and both players were central to Waterford’s win. Both hit points but their experience in the centre was crucial to Waterford establishing the lead they maintained late on for the win.
Galway were driven by Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan, while Waterford were well served by Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron. Not for the first time, though, Pauric Mahony was the difference for the home side.
“Iarlaith Daly was involved with his Freshers side in UCC during the week,” said Liam Cahill.
“He’s a very young chap, we just wanted to be careful because we had a heavy week of training. Jake (Dillon) picked up a bit of a quad injury and that’s going to take another 10 or 12 days, Kieran Bennett is still coming back from injury as well.
“Darragh Fives is also carrying a bit of a knock so hopefully over the next month things will really start to take shape.”
“He (Joe Canning) had a tight calf so we said we wouldn't take a risk,” said Shane O’Neill. “He didn’t travel.”
James Owens of Wexford handled the game well, applying that rarest of elements, common sense.
Galway host Cork next weekend, while Waterford travel to Tipperary.