Sit up and take notice, roared Waterford on Saturday afternoon, Liam Cahill’s charges providing a timely reminder of what this team is capable of.
From limp and lethargic in their opening two championship bows, Waterford were reborn in Thurles.
From afterthoughts and also-rans in the conversation concerning Liam MacCarthy and where the silverware may head next month, Waterford are now the form team among the four quarter-finalists.
From having been widely regarded as the better draw this day last week, are Tipperary and Dublin now privately hoping to avoid a purring Déise in the morning’s quarter-final pairings.
From a Waterford perspective, recovery, more so than the identity of their quarter-final opponents, is the chief focus in the early part of the week. The tank was emptied several times over on Saturday and successfully returning to those heights this weekend will be a task of the highest order. Consider also that this weekend will be Waterford’s third on the go, whereas their opponents sat contently in the shade over the weekend.
“Today is brilliant, but it will count for nothing if we don’t recover and back it up next weekend, and that is the challenge I have,” said Cahill.
Correct on all fronts, Liam. Having already dealt with his latter point, let’s now look at the former.
Waterford were indeed brilliant on Saturday. In fact, for the first 54 minutes, they were sensational. When referee Seán Stack halted play for the second water break, 14-man Waterford were 1-25 to 0-12 in front.
Dominant right from the off, Waterford’s supremacy was not reflected in a false 0-9 to 0-7 scoreline at the first water break. The Déise rectified this in the second quarter, a period they won 1-9 to 0-2.
Passage after passage of sublime, power-packed hurling from Cahill’s men delivered seven unanswered points between the 13th and 25th minute to move Waterford into a double scores 0-14 to 0-7 advantage.
Galway, devoid of any semblance of energy, had no answer to Waterford’s pace, their direct running in the middle third, and the sheer intensity of their play. The 1-18 to 0-9 interval scoreline told as much.
Waterford's goal on 32 minutes was a piece of art, Dessie Hutchinson and Patrick Curran combining to send Jack Fagan through. Directly following this was an Austin Gleeson sideline cut straight between the Galway posts. Waterford could do no wrong.
Their half-back line of Calum Lyons (0-2), Shane Bennett (0-1), and Kieran Bennett (0-2) scored more from play in the first half than the four white flags managed by Galway across the opening 35 minutes. They formed one-third of Waterford’s nine first-half scorers. Dessie Hutchinson was the sole member of the starting front six not to write his name on the scoresheet but he did an amount of assist work.
Not even Conor Gleeson’s red card at the beginning of the second half for a challenge on Joe Canning at the end of the first threw them off stride, their lead extended to 16 with 16 minutes of regulation time remaining.
Then came the Galway charge.
Cathal Mannion, switched from midfield to the inside line, and sub Jason Flynn, supplied the goals as Galway hit 2-8 to their opponents’ solitary white flag between the second water break and the end of the regulation 70 to bring Shane O’Neill’s charges within three of the Déise, 2-20 to 1-26.
Waterford sub and championship debutant Michael Kiely ended their 13-minute wait for a score two minutes into injury-time, with Stephen Bennett adding a brace thereafter to shove their lead back out to six.
Flynn rattled home his second goal to again make it a one-score game, but no closer could Galway come.
So crucial were Waterford’s four injury-time points, their composure at the finish every bit as impressive as their dynamism and directness in the first half.
For Galway, this was the county’s poorest championship offering in a very long time. It was a toothless effort from players and management up to the 54th minute.
Midfield and the half-forward line had next to no impact on proceedings, meaning personnel changes were required as early as the 26th minute. They could have been made even sooner.
Waterford players time and again tore unchallenged down the flanks, with Galway’s frustrated half-backs finding themselves repeatedly outnumbered.
Joe Canning’s haul of 0-9 took him past Henry Shefflin to become hurling’s all-time championship scorer with 27-485 (566). A fine individual achievement on an otherwise dispiriting day for the Tribes.