Wexford 1-18 Waterford 3-14
Tommy Prendergast was injured in 2011 the day Waterford’s footballers chiselled out a win over London in the All-Ireland qualifiers.
That was annoying, certainly, but it wouldn’t have struck him at the time as the sort of regret that would take root and flourish given the county had achieved promotion from Division 4 the year before and beaten Clare in Munster a handful of weeks later.
It may be relative, but these were the good times for a Déise footballer and, with Prendergast only two seasons into his stint with them, he had no personal history of the endless crushing defeats and years of oppression.
No reason to suspect that this would be as good as it got for a long, long time.
“I knew no better,” the Kilrossanty midfielder said on Saturday evening.
The words rushed out of him in a wave as he fought to gather his breath and his thoughts. This despite the fact that almost ten minutes had passed since the last action in a game that delivered a first championship win for him and his county in seven years.
The vast majority of those involved here tasted the fruits of a summer win for the first time. Only two — Thomas O’Gorman and JJ Hutchinson — featured in that defeat of London over in Ruislip seven years ago. Prendergast was the only starter when Clare were bettered the summer before.
“It’s fantastic,” said Prendergast. “We work as hard, put in as much effort, as every team.
Only the county’s second win ever in the All-Ireland football qualifiers, this was fashioned against a side that they will rub shoulders against in the bottom tier of the league next year and it came courtesy of clever planning and the excellence of their execution, especially in attack.
Wexford were missing their talented but injured full-back Jim Rossiter — and, boy, how they really missed him. Waterford drilled holes in the Leinster side’s defence, rampaging down their spine and mining 17 scores.
Prendergast did an enormous amount of spadework for the first and third goals, scored by centre-back Shane Ryan and substitute Joe Allen respectively, with the impressive full-forward JJ Hutchinson contributing the other.
They were eight points to the good with normal time about to expire but the announcement of six extra minutes was followed by a Naomhan Rossiter goal for Wexford and a flurry of attacks by men in purple shirts before the final whistle delivered victory and relief for the visitors.
Of all the seven years, those half-a-dozen minutes was by far the hardest to bear.
“The thoughts going through your head are the obvious ones,” said manager Tom McGlinchey.
“Is this typical Waterford again with another hard-luck story? Wexford were going to get a run at some stage. It was squeaky bum stuff at stages but the lads showed great character to pull through.”
Character was never going to be enough.
Waterford needed players as well as characters and athletes and they had plenty with all three. All of their goals were things of beauty, team scores orchestrated by many hands, and a fair few points deserved their own slots in TV highlights packages.
This wasn’t the Waterford side we had been sold: The poor little underdogs who sought to restrict the size of the bite taken out of them by their supposed superiors by packing their defensive lines with bodies and grit and sweat.
“I’m glad you noticed that and I appreciate you saying that,” said McGlinchey.
“I would be very hurt at times. I don’t know if it’s lazy or easy analysis just to say that we have 14 lads behind the ball. Anyone can come to my training sessions or look at my board and notes. I never say that. That’s the way matches go. If my players didn’t follow attacking wing-backs or attacking corner-backs I would be laughed at. I was disappointed for the players when people said all Waterford know is to put 14 men behind the ball.
“That was the lazy analysis after the Tipperary game as well. We created two great goal chances against Tipperary in the first-half and we hit six wides, whether that was through fear or whatever, but we played good football at times against them.
“I’m glad that we put up a big score like that with that in mind.”
And so, on they go. Round two of the qualifiers await. Were they to win that then Prendergast would have some logistical gymnastics to perform given he is due to be married the same weekend as round three. Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?
Scorers for Wexford: D Shanley (0-9, 6 frees); J Tubritt and B Brosnan (0-3); N Rossiter (1-0); E Nolan and B Malone (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford: J Curry (0-6, 5 frees); JJ Hutchinson (1-2); C Murray (0-3); J Allen and S Ryan (1-0 each); K Power (0-2); T Prendergast (0-1).
WEXFORD: C Swaine; M Furlong, E Porter, C Carty; S Doyle, N Rossiter, T Rossiter; G Malone, B Malone; E Nolan, B Brosnan, J Stafford; D Shannon, D Shanley, J Tubritt.
Subs: R Frayne for Shannon and M O’Connor for Doyle (both HT); B O’Connor for T Rossiter (49); C McCarthy for Brosnan (57); D Holmes for Stafford (63);
WATERFORD: S Enright; J Mullaney, S Prendergast, J McGrath; B Looby, S Ryan, A Trihy; T Prendergast, M Curry; G Crotty, K Power, D Guiry; J Curry, JJ Hutchinson, C Murray:
Subs: J Allen for Crotty (42); T O’Gorman for Power (52); C McCarthy for Murray (74; M Cummins for S Prendergast (75).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
Wexford will be furious with themselves for the manner in which they chased goals so soon in the second-half and they had one three-pointer disallowed for a square ball six minutes from time, too. More composure and Waterford may have been in trouble.
This follows on from the underdog successes already recorded this summer by the likes of Fermanagh, Longford and Carlow. If football is indeed dying then what a glorious way for it to go.
Tom McGlinchey put in an honest and decent shift with the Tipperary footballers and took on one of the most difficult roles in the inter-county sector with the Déise. He deserved this one. So too the county’s small band of hardcore adherents to the big ball code at inter-county levels.
Ten years on from a summer when Wexford came within a whisker of an All-Ireland final and they are dumped from the qualifiers at the first hurdle and facing into a Division Four campaign with their conquerors in 2019. What a nosedive.
Waterford worked assiduously on their attacking plan in training and it paid off after an iffy start as they continuously plundered the heart of Wexford’s defence for scores.
The best defending Wexford did was their high press for Waterford kick-outs.
BEST ON SHOW
Tommy Prendergast ran himself into the ground on a burning hot afternoon. He was Roy Keanelike in driving his side forward and had a key hand in two of the goals. A day of days for the Kilrossanty midfielder.
Waterford await the luck of today’s draw for round two of the All-Ireland qualifiers. Wexford exit with the unwanted distinction of being the first county eliminated from the 2018 championship.
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