Waterford 1-23 Wexford 1-19: A team in year four against a team in year one — that’s how it shaped up and that’s how it turned out as Waterford’s cohesiveness won them a third consecutive All-Ireland semi-final appearance.
Such analysis might appear overly simplistic but when both managers preach the same message and their players abide it’s not.
Waterford have been at this gig longer and it showed. Wexford can look back on a season of advancement but here they were coming up against a team better versed in this style. To have lost to a county who are effectively their understudies would have signalled the end of not just a season but a project.
Jack O’Connor’s goal almost with the final act of the game put a better complexion on a scoreline for Wexford but their inexperience translated itself to the seven-point margin prior to him following up on Jack Guiney’s late shot. Wexford, in Davy Fitzgerald’s opinion, had been too eager and that manifested itself in the number of frees they conceded. But they lacked focus too, their shooting and nodding off for Kevin Moran’s goal the prime examples of such.
Much, too much, will be made of how poor the spectacle was when a game without sweepers the day previous offered less value for money. Quarter-finals, even more so than semi-finals, are for winning though and neither manager was prepared to question the way they went about attempting to reach the last four. Even if the starting full-forward pairs must have wondered at times what was the point in them staying close to goal.
For Derek McGrath and co, it’s a return to Croke Park although the Waterford manager admitted he does not know if they are now in better condition than they were for the two previous trips there. Even if the occasion, the venue and the 31,753 crowd said something else, there was always going to be a lull following the emotional peaks reached in beating Kilkenny on their previous meeting, hence part of the reason why McGrath admitted to being “terrified” by the game. Yesterday was all about business for them.
Leading 1-12 to 0-10 at the break, they had played within themselves although there were some flashes of brilliance from Michael Walsh, who won three frees, two of them pointed by Pauric Mahony, and added a point. Kevin Moran was carrying on his good form from the Kilkenny game, sending over two points in the opening five minutes.
Fitzgerald, watching from a perch in the Southern Stand, moved Liam Ryan onto Walsh to quell him and it worked, but it wouldn’t be the first time Ryan was switched to dampen a fire: Maurice Shanahan’s impact in the second half also required Ryan’s attention. Wexford’s indiscipline, though, hurt them in the first period when Mahony landed five frees. Waterford coughed up almost as many but theirs were committed further out the field, Lee Chin striking over two but missing a couple as well.
Waterford led by four points on two occasions, in the 17th minute and the 20th, but Wexford rallied on the second occasion to bring themselves to within one. However, they weren’t making enough of the wind behind their backs and shots at goal were landing short as much as they were going wide.
Wexford opened up the second half with the first three scores, 18-year-old Rory O’Connor belying his tender age in helping his side to close the margin to two points. But then Austin Gleeson, who had scored a tremendous first-half point, announced himself. He won back-to-back frees, which Mahony duly converted, sent over one of his own from long distance and then, after a Jack O’Connor point, fired over his second from play in the 51st minute.
Gleeson was hit late for his troubles after that score but it restored Waterford’s five-point lead. The gap widened to six points in the 54th minute as Shanahan began to make his presence felt. Scores from Guiney and Diarmuid O’Keeffe were cancelled out by Mahony’s eighth of nine frees and Shanahan’s second point.
Tadhg de Búrca’s red card in the 67th minute, for apparently interfering with Harry Kehoe’s faceguard, dampened Waterford’s sense of triumph but they were able to send over more scores, another replacement Brian O’Halloran helping himself to a brace.
Amassing close to 40 scoring opportunities, Waterford’s return doesn’t read as negative as some might like to portray. “We’re happy to be in a semi-final,” said McGrath. “I know what’s coming. Ahead of the semi-final, if it’s Galway or Cork and they absolutely open us up and fillet us, it will be ‘Ah, sure, you can’t’… but I think it’s the optics of things at times. How things look. I think there’s a bit more to it than that. And we haven’t all the answers.
“We’re trying to play the game in a manner that suits our players, that we like, and they like. What (score) did we get today? I just did up an interesting stat – would you believe, from 2009 we have scored more than any other Waterford team in the last 10 years. And goals. I just did that in my silly little room yesterday – I have a room at home,” he smiled. “From league and championship. Just thought it was an interesting stat to throw out there.”
In the Battle of Sweep here, their brush was bigger, the bristles stronger. And if Fitzgerald is to be believed it could be enough to clear away whoever next comes in their direction.
Scorers for Waterford:
Pauric Mahony (0-9, frees); K. Moran (1-3); A. Gleeson (0-3, 1 free); M. Shanahan, B. O’Halloran (0-2 each); J. Dillon, M. Walsh, D. Fives, C. Gleeson (0-1 each).
Scorers for Wexford:
J. Guiney (0-6, frees); J. O’Connor (1-2); L. Chin (0-3, 2 frees); D. O’Keeffe (0-2); E. Moore, C. McDonald, P. Morris, A. Nolan, L. Ryan, R. O’Connor (0-1 each).
S. O’Keeffe 7; B. Coughlan 7, N. Connors 8; T. de Burca 6; D. Fives 8, S. Fives 7, C. Gleeson 7, Philip Mahony 7; J Barron 6, K. Moran (c) 9; M. Walsh 8, A. Gleeson 8, Pauric Mahony 7; J. Dillon 7, Shane Bennett 6.
Subs for Waterford:
M. Shanahan 7 for J. Dillon (45); B. O’Halloran 7 for Shane Bennett (46); Stephen Bennett 6 for M. Walsh (54); C. Dunford 6 for J. Barron (62); T. Ryan (no rating) for Pauric Mahony (70+1).
T. de Burca (red, 67).
M. Fanning 7; J. Breen 6, L. Ryan 8; S. Murphy 7; E. Moore 6, M. O’Hanlon 6, W Devereux 6; L. Chin 7, D. Redmond 6; P. Morris 6, R. O’Connor 8, C. McDonald 5, D. O’Keeffe 7; P. Doran 6, J. Guiney 6.
Subs for Wexford:
A. Nolan 6 for D. Redmond (28); J. O’Connor 8 for P. Morris (41); H. Kehoe 6 for C. McDonald (59); S. Tomkins 6 for P. Doran (64);
F. Horgan (Tipperary).
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