Waterford 2-13 (19) Laois 1-14 (17)

Míceal White, Laois, 2000

With all these jammy late goals we’ve been getting, I was beginning to wonder whether we were the Manchester United of hurling. With five wins from five league matches, yet a points difference of +18, perhaps we’re actually the Arsenal of hurling. Either way, another performance like this – like, for example, against Tipperary – and we are done for. You can talk all you like about Laois’ new attitude, new management, ‘new’ players etc etc, but if we can’t wallop this lot in a home game, we’re in trouble.

For this was a home game for the Déise. I kid you not when I say that Waterford fans outnumbered the Laois crowd by about ten to one. This can be partly explained by Laois’ U-21 footballers playing in the Leinster Championship against Meath, but it must have been terribly demoralising to the home players to see that the Blue and White hordes in the crowd were actually White and Blue hordes. The roar when it was announced that St. Declans from Kilmmacthomas had reached the final of the All-Ireland ‘B’ Colleges Hurling Championship reflected the distribution of the crowd.

Waterford started as they seem determined to finish every game – with a stack of wides. Tony Browne is particular was guilty of some criminal misses and Waterford struggled to make a firm breeze in their favour count. However, Waterford did look a class apart and when Míceal White fired home a superb goal in the 27th minute it looked very good for Waterford. Hawley deserves great credit for responding to merciless provocation from John O’Sullivan in the best manner possible, and other referees should be alerted to what looks like a possible new Laois tactic: rugby tackle every opponent and needle the combustible one.

Nine points up at half-time, and possibly more scores than wides, Waterford looked safe enough. But there is no doubt that the wind stiffened before the start of the second half and Laois utilised it superbly. Paul Flynn could have buried Laois in the first minute of the second half but his effort struck the side netting. After that it was all Laois, popping over points from all angles. And when they couldn’t get points they simply dropped the ball in around the house, a tactic which led to their goal, Liam Tynan wheeling away and slotting home a fine goal. Thankfully for Waterford the entire full-back line were on song, and James O’Connor and Tom Feeney will forgive me if I single out Sean Cullinane for special praise. What a guy.

With the gap down to three points, Waterford were there for the taking, but the game turned on three incidents. First, Donnacha Dowling walloped Dave Bennett and was sent off, easing some of the pressure. Second, Anthony Kirwan – easily our most effective forward – pounced on a Paul Flynn cross shot for a crucial goal. Finally, Laois were awarded a penalty. David Cuddy’s penalty wasn’t brilliant, but Waterford were so lethargic it wouldn’t have surprised me had it gone in. But That Man Cullinane got a stick to it, it hit the post and Tom Feeney tidied up. As the match went into injury time, Sean Cullinane once again emerged with the ball and the ref blew the final whistle after a bewilderingly short 20 seconds. Not that we were complaining. Heroics against Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork. Getting out of jail against Derry and Laois. Can’t Waterford win matches like any normal team?

Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, James O’Connor, Sean Cullinane, Stephen Frampton (James Murray), Peter Queally, Brian Flannery, Tony Browne (Fergal Hartley), Johnny Brenner (0-1), Dan Shanahan (Barry Walsh), Ken McGrath (0-1), Paul Flynn (capt., 0-7, 0-6 frees), Míceal White (1-1), Anthony Kirwan (1-1), Dave Bennett (0-2)

Laois: John Lyons, PJ Peacock, Bill Maher, John O’Sullivan (Eoin Browne; Finan O’Sullivan, 0-1), Pat Mahon, Paul Cuddy, Donnacha Dowling, Declan Conroy (0-1), Cyril Cuddy, Joe Phelan (A. Bergin), Declan Rooney (0-2), Ollie Dowling (0-1), Liam Tynan (1-0), David Cuddy (0-7, 0-3 frees), James Young (0-2, 0-1 free)

HT: Waterford 1-10 Laois 0-4

Referee: Pat Horan (Offaly)