Waterford 4-13 (25) Dublin 0-12 (12)

Blame Bernard Dunne. Last year, Dublin were able to pack Waterford off to his bout while they retired to bed well before the shipping forecast. Now that Bernard has hung up his gloves, Waterford were able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. If Brian Cody dreams he can beat us he better wake up and apologise!

Okay, not quite. But the experience of Clare last year, who were relegated before they even knew what had happened, shows that it’s important to get those points in the bag. Offaly and Limerick are the counties who are most obviously vulnerable but you wouldn’t want to be going in to either of those games having to win – particularly the latter with their Point To Prove. That fear should be gone now (famous last words).

It wasn’t that unfamiliar a Waterford lineup, with only Liam Lawlor and Tomás Connors being completely unknown to me. This is not a good thing because you look at several of the team and think that yeah, you can hurl all right, but you’ve been around the block a few times now without ever looking like you truly belong. Could any player make a place his own in the absence of the heavy hitters?

Not that you’d be able to tell due to the helmets, ho ho. In truth, they weren’t anywhere as near an impediment to identifying the players as I expected. Most players, and nearly all the youngest ones, have being wearing them for years. As my crummy camera testifies the head of a player is a pinprick at the distances we generally see them and it seems that after all these years of watching that the gait of a player is much more important in terms of identification. A relatively trivial point in the debate over helmets, but pertinent all the same.

Waterford got a lift right from the off with a free. Only one point, and simple enough for Maurice Shanahan. But the traumas we’ve endured over the years with freetaking has been, well, traumatising and I’ve invested a lot in the notion that Shanahan the Younger will be as reliable as a Shefflin or a Kelly (Tipp flavour). Today definitely represented a return on that emotional investment. Dublin got the first point from play then Shanahan notched another free before Waterford scored the first goal. I’m a big believer in getting the ball in to the danger area in the most direct manner possible – none of this short puck-out nonsense, which we’ll get back  to in a moment – but there’s a time and a place for everything and when Kevin Moran gathered the ball around the halfway line it was an opportunity to put the head down. He bulldozed towards the danger area then handpassed inside to Gary Hurney who turned and smacked a bouncing shot past Gary Maguire. It wasn’t the most purposeful shot ever seen but when taking a penalty you’re told to hit the ball into the ground so in that sense it was perfect.

It was way too early to start panicking, but in retrospect it looks like Dublin panicked. On a few occasions they fired the ball into the corner between the City End and the stand only for it to trickle out of play. There were some soft wides, a goal scoring opportunity that while well saved by Clinton Hennessy was sent straight at him, and another one-on-one which went so badly wide that you even down by the Keane’s Road End could see the goalie waving it out.

We seemed to be giving up a lot of chances while not creating too many of mine. But, again in retrospect (fatalism doesn’t permit such thoughts at the time) we were taking chances. We didn’t nail everything – James Murray missed an easy chance, Tomás Connors was caught in three minds about whether to pass, go for goal or take his point and ended up doing none of the above, and Maurice Shanahan gave us all a hoot with a rampaging run down the stand side which drifted limply wide. But the fact that those incidents were memorable showed how efficient we had been with our chances, Shanahan sending over a couple of 65’s and Kevin Moran getting one cracking point from way out on the sideline. Had anyone else been seven points up at half time you’d be saying that they were playing within themselves.

With both Offaly and Limerick doing well in matches they were expected to be stuffed in, there would be extra pressure on this result. And Waterford duly eased the pressure early on, getting the first point then scoring a goal that will give Antony Daly nightmares. Having crowded out the initial chance, the Dublin defence were drawn to the ball like moths to a flame allowing Hurney to knock the ball across goal. Shane Walsh’s dandelion-chopping shot was so ostentatious that I was convinced a free-out had been given. But a goal it was. Eleven points up early in the second half. What a cushion.

At the risk of labouring the point, neutrals would have looked at Waterford and seen a team cruising. There were few enough neutrals in Walsh Park though, and the fretting as Dublin dominated possession in the third quarter and began to reel Waterford in was contagious. A flurry of substitutions from Dublin, so numerous that the PA was struggling to pronounce ‘twenty-nine’, was bound to shake things up and a goal at this stage would have really put the wind up Waterford. But the heart-stopping moments were almost all self-inflicted. Careless frees were given away, a simple dropping ball was gathered by Clinton Hennessy only for him to mis-hit the ball as he attempted to underhand-bat it away. Then he hit a short puckout straight down the throat of a Dub on the Waterford 45. Why oh why do teams persist with this tactic? You’re doing well if you gain twenty metres and the chances of a clanger increase exponentially, which is exactly what happened here. Thankfully Dublin couldn’t make anything of it but you couldn’t see a Kilkenny or Tipperary forward doing anything but drilling it back over the black spot.

The killer blow for Dublin looked at the time like a literal killer blow. A clearance from Waterford saw Jamie Nagle attempt to double on it to keep it in play and clobbered Alan McCrabbe in the process. The oooh from the crowd spoke volumes and I thought that Nagle was lucky not to be sent off, although the lack of anger from anyone on the Dublin panel suggested it wasn’t as brutal a swing as it looked. Not that that would have been much consolation to McCrabbe who was in bad enough a state the ambulance had to be brought to him rather than carry him to the ambulance. Thankfully it looks like it was only (ahem) severe bruising, especially as all kinds of grim thoughts would have run through minds as the ambulance sped off to Ardkeen. Get well soon, Alan – we need you back so Dublin can take other teams down.

With McCrabbe went any burgeoning Dublin recovery. Not long after the Dublin defence went awol and Stephen Molumphy, his bulldozer style recognisable from any distance, raced through to lash in goal number three and any fight oozed out of Dublin. Another goal seemed almost inevitable and it came in the shape of Kevin Moran. At the top of all this I expressed the concern that few of the recent crop have staked out a reliable claim. Moran has had more positions than the Kama Sutra but a score of 1-5 from play is tremendous at any level. Fingers crossed that this isn’t an outlier.

I really didn’t expect much from Waterford in this game. Dublin’s hurling star has risen to the point where a noteworthy footballer like Shane Ryan can throw his lot in with them, and they can’t afford to treat the League with disdain if they are to sustain that. For a Waterford team shorn of legends like McGrath, Browne, Kelly and Mullane to beat them out the gate is very satisfying. Maybe, just maybe, a hard winter getting those tractors over the sand dunes is going to pay off.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Jerome Maher, Liam Lawlor, Noel Connors, Declan Prendergast, Michael Walsh, James Murray (Shane Fives), Jamie Nagle (0-1), Richie Foley, Maurice Shanahan (0-6, 0-3f, 0-2 65), Kevin Moran (1-5), Tomás Connors, Shane Walsh (1-0; Tomás Ryan ), Gary Hurney (1-0; Martin O’Neill), Stephen Molumphy (capt, 1-1)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Niall Corcoran, Tomás Brady, Óisín Gough, Stephen Hiney (capt), Ronan Fallon, Maurice O’Brien (Michael Carton), John McCaffrey, Joe Boland (David Curtin), Peter Kelly (Shane Ryan), Liam Rushe (0-1), Shane Durkan (0-1), David Treacy (0-3), Kevin Flynn (0-1; John Kelly), Alan McCrabbe (0-5, 0-4f; Paul Ryan, 0-1)

HT: Waterford 1-10 (13) Dublin 0-6 (6)

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)