Waterford 1-19 (22) Offaly 1-16 (19)

It’s hard to take RTÉ’s John Kenny . . .

. . . seriously as a sports reporter, because whenever I hear his name it conjures up image of Jon Kenny . . .

. . . who while being a man worthy of great admiration does, when thinking about the GAA, lead inevitably to . . .

So poor John (emphasis on the aitch) and I were off on the wrong foot as RTÉ’s reporter on this game, which he compounded when they went over to him midway through the half by waxing lyrical about how cracking a game it was. Eh? It wasn’t totally awful, but ‘bitty’ would be the most polite term you could use to describe the stop-start affair up to that point.

The old chestnut about the quasi-obligation of referees to ‘let the game flow’ reared its ugly head here (can a chestnut rear its head?) as John Sexton whistled up for just about everything. Yet it was hard to pinpoint occasions when the ref got it wrong. In truth, he probably let a few seemingly obvious fouls go. In the second half he would miss a blatant body check on Kevin Moran about thirty metres out, an incident from which Offaly swept up the field and scored a point. In Waterford’s very next attack he evened things up with a soft free – naughty naughty! With all the frees, the game was reduced to a display of marksmanship between Eoin Kelly and Shane Dooley and it was hard at this point to see where John was getting his entertainment from.

There was some good hurling, the lack of wides from either side being noteworthy. Seamus Prendergast sent over two marvellous points, which might explain a hissy fit later on in the game, but generally it was hard for either side to get into their rhythm. Waterford seemed to be on top in the early exchanges, scooting out into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead, but Offaly reeled them in and the teams / freetakers swapped points with monotonous regularity for the remainder of the half. There were precious few goal scoring opportunities as both sides seemed completely incapable of getting the ball into their full forward lines. With the wind in Offaly’s favour in the second half, things were looking grim at the break despite Waterford’s one point lead.

But maybe John Kenny’s neutral status meant he could see that a tight game was building up to a tight finish and that the game would open up as the teams became more ragged in pursuit of victory, for that is what happened in a much improved second half. Waterford had – gasp! – some goal chances, James Dempsey making a point-blank save from Kevin Moran when perhaps Moran should have done better after some good build up work from Maurice Shanahan who was really getting in to his stride. Offaly were now putting greater distance on their clearances and while Waterford were competing well under the high ball they were woeful in the breakdown and in really driving the ball out of defence, Eoin Murphy in particular being grateful when one clearance was easily intercepted but the shot put wide. Offaly moved two points clear sufficiently early in the half that you feared they were going to run away with it.

Changes were going to need to be made, and Dan Shanahan seemed the most obvious one to be replaced as he struggled to make an impact. Not once did he win the ball cleanly, his best contributions being when he spoiled the possession allowing the likes of Thomas Ryan to race on to it. It was from one such break that Waterford stole a goal, Ryan bearing down on goal only to be well hooked but he knocked the loose ball across the face of the goal where Dan was waiting. Sensibly he opted to scoop the ball towards goal rather than try a full swing and the ball squeezed across the line.

Great stuff, and surely his last contribution with John Mullane warming up on the sideline. But wait. On came Mullane and Shane Walsh for, uh, Eoin Kelly and Seamus Prendergast, the latter showing his displeasure according to John in the crow’s nest by flinging his hurley and helmet into the dugout. You could see his point, taking off fully ten of those we had scored up until then. Clearly Davy Fitz was angling towards the experimental side of things – you don’t take off the two players who have contributed most points if you’re playing to win.

Still, they did work out very well indeed as Shane Walsh moved in to full forward and possession that was previously vanishing into a black hole was being won. Waterford really put the hammer down after those substitutions and it’s encouraging that we can spring the likes of Mullane off the bench. It’s just as well Waterford did step up a gear though as at the other end there was a frightful lapse which let Offaly in, at least two chances to clear the ball being spurned before Shane Dooley finally tapped the ball over the line. All that effort and Waterford found themselves losing. It was just as well that Walsh and Maurice Shanahan were on hand to steady the ship, repeatedly winning good possession between them and Shanahan knocking over the frees. The goal was a sickener but Waterford’s reaction involved keeping Offaly scoreless for the remainder of the game, which can’t be bad.

In the end it was futile regarding the League, Cork and Galway each coming out the right side of close matches against Tipperary and Dublin. Will Davy be any the wiser regarding the Championship? Shanes O’Sullivan and Walsh were both excellent and the arrival of Tony Browne back on the scene, however briefly, is worth rejoicing about. With the League well and truly out of the picture though, don’t expect any fireworks to satisfy Timmy Ryan in the last game against Kilkenny as further experimentation takes hold.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy (Jerome Maher), Mark O’Brien, Noel Connors, Shane Fives (Aidan Kearney), Richie Foley, Jamie Nagle, Eoin Kelly (0-8f; John Mullane, 0-1), Shane O’Sullivan (0-1), Kevin Moran, Seamus Prendergast (0-2; Shane Walsh, 0-1), Maurice Shanahan (0-6, 0-4f), Thomas Ryan, Dan Shanahan (1-0; Tony Browne), Stephen Molumphy (capt)

Offaly: James Dempsey, Michael Verney, Paul Cleary, David Franks (Stephen Egan), James Rigney (D Hayden), David Kenny, Derek Morkan, Rory Hanniffy (0-1), Stephen Wynne (J Brady), Brian Carroll (0-1), Daniel Currams (0-2), Derek Molloy (0-2), Ger Healion (C Mahon), Joe Bergin (C Parlon), Shane Dooley (1-10, 0-9f)

HT: Waterford 0-11 Offaly 0-10

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)