Waterford 3-16 (25) Dublin 2-19 (25)

Dermot Crowe, in his preview of this match in the Sindo, made the sage observation that “a few years ago, Waterford’s defeat at Parnell Park cast dubious light on the decision to take in the Bernard Dunne fight the night prior to the game. Then last year Dublin went down to Waterford the night before in a show of model professionalism and were still blown off the field”. In a nutshell, he captured the strange chemistry at work in the red-headed stepchild that is the National Hurling League. Counties like Waterford and Dublin should want to win the thing, so bare is the trophy cabinet. Yet everything has to be geared towards the summer where legends are made. Still, the opening game should be an easy call. Two early points and the spectre of relegation recedes. If things don’t go well in early games against the big guns like Tipperary or Kilkenny and winning the League becomes increasingly unlikely, then at least you are not going to be relegated and then playing around with the team makes sense.

So what does Davy Fitzgerald do? Play virtually the entire team that featured in the Waterford Crystal Cup, the very definition of a don’t-give-a-crap outfit. Marvellous. One wonders whether people got wind of this because the crowd was on the small side for a pleasingly crisp day in Waterford. Perhaps it was the rugby, perhaps it was the price – €13 is probably still a bit steep in most people’s minds – perhaps it was because the game was on TG4 later on. Either way it was a paltry turnout, low enough that I was able to pick out individuals whose names escape me but are now officially One Of Us. Man who rented me the suit for my best man’s wedding, come on down!

(Speaking of TG4, it’s unlikely anyone would have been put off even had the game been live, but aren’t they just great? If it weren’t for them I’d be making constant references to ‘Clinton Hennessy’. It’s most likely a reflection of my one-track mind that I looked at decidedly slighter Adrian Power and didn’t twig that something was different, but once again I must rail against the acting-the-maggotry that sees teams make last minute changes – Dublin had two, no 25 Johnny McCaffrey not even appearing in the programme. You can imagine the Machiavellian cackling in the dressing rooms at such chicanery. Brian Cody won’t be able to sleep tonight.) (Update)

Those who did bother turning out were treated to a great show. As per Dermot Crowe, this was a bigger game for Dublin than Waterford and they hit the ground running, Conal Keaney knocking over an early free then Liam Rushe pounced on a fluffed clearance from Shane Fives. Rushe would be a regular thorn in Waterford’s side, drawing another free soon after to leave Dublin three points up after only four minutes. Richie Foley got Waterford on the scoreboard after Shane Casey had earned a rather soft free, and after Casey had knocked over Waterford’s first point from play Foley had the chance to level with a shot from way out after an excellent piece of fielding but the ball drifted wide. Dublin were soon back on the front foot though, and a purple patch followed that would have pleased their fans no end. First Keaney pointed after Fives was harshly adjudged to have fouled him, then Dublin got their first goal. Rushe pulled the Waterford defence all over the place then turned and passed to the onrushing Peter Kelly. He turned past Henness . . . Power and did well to squeeze the ball across the line when it seemed he had gone too far wide. Conor McCormack’s point, coming after a hospital pass from Shane Casey to Richie Foley, followed swiftly by a point from play by Keaney when he had been left with the freedom of the park, left Dublin six points clear and they were good value for that.

The last thing we needed in such a situation was a stinker from the free taker, and thankfully Richie Foley had a good day from the dead ball. He pointed after he was pushed in the back to relieve the pressure, then Padraig Mahony got his first point at this level, coolly slotting it over while all around him were roaring for a free after Casey had been clattered. Unfortunately Keaney was having a good day as well, stroking over a soft free when the ball could have gone anywhere after a small melee on Waterford’s 45 and then stretched the lead back to six with a monster from inside his own half. It was a bit unnerving that Waterford seemed to be going for goals, Tomás Ryan caught between two minds when a point would have sufficed then Foley hitting a terrible daisycutter from a free about thirty metres out that was so easily saved that Gary Maguire would have had time to change his hurley had he been so inclined. Happily Foley gathered the attempted clearance and pointed. He hit over a monster of his own after Fives had been fouled to counter a point from Declan O’Dwyer, then was loitering with intent when a ball from the Waterford half-back line dropped towards the area. Gary Maguire will probably be disappointed that he didn’t deal with it more decisively, and Foley managed to nudge the dropping ball into the net.

Ah, goals. How gloriously demoralising they are, all that effort with points snuffed out in a moment of madness. Yet Dublin didn’t wobble. Conor McCormack managed to elude his marker in the corner, drawing a great save from Power that will be grist to the mill of those who think Clinton Hennessy doesn’t pull enough spectacular saves. It was still a point though and McCormack then got a more straight forward point before Keaney knocked over another free after some faffing about in the Waterford back line. The goal had effectively been snuffed out and Dublin piled on the pain, Kelly smacking over a splendid point on the run and David O’Callaghan getting his third point from play after Power had batted out a point-bound shot from Rushe.

It was at this point that I wrote in my notes that “14W < 3D”. God knows how many balls had dropped in the danger zone only for Tomás Brady to beat Seamus Prendergast. I will pompously tell myself that he sensed those symbols being scratched on the paper (although it looked more like one of those codes you have to type in to beat spam than the crisp characters you see above), gathering a dropping ball left in by an under-pressure Shane Casey and, surrounded by three or four Dublin back, he managed to turn and drill the ball past Maguire from point blank range. What a relief, and he then turned a dross ball from Shane O’Sullivan into gold, drawing a foul which Foley sensibly knocked over – no need for Hail Mary goal efforts at this point. To be only four points down at half-time was nothing short of miraculous.

The Dublin dressing room was probably a grim place at half-time. Having an eight point lead late in the half trimmed to four is hardly disastrous in itself, but there must have been a feeling that they had spied the jugular and ended up hitting the sternum. With the wind to come in the second half Waterford could afford to feel pleased, although Jerome Maher can’t be too happy at the timing of his replacement by Wayne Hutchinson. Surely it would be politic to leave him on and give him a chance when the wind would be dropping Dublin’s attacks in less threatening areas? Anyway, Waterford were quickly at the right end of the pitch, their first attack seeing Prendergast wriggling into space – never doubted him for a second – but Ryan was a little tardy in taking his pass and we had to settle for a point from Casey. Foley capitalised on some overcarrying from Keaney, drifting a splendid free over from way out, using the wind to maximum advantage, then he rattled over a point on the turn after gathering Power’s long free. All we needed now was a goal to really stick it to them and it came via a penalty from Foley, earned by Prendergast after he had been teed up by Casey. Foley drilled in the penalty and incredibly Waterford were ahead.

It’s probably a good sign about Waterford’s development in recent years that I was confident at this stage we’d go on to bury the Jackeens. Nothing in the remainder of the third quarter contradicted this feeling. Foley fired over another long range free while at the other end Dublin were already feeling the need to go for goals. Power was harshly penalised for overcarrying when he couldn’t have perspired freely (later on in the game, Michael Walsh would drop the ball rather than run the risk of suffering a similar fate; you have to love that kind of nous). Rushe went for goal from the semi-penalty and Power cleared with ease. He also dealt with a tricky sideline ball, drawing the foul that the ref should have given earlier. Everything was running our way, Tomás Ryan and Padraig Mahony displaying Walsh-like heads on young shoulders to combine for another point. Seamus Prendergast had a couple of wides but they were well worked efforts and when Molumphy fired over a point after some excellent work at the back from Hutchinson, it looked like a case of not how but how many.

David O’Callaghan finally got Dublin on the second half scoreboard to reduce the gap to four, but bringing on Eamonn Murphy for Ryan at this stage made sense, give the Great White Hope an opportunity to get some action as the bicycle went down hill with the wind at its back. Except there was a great big pothole on the track. A.N. Other aka Johnny McCaffrey powered through the Waterford defence and went for a point, only to see David O’Callaghan get in between Power and his mis-hit shot which sailed into the top corner of the net.

Ah, goals. How gloriously uplifting they are, all that reward from a moment of luck. Dublin were suddenly energised. Keaney had a chance to level matters but you could see from the set of his shoulders that the adrenalin was now pumping and he hammered it wide. Waterford were relieved to double their advantage from Prendergast after a thumping clearance from Nagle. A series of throw-ins followed as Dublin piled in on every ball, a phase of play which ended in a point for Dublin from another Keaney free. And speaking of adrenalin, Ken McGrath came on to much rejoicing from Waterford fans and promptly gave away a free. The result of that free was another free for Dublin much closer in as Michael Walsh caught O’Callaghan around the neck and Keaney drew the teams level for the first time since the start of the game.

Dublin looked the more likely at this stage, so thank God for the kind of flukes that drive Willie Thorne mad. Jamie Nagle heaved the ball away more out of a desire to get it clear only to watch it sail over the bar and restore Waterford’s lead. Dublin were soon back on terms, Rushe pouncing on some indecisiveness in the Waterford defence. There was time for Foley to finish his free-taking masterclass to put Waterford back in front as the match ticked into injury time but Dublin were not to be denied, Keaney scoring a point on the run and get them the draw that they probably deserved.

Waterford will probably be the more disappointed at the way the quarry escaped when we had our boot on their throat. But Dublin will be worried that better teams than us won’t be so accommodating. The point will be useful to both teams if the primary motivation is avoiding relegation though. And it had been a cracking afternoon’s entertainment, well worth €13. Maybe even worth two thousand words of waffle. Okay, let’s not get carried away with things.

Waterford: Adrian Power, Darragh Fives, Jerome Maher (Wayne Hutchinson), Noel Connors, Shane Fives, Michael Walsh, Jamie Nagle (0-1), Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Stephen Molumphy (capt, 0-1), Richie Foley (2-8, 1-7f), Padraig Mahony (0-2), Shane Casey (0-3; Ken McGrath), Seamus Prendergast (1-1), Tomás Ryan

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Stephen Hiney (capt), Tomás Brady, Simon Lambert, Niall Corcoran, Declan O’Dwyer (0-1; Liam Ryan), Johnny McCaffrey (0-1), Shane Durkan, Peter Kelly (1-1), Conor McCormack, Conal Keaney (0-11, 0-10f), Liam Rushe (0-2), David O’Callaghan (0-3), Shane Ryan (Paul Ryan), Peadar Carton

HT: Waterford 2-7 (13) Dublin 1-14 (17)

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)


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