Waterford 0-17 Dublin 0-13

The creators of the American football website, Cold Hard Football Facts.com, predicate their amusing and offensive website on a notion called Quality Standings. A team’s chances of victory are based not on their record overall but on their record against teams with winning records. This would work very well in the GAA if we had larger divisions or a Division 1 split into two parts of equal quality. The wheat of beating Kilkenny could be sorted from the chaff of beating Kerry (no offense).

But how different would Waterford’s season have been had we had to meet Dublin earlier on in the year? Dublin’s point difference from their last three games was -2. Waterford’s was -17. Yet we had two points and they had only one, and having speculated before the game that Dublin would not phone in their performance for fear of players taking a hurley to a sensitive area because they weren’t getting stuck in. What I didn’t anticipate – talk about phoning in a preview – was Dublin making wholesale changes to the team. Knowing they couldn’t make any difference to their playoff fate today, why bother putting out a truly top quality team when you could blood a few youngsters?

And speaking of youngsters, you know how you always seem to end up at Championship matches sitting near the fattest, loudest, most obnoxious member of the other tribe? You can usually avoid it at home League matches because the opposition are so thinly represented. But today I realised something was wrong as soon as the clutch of juveniles in the rows in front of me roared for David Treacy’s name. They were from Cualla, you see. Betcha he’d have a stormer of a day.

Waterford once again lined out as per the programme, which once again was refreshing to see. They opened the scoring as Gavin O’Brien juggled a sideline cut and managed to get it to Maurice Shanahan to score. It would say much about O’Brien’s first half that his control here would be the least remarkable thing he would do. A soft free allowed David Treacy to level matters, and it said much about his day that this would be as good as it would get for him. It looked ominous when Niall McMorrow skinned Philip Mahony but his effort was hurried and drifted wide. Brother Paudi had an inauspicious moment of his own when a swift drive through the centre from Waterford gave him a clean shot at goal but he also put it wide. It was a low octane start from both sides, and it took a super catch by Kevin Moran to fire the crowd up. He was fouled and Mahony had a chance to put Waterford back in front. Deep breath – the memories of the Kilkenny match when he had an utter ‘mare are still vivid. But over it went and you could unclench your buttocks a little.

It had been a sluggish beginning for both teams. Everyone seemed to have loads of space yet not be able to do anything with it. So who better to step into such a breach than Tony Browne – ‘Brown’ according to the programme; sheesh – as he stepped on to pass from Shanahan and whipped it over the bar. His effervescence stood in marked contrast to everyone on the Dublin team. In each of their next two attacks the Dublin forward would shoot on the first sight of goal, the kind of nonsense that Anthony Daly must have thought h had eliminated from their play. Waterford now showed them how it was done, Shanahan barging his way out of the crowed then finding O’Brien in space for a score, then Shane Walsh did it all on his own, a fine catch and drive into space to stretch the lead to four.

Even an uber-fatalist like myself could see Dublin were in trouble. When John Mullane earned a free purely on reputation, running into the Dublin back who had nowhere else to go, Mahony’s free dropped disappointingly short and even Shane Walsh couldn’t wriggle his way through. But the clearance was hit to Maurice Shanahan who could have tied his laces before sending the ball back over the bar, so lacklustre was Dublin’s attempt to charge him down. When Dublin did get a chance, Johnny McCaffrey breaking through the middle, the pass went behind the forward and Waterford quickly pounced on the breakdown, Mullane moving into space as only he can then putting O’Brien in space for another fine score. Waterford had gone six points while barely breaking a sweat, and had Walsh been given better support after a great catch on the edge of the score we could have had the first goal, but he had nowhere to go and a free-out followed. Still, with news coming through that Kilkenny were on their way to another cricket score against Galway the vibes were all good.

Eamon Dillon tried to revive Dublin’s fortunes, a good point when he might have put his head down and gone for a goal and a fine point from distance taking the bare look off the scoreboard for them. But in between they gave away a cheap score when O”Brien was chopped down and Mahony did the necessary, and Dublin continued to shot on sight, David Treacy being the culprit this time. Then came the moment of the match – remember, this was a game with no goals or great shot-stopping. A huge clearance from Tony Browne was flicked out of the air by O’Brien and slotted over the bar in one smooth movement. He wasn’t put under much pressure, but it was gloriously precocious and with two points already under his belt it was heady stuff. Treacy added a point after being fouled but it was their last score of the half. Waterford tails were clearly up as they were now harassing every Dublin player and the ball and driving the ball into the corners at every opportunity. It’s easy to do it right when you have the space. Shanahan and Mullane managed to get a two-on-one at one point and when Shanahan passed to Mullane you would have thought it was to go for goal but Mullane took his point. It says it all about how things were panning out that I was disappointed the lead was now a mere six.

There was some loose play born of overeagerness, but you could forgive that as Waterford generally kept their cool while Dublin occasionally lost theirs, a crude chop on O’Brien allowing Mahony to score another free. It really was O’Brien’s half as he intercepted a clearance and drilled the bar straight back over to the delight of everyone in white in the crowd. Dublin had a few attacks in the last finve minutes but each time were either hustled out of play or hit an awful wide that would have had Daly tearing his figurative hair out. At half-time there could only be one winner. The question had to be how many we’d win by.

The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, Treacy hitting a shocking wide and Kevin Moran given the freedom of the park to stretch Waterford’s lead. This was too easy, and I seriously thought that Stephen Daniels had come on Liam Lawlor to ‘give him a run’. It transpired that Lawlor was injured (uh oh) but Waterford were so effortlessly on top that it seemed plausible. Mullane was now in full bouncing-the-ball mode although his shot lacked oomph and was plucked out from under the bar by Gary Maguire. With Eoin McGrath playing  a lackadaisical to Mahony when it looked easier to keep going the casual play was getting a bit irritating, and with Dublin having made a clutch of changes they began to fight back. David O’Callaghan – I don’t call our guy ‘Brick’ so I’m not going to call their guy ‘Dotsy’ – pegged over a point after the Waterford backs had pushed Dublin out then Ross O’Carroll, one of the subs, scored a cracking point from a narrow angle, Adrian Power having to keep on the ball all the way as it threatened to drop under the bar. Dublin had gotten half their first half score in eight minutes. They couldn’t . . . could they?

Certainly the eager Waterford of the second quarter was gone as the ball was flapped around the pitch to no great effect. Another Treacy free trimmed the lead back to six and he really should have cut it back even more but hit another free badly wide. A fantastic long-range free from Ryan O’Dwyer led to a few more nibbled fingernail, but I can honestly say my overriding thought was that Waterford still had enough in the tank. A careless foul on Maurice Shanahan allowed him to steady the nerves – Stephen Molumphy on for Pauric Mahony at this stage – and when O’Dwyer missed a simple chance you could relax still further. Dublin simply weren’t going to be able to put together enough of a run to overhaul us.

The game had gone completely off the boil, typified midway through the half when Dean Curran was sent off for a second yellow card yet no-one even seemed notice. Dublin could feel aggrieved when Eamon Dillon got absolutely clobbered as he went through the middle. It did look ‘accidental’ but the force of the coming-together was what an ice hockey official might all unnecessary roughness and yet Diarmuid Kirwan was unmoved. The Cualla choir in front of me certainly thought so, chanting that “the referee’s a bastard”. Kids today. Don’t they know the chant is “the referee’s a wanker”? That was about as physical as the game would get (another reason Curran could feel aggrieved) and Dublin were now seeing lots of ball. They managed two scores to cut the gap to a mere four, the second happening when even Michael Walsh found himself overwhelmed and Dublin were able to take the point.

I’m not saying this just with the benefit of hindsight – you still felt Waterford would get enough scores to close this out, especially as Dublin were getting nowhere near our goal. Dean Twomey, who had looked out of his depth in paddling-pool waters of the Waterford Crystal Cup, now came into his own, stiffening Waterford’s resolve with several fine forays forward, one of which gave Mullane to room to stretch the lead to five. He then put Eoin Kelly, on as a sub for Eoin McGrath who didn’t demonstrate that he could turn the clock back with an era of Gavin O’Brien and Martin O’Neill in the offing, into space to score from a very narrow angle.

The clock was running inexorably down on Dublin and pride can only take you through so many flailing timbers. Another wide from Dublin led An Fear Ciuin ar mo dhéis to observe that Dublin had now hit 17 of the things. It is as inevitable as the tides that Dublin will come to dominate hurling, but this was a sobering reminder for them that the bad old days are not entirely eradicated. Shanahan put Waterford seven clear with a free after O’Neill had been around the neck and the game was now well safe – Dublin were not going to get three goals.

There was time for three scores all right, the first a spectacular effort from Danny Sutcliffe where he sprinted all the way from his own half and struck it over the bar on the run. The second was definitely definitely definitely their last chance, O’Carroll’s effort on goal from a free always rising as a Waterford back flicked it over the bar. The ref chose to ignore chose to ignore a litany of fouls before finally awarding one which was tapped over. A great catch by Aidan Kearney – today, I learned his nickname was ‘Ringo’ – ended the game and the great(ish) escape had been accomplished.

Before the game, I had thought that any Waterford win would show that we had moved on from the insipidness of those first three games. Now I’m not so sure. As against Kilkenny we had a stirring second quarter where Waterford displayed some verve and purpose. There were the predictably good performances from Browne, Walsh and Walsh, and a not-so-expected good performance from Twomey. Then there was Gavin O’Brien. Four points from play, each score better than the last. So much to be pleased about – except Dublin were utterly awful. You couldn’t read anything into this, and now we have ten weeks to twiddle our thumbs. Still, we stayed up. Given the improbability of that less than a fortnight ago, survival will do. Them’s the cold hard hurling facts.

Waterford: Adrian Power, Aidan Kearney, Liam Lawlor (Stephen Daniels), Philip Mahony, Tony Browne (0-1), Michael Walsh (capt), Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran (0-1), Dean Twomey (David O’Sullivan), Maurice Shanahan (0-4, 0-2f), Pauric Mahony (0-4f; Stephen Molumphy), Eoin McGrath (Martin O’Neill), John Mullane (0-2), Shane Walsh (0-1; Eoin Kelly), Gavin O’Brien (0-4)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Ruairi Trainor, Niall Corcoran, Oisin Gough, Dean Curran, Martin Quilty, Johnny McCaffrey (0-1), David Curtin (Danny Sutcliffe, 0-1), Simon Lambert (Conor Clinton), David Treacy (0-3f), Maurice O’Brien, Ryan O’Dwyer (0-1f), David O’Callaghan (capt, 0-1; Ross O’Carroll, 0-2, 0-1f), Eamon Dillon (0-3), Niall McMorrow (0-1; Daire Plunkett)

HT: Waterford 0-12 Dublin 0-4

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)