Waterford 0-21 Wexford 0-11

Waterford get back in the groove with Wexford dismissal – Irish Examiner
Waterford recover from Munster final misery to swat Wexford aside and set up Kilkenny clash – Irish Independent
Under-par Waterford get past Wexford to set up clash with Cats – Irish Times
Waterford cruise past Wexford to book All-Ireland SHC semi-final spot – The42.ie
Wasteful Deise men advance – HoganStand.com
Waterford cruise past Wexford at Semple Stadium – RTÉ


This seemed like one I was going to miss. With the Under-21 match looming and toddler-sitting duties coming thick and fast, it seemed like an indulgence too far. Yet Mrs d insisted that she would do the needful, which forced me to decide whether I wanted to go. Perversely my decision was swung by how awful Waterford had been a fortnight ago. There was a feeling of dread that no-one would turn up and we would be seriously outnumbered by the buoyant Wexicans, a group who have been pretty hardy trouts in my experience when it comes to turning up for a lost cause. Zipping into Thurles with the greatest of ease, it seemed my fears were being confirmed.

In the end, as so often before, I was wrong. I was planning to go up on the terrace anyway but to my immense surprise the stands were sold out, and to my immense relief there was no obvious difference between the crowds hailing from the south-eastern counties. One in the eye for those who suggest that Waterford fans are reluctant travellers, not that I care.

Okay, maybe I care a little bit.

It felt like a reward for my courage in coming to Thurles – no no, plaudits are quite unnecessary – that the people either side of me were Waterfordians, and fine company to boot. We all had a good old chuckle when the announcer in Thurles namechecked Austin Flynn playing at number six for Waterford, although the man to my left gently corrected my belief that Austin was no longer walking among us. “I saw him last week and he was hale and hearty”, he said. It was a rather sweet mistake by the announcer, and you wonder whether Austin Gleeson will ever be mentioned in the same company as the men of ’59 who, despite only winning one All-Ireland, are among the most revered in the game thanks to their swashbuckling style of play.

‘Swashbuckling’ is not a charge you are likely to ever level against Derek McGrath’s team though, and it was clear from the start there would be no cutting loose against a team that almost all recent evidence would suggest are not up to our level. Playing with a strong wind in the first half, one I notionally suggested would be worth eight points to us, Waterford got off to a steady but unspectacular start. Maurice Shanahan got the show on the road with a neat point from play when there was a slight sniff of a goal, Pauric Mahony knocked over a free and Michael Walsh scored his first point of the Championship a few minutes later. His first point in the last two Championships. Truly a red letter day. Lee Chin got one for Wexford, and it was evident that a) Wexford were going to deliver as much as possible into his lap, and b) Waterford were going to try and choke said delivery at all costs. This added an extra layer of tedium to the already stultifying tactics of both teams, and about the most excitement in the first quarter were a couple of Hawk Eye calls from Waterford, both denied, and when a Wexford free from close in was acrobatically blocked from going over the bar by Stephen O’Keeffe. The subsequent 65 drifted wide, and we gleefully wondered whether that might prove significant at the end.

Waterford had moved five points clear by that stage, another free from Mahony being sandwiched by another point from Walsh and one from Austin Gleeson. It shouldn’t have been too much to ask Waterford to move through the gears, but instead the second quarter wides started racking up in much the same manner as had happened against Tipperary. The scores that did come seemed almost accidental, with only a lovely effort from Jamie Barron going right over the black spot. It might be argued that Waterford’s strategy of stripping out the forward line obliged players to try from distance, but the ease with which the Waterford backs were winning the ball and the lack of challenge from their Wexford counterparts meant Waterford had plenty of time to pick out the right option. Instead we had a litany of Hail Marys, with Austin Gleeson (natch) indulging in the kind of efforts that will have Austin Flynn turning in his future grave. The scoreboard inched gradually forward and by half-time the lead was seven points. Slightly below par with what you might expect with that wind, but way below par on the basis of how much of the possession we had won. If Wexford were half as cocky as they were when we first met them in the Championship way back in 2003, there was going to be trouble ahead.

The key point about the whole game was made by the man to our left around the 30th minute after another frustrating wide. “No disrespect,” he said, priming us for a comment was going to be deeply disrespectful, “but they [Wexford] are crap”. This salient point, allied to the dire display of second quarter decision-making, helps to explain the vituperative reaction over on boards.ie to Waterford’s performance. They are crap and it was dire. The reaction is over the top though, not least because the second half performance wasn’t too bad. Having set themselves up for a fall, Waterford duly avoided the trip hazard with three points from play without reply from Shanahan (right from the throw-in), Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony in the first five minutes, thus pushing themselves past the par point and leaving Wexford needing a glut of birdies. Gleeson’s point in particular was a treat after a half where he had landed six wides, scarcely believable for a player of his talent. The man to our right repeatedly lamented our lack of goals in the first half, something with which I didn’t agree. The onus was on us keeping them from scoring goals,  and while there was one hairy moment early on in the second half when O’Keeffe inexplicably decided to cut across his own goal and was dispossessed, leaving us to exhale deeply when a Wexford forward flashed the follow-up wide, it was going to be a Herculean effort from them to find their way through this Tadhg de Búrca-marshalled defence.

In case you are thinking I am drinking the Kool-Aid for suggesting that Waterford’s second half performance wasn’t awful – how’s that for damning with faint praise? – you have to remember that Waterford would win the second half against a strong wind and despite playing into Wexford’s hands for a horrible ten-minute period. Having gone ten points clear Waterford proceeded to persist with puckouts down their right where Wexford were in the ascendancy. A splendid point from Liam Ryan starting out deep in his own half gave them a gap into which they could hope to drive a wedge. They slowly did so, raising the decibel level from their fans, and were aided by a ‘point’ which looked like a wide to me but was inexplicably not referred to Hawk Eye. Does that only work for wides and not points? Anyway, the problem for them was that it was happening way too slowly. They were not aided by a long period, at least three minutes, which ended with Eoin Moore being taken off after a nasty collision. The gap had been trimmed to five but they couldn’t be sure how much of that lost time would be added on at the end and when Brian O’Halloran, on as a sub and stymieing their efforts down our right, scored a fantastic solo effort the need for them to get a green flag became increasingly plain. Jake Dillon also weighed in with a score and (whisper it) McGrath now felt confident enough to haul Shane Bennett ashore with the gap at a mere seven points. I was still fretting about the possibility of a goal, but it’s unlikely any neutral was anticipating a rollicking finish.

This would be where I normally say we squeezed the life out of the game, but that implies there was much life to begin with. Wexford had a couple of long-range efforts for goals from frees which were efficiently snuffed out, and a couple of Mahony frees and another point from play for O’Halloran stretched the lead out to a healthy 11. They managed to get the gap down to ten by the end but had it gone on longer, and the additional five minutes was the very least it should have been, Waterford would have stretched their lead further despite being against the wind. It’s entirely possible that the wind was a buffer against the more adrenaline-fuelled errors in the first half, although it didn’t work out that way against Tipp and it’s not a strategy for the long run. The game duly petered out and we had earned the right to have yet another crack at the Cats in the semi-final.

That last line is a deliberate attempt to be downbeat after my usual Panglossian meanderings. 5-31 and all that. This was not a good performance. We had the boot to their throat in that second quarter and failed to apply it. Still, what would have represented a good margin of victory? Ten points would been eagerly taken before the game, and the way the game panned out it was still only at the bottom of what should have happened rather than being a hatful of points short of respectability. The worry is whether any lessons have been learned from it. There will be at least one change for Kilkenny. It’s hard to see how Darragh Fives can go off inside the first 20 minutes and recover the necessary fitness, so Conor Gleeson is sure to start. Other than that though, is there any sign that Derek McGrath and his backroom team are willing to give new players the chance to make their mark? Brian O’Halloran would surely be entitled to go into meltdown if he misses out. Michael Walsh’s brace in this game only shows how little impact he makes on the scoreboard the rest of the time. Is his position truly bulletproof? We’ve been on the road of The System for two years now and it is reasonable to question whether it is a dead end. Eddie Brennan is surely wrong about everything. Sorry, Eddie Brennan is surely wrong that you will never win an All-Ireland playing it. No team has been less inclined to ‘play off instinct’ than Kilkenny and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. There has to be some flexibility though. If you are going to have a system, it has to acknowledge that one size is not going to fit all. The broadsword worked fine in this case. The rapier would be nice when the occasion demanded it.

As we look forward to the Under-21’s playing host to Tipperary in the Munster final on Wednesday, let’s end with a cheerful thought. If Wexford were bad, how must they be feeling right now down Leeside?

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