(originally posted on boards.ie)
I still disagree with Derek McGrath’s decision to, in essence, clear the bench before the start of today’s game against Galway. However, fair play to the guys who were thrown in at the deep end – not only did they not sink, but in most cases they played brilliantly. Particular plaudits to the fullback line of Conor Gleeson, Shane McNulty and Shane Roche none of whom, to my knowledge, has played even a minute of competitive senior hurling for Waterford before. They were up against a Galway attack which tore much more experienced full back lines to shreds last year but every one of them turned in an outstanding performance.
Galway played a two-man interchanging full forward line (with Canning going in an out). Gleeson and Roche held the fort at the back while McNulty followed Cathal Mannion out the field and really kept him quiet until he notched two points late in the game when the less match-fit Waterford team began to tire a bit. I have been a great fan of McNulty since his minor days and believe he should be on the first team as a wing back with Kevin Moran moving to midfield.
Waterford had two other players (Ian O’Regan and Gavin O’Brien) who only made their first appearances of the year today and four others (Shane O’Sullivan, Brian O’Halloran, Colm Roche and Tommy Ryan) who have made only very brief appearances as substitutes. I was fearful of them taking a heavy beating from a Galway team requiring a big win to enable them to evade a relegation playoff. However, they really stood up to the plate.
Waterford were the better team in the first half but ended up behind by a point at half time (1-10 to 0-12) due to conceding a poor goal just before half time and messing up some good scoring chances. I thought that once Galway moved ahead they might pull away in the second half, but again it was Waterford who took the game to the opposition, building up a three point lead with Shane Bennett tearing the right side of their defence to pieces. However, they never managed to take the lead to four points and as the game entered the last ten minutes Galway greatly upped their game, bringing their greater match fitness to bear and finally moving into the lead with just a couple of minutes left.
However, Waterford never panicked, with Tadhg de Búrca providing great leadership at the back, and continued to play the ball around looking for the spare man. Gavin O’Brien saved the day with a massive point from his own half of the field and Waterford nearly snatched a deserved win when Shane Bennett’s long range shot (again after an excellent bout of passing) went inches on the wrong side of the post.
Austin Gleeson caught a lot of ball, but seemed determined to take on the entire Galway defence with solo runs and several times ran into cul-de-sacs. Tadhg de Búrca improved as the game went on and finished very strongly. Gavin O’Brien at left half back hit some poor clearances and made some mistakes but still put in a solid shift. Kevin Moran was much more effective than he was against Dublin, but I thought Shane O’Sullivan had little impact and should have been substituted long before he was eventually taken off.
Maurice Shanahan played at right half forward and worked hard but only managed one point from play. However, after missing his first free (there was an awkward wind blowing across the field) he was unerring thereafter with eight conversions for a total contribution of nine points. Shane Bennett was absolutely devastating at centre forward, scoring six great points, bringing a superb save from the Galway keeper (although he should still have beaten him), and unfortunately having two narrow misses late in the game.
Tom Devine started at left half forward and was much more effective than he was as a lone full forward last week. Waterford were having a lot of success early on targetting him from puckouts, but Galway then put extra bodies under the incoming ball and began to mop up. Devine moved to full forward in the second half but again made a useful contribution when brought out late in the game.
Brian O’Halloran had his best game in a Waterford jersey since the league game in Ennis two years ago, using his speed to good effect, hitting three points and earning at least two converted frees. Things have not gone well for him in recent times, so it was a delight to see him show what he can do today. Colm Roche made a fantastic catch to score a great point in the first minute, but the game passed him by thereafter and he was eventually replaced by Mikey Kearney in the second half. Kearney made his presence felt with two good points and was a little unlucky when his shot for goal virtually from the end line narrowly missed the target.
Starting at full forward, Tommy Ryan had little impact, apart from one good point, and was replaced by Jake Dillon towards the end. Another unexpected but very welcome substitute for Waterford was Pauric Mahony who replaced Shane O’Sullivan near the end. It was he who supplied the pass from which Gavin O’Brien shot the late equalising point.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable and high-quality game of hurling. While the result didn’t matter a whole lot to Waterford, the quality and commitment of the Waterford fringe players was exhilarating and, indeed, some of them may not remain fringe players for long. It is reassuring to see that such high-quality backup to the first team is available, and hopefully the team management will make better use of these resources in future games.