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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Bogey team Waterford dash hopes again

Championship Special: Waterford 1-23 Wexford 1-19

Alan Aherne

Waterford sweeper Tadhg de Búrca, who was sent-off late in the game, wins this tussle with Wexford's Podge Doran
Waterford sweeper Tadhg de Búrca, who was sent-off late in the game, wins this tussle with Wexford's Podge Doran
Aidan Nolan trying to get away from Waterford man of the match Kevin Moran near the end of Sunday's quarter-final in Cork
Waterford stalwart Michael 'Brick' Walsh bursting past Willie Devereux

History repeated itself twelve months down the line on Sunday, albeit at a different venue as the magnificent new Páirc Uí Chaoimh witnessed Wexford's exit from the race for All-Ireland hurling championship honours at the quarter-final stage at the hands of near neighbours Waterford.

Just like the outcome in Thurles last July, the Slaneyside support among the 31,753 crowd journeyed home with heavy hearts after the Munster men advanced to the last four after always looking the more likely team to prevail in a low-quality affair.

The margin was lessened considerably in the space of that year, from ten points down to four, but still there can be no denying the reality that Waterford were a step ahead of us and never appeared to be in any great danger.

They're simply further down the line in terms of developing their team and their system of play, and after the natural disappointment gradually dissipates over the coming days, Wexford fans should reflect on a year of incremental progress.

Certainly, two wins over Kilkenny and a return to the top flight of the National League shouldn't be scoffed at, and it was always going to take time to bridge that clear gap between the quarter-finals and the teams with genuine designs on actually winning the All-Ireland.

We're not at that stage yet, a point clearly borne out on Sunday, because we don't have the depth of talent within our squad to compete with the very best.

We need our leading players to be in top form at all times, and we also require the rest to be operating to their highest possible level. Unfortunately, it's a rarity in team sport to have the complete 15 firing on full cylinders on any given day, and Wexford suffered from some below-par performances in this outing.

The deployment of their regular sweepers by both teams, Shaun Murphy and Tadhg de Búrca, made it very difficult to track who was actually meant to be marking who elsewhere from the off, and there was a lot of disjointed play on a day when Waterford got the job done without producing All-Ireland winning form.

Davy Fitzgerald had kept supporters guessing in terms of the starting line-up until the last minute, and there was a full Senior debut for exciting prospect Rory O'Connor who only completed his Leaving Cert. last month.

He certainly justified the faith shown in him with a clever and energetic performance around the half-forward and midfield areas, while his older brother, Jack, ended up as the team's top scorer with 1-2 after coming off the bench with a point to prove early in the second-half.

The latter was one of four players who started in the Leinster final loss to miss out, along with Simon Donohoe, Aidan Nolan and Harry Kehoe, with Eoin Moore, Rory O'Connor, David Redmond and Podge Doran all coming into the team.

Unfortunately, the game arrived a little too soon for Damien Reck or David Dunne to feature, and both will be major additions when the 2018 campaign comes around.

Free-takers Páuric Mahony and Lee Chin swapped early points, the latter after Austin Gleeson was booked for a challenge on Shaun Murphy close to the left sideline.

Waterford captain Kevin Moran was a colossus in the middle third, and he set the tone for what was to follow when he picked off his opening point from a 1-3 haul in the fourth minute.

Eoin Moore levelled quickly though, with Rory O'Connor showing the first glimpse of his undoubted talent when he created the opening with a clever jink and handpass after a Murphy clearance.

Moran controlled a breaking ball superbly before restoring his side's lead, and a Paul Morris effort that dropped short led to Michael Walsh making it 4-2 at the other end.

The experienced 'Brick' was rampant at right half-forward in the first-half, giving Willie Devereux a torrid time early on before the physically-stronger Liam Ryan was sent out in a bid to keep him quiet. Three of the five frees pointed before the break by Páuric Mahony came from fouls on the Stradbally veteran, with the second widening the gap to 5-2 in the eighth minute.

Conor McDonald had an outing to forget, apart from one well-taken point to narrow the gap to two. He was relieved of the free-taking duties on this occasion, and Jack Guiney settled into this role when he made it 5-4 in the twelfth minute after Podge Doran caught a Diarmuid O'Keeffe delivery and was impeded.

Alas, that was an all too rare occurrence as in general Wexford's inside attacking line made no impact against a Waterford defence packed from start to finish with extra bodies.

Our opponents always seemed capable of matching a Wexford point with one of their own or even better, and this was the case near the end of the first quarter as Jake Dillon and Páuric Mahony (two frees) hit a trio on the run to leave them 8-4 clear.

Rory O'Connor was booked for a foul on Michael Walsh but Mahony had an uncharacteristic wide, one of ten from the winners while Wexford posted eight.

An advancing Liam Ryan was fouled 30 metres out from an Eoin Moore handpass and Jack Guiney tapped over the free to reduce the gap to three, only for the unmarked Darragh Fives to latch on to the puck-out and split the posts from long range.

Ryan was again impeded as Chin made it 9-6 from a midfield free in the 21st minute, and a neat move involving Shaun Murphy and Eoin Moore ended with Paul Morris registering his sole point.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe followed up with a trademark score from a short Matthew O'Hanlon pass, but once again Waterford prospered from Stephen O'Keeffe's puck-out as Jack Guiney fouled Conor Gleeson and Páuric Mahony widened the lead to 10-8.

Efforts from Rory O'Connor and Guiney dropped short before Shane Bennett was booked for taking down the former, but Chin was off target from the free and missed another from 85 metres shortly afterwards.

In between O'Keeffe and Darragh Fives combined before Conor Gleeson darted forward to push Waterford ahead by 0-11 to 0-8, and Austin Gleeson showed a glimpse of his class when he cut out a Willie Devereux line ball and swivelled in a devastating movement to split the posts.

Aidan Nolan marked his arrival for David Redmond less than five minutes earlier with a point from a Liam Ryan handpass, and a foul on Rory O'Connor led to Jack Guiney's next point in the first of three added minutes at the end of the half.

In a game largly devoid of goal chances, it was a bitter blow to Wexford when they handed their rivals one on a plate just before the interval.

Eoin Moore's attempt at a pass back towards his own goal was clearly the wrong option, with Shane Bennett handpassing the ball inside to Kevin Moran who beat the advancing Mark Fanning with a first-time pull.

The timing of the score was of critical importance, leaving Waterford on a high and Wexford deflated as the teams departed for the half-time break with a game-high gap up to that stage of five (1-12 to 0-10) between them.

However, the early indications on the re-start were that the Slaneysiders weren't dwelling on that setback in the slightest as they resumed full of fire.

Liam Ryan pointed off his stick from a Lee Chin pass after just 34 seconds, while Rory O'Connor emerged from a ruck on the left to score his first-ever point as a Senior inter-county player.

Waterford looked momentarily rattled as Kevin Moran and Páuric Mahony shot wides, and when a run and handpass by O'Connor set up Chin to make it 1-12 to 0-13, Wexford were motoring well.

Ryan and Austin Gleeson dropped efforts short at either end before Chin fired a wide, and Waterford got back on track with a brace of Páuric Mahony frees after fouls on Gleeson by Matthew O'Hanlon and James Breen respectively.

Breen joined fellow defender Eoin Moore in the notebook for that incident, with the latter booked earlier in the half for a late challenge on Darragh Fives.

A trip by Podge Doran on Shane Fives resulted in Gleeson going deep inside his own half to increase the Waterford lead to 1-15 to 0-13, and Wexford's task looked nigh on impossible once again given the absence of any worthwhile goalscoring chances.

Jack O'Connor did end a seven-minute barren spell with a point, with Austin Gleeson replying before Guiney converted a free after Conor Gleeson was booked for fouling Willie Devereux and Barry Coughlan also saw yellow (1-16 to 0-15).

Kevin Moran shook off Aidan Nolan for another Waterford point as we reached the midway point in the half, while substitute Maurice Shanahan beat James Breen to the ball and left the Deise men clear by 1-18 to 0-15.

Guiney (free), after Shane Fives took down Chin, and Diarmuid O'Keeffe, from a Rory O'Connor assist, pulled back points, but Wexford were clutching at straws as Páuric Mahony (free) and Shanahan made it 1-20 to 0-17 before wides from Chin and Guiney (two, one free).

The big blemish on Waterford's win arrived with five minutes left when Wicklow linesman John Keenan called referee Fergal Horgan's attention to an incident on the left sideline which led to a straight red card for Tadhg de Búrca after an off-the-ball incident that left substitute Harry Kehoe minus his helmet.

Jack O'Connor and Mahony (free) swapped points before a placed ball from Chin was lobbed into the goalmouth and went off a defender's hand on to the crossbar before it was cleared.

Two Brian O'Halloran points punished a deflated Wexford despite that numerical advantage and extended the margin to eight (1-23 to 0-18).

At least the losers kept going until the bitter end though, with Guiney earning and converting a free that led to a booking for Stephen Bennett before the consolation goal arrived with the second-last puck of the game.

A 20-metre Guiney free was saved on the line, with Jack O'Connor following up first to slam the rebound to the net.

A four-point difference was a fair reflection on proceedings as the curtain went down on a Wexford campaign that featured a number of highs.

Hopefully they will come back in 2018 emboldened by the progress made and intent on pushing on to the next level which has consistently eluded the county since our last semi-final appearance ten years ago.

Wexford: Mark Fanning; James Breen, Liam Ryan (0-1), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-2); Eoin Moore (0-1), Matthew O'Hanlon (joint capt.), Willie Devereux; Shaun Murphy, David Redmond; Paul Morris (0-1), Lee Chin (joint capt., 0-3, 2 frees), Rory O'Connor (0-1); Podge Doran, Jack Guiney (0-7, 6 frees), Conor McDonald (0-1). Subs. - Aidan Nolan for Redmond (28), Jack O'Connor (1-2) for Morris (41), Harry Kehoe for McDonald (59), Shane Tomkins for Doran (63).

Waterford: Stephen O'Keeffe; Conor Gleeson (0-1), Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Tadhg de Búrca; Darragh Fives (0-1), Shane Fives, Philip Mahony; Kevin Moran (capt., 1-3), Jamie Barron; Michael Walsh (0-1), Austin Gleeson (0-3, 1 free), Páuric Mahony (0-9 frees); Shane Bennett, Jake Dillon (0-1). Subs. - Maurice Shanahan (0-2) for Dillon (45), Brian O'Halloran (0-2) for Bennett (46), Stephen Bennett for Walsh (54), Colin Dunford for Barron (62), Tommy Ryan for Páuric Mahony (70+1).

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).

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