Sharper Decies dish out derby blues
Promotion bid thwarted as Waterford full value for six-point winning margin
Wexford will be spending a fifth successive season away from hurling's Allianz League top flight after succumbing to a most disappointing six-point defeat to Waterford who prevailed with an alarming degree of comfort in this winner-takes-all promotion battle watched by 8,700 spectators at Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
Waterford 0-22 Wexford 0-16
Limerick's unexpected loss to Offaly had presented the team with an opportunity its supporters felt was lost after they were pipped by the Shannonsiders at the same venue a fortnight earlier. However, despite the worth of the prize on offer, it was disheartening to note that the Wexford men were comprehensively outplayed by their south-east neighbours in so many facets of the game.
Six points may not seem like a large winning margin, but it was blindingly obvious that Waterford were comfortably in control and never in danger of defeat once they hit a purple patch between the 22nd and 31st minutes. In that period they knocked over six unanswered points to race clear by 0-12 to 0-5, going on to lead by 0-13 to 0-7 at the break.
And although wing-back Pádraig Foley split the posts just 15 seconds into the new half, Wexford never got any closer and could have absolutely no complaints with the outcome. Now they will have to pick themselves up again on Sunday when they take on Cork in the quarter-final, but a lot of soul-searching will be required first as the lessons learned in this loss will either make or break the group.
The most galling aspect for me was the manner in which Wexford were obliterated in the majority of battles for possession when five or six players swarmed around a ball on the ground. All too often a Waterford man emerged with the sliothar, and it was a situation that grew worse rather than better as the game wore on.
The visitors were for the most part superior in the air too, with Tadhg De Búrca giving an exceptional display in the half-back line to enhance his growing reputation. They were also far more adept at finding a colleague with a short pass, whereas Wexford were too fond of hurriedly using the hand in a bid to locate a marked man instead of letting their hurl do the work and relieving some pressure.
Team captain Matthew O'Hanlon was a man mountain at full-back while restored netminder Mark Fanning made a couple of very good second-half saves, but a return of only eight points from play was never going to be enough on a day when petty fouling enabled Páuric Mahony to fire eleven placed balls between the posts for the victors.
When O'Hanlon won the toss and opted to play into the wind, it was an apparent sign that Wexford were up for this fight and were in the mood to contain their rivals in the opening half before powering on down the home straight. That theory went rapidly out the window though after Waterford opened up that gap in the lead-up to half-time, and there was a sad air of inevitability surrounding the result long before the final whistle.
Harry Kehoe was the only one of the outfield players who started in Portlaoise seven days earlier not to get the nod on this occasion, with Daithí Waters returning and starting at right half-forward although he did alternate regularly with Diarmuid O'Keeffe on the '40. Eoin Moore's deployment at centre-back rather than on the wing was possibly with a view to curbing the threat posed by Páuric Mahony, while Eoin Conroy was retained for his second successive start in the left corner.
Waterford utilised their familiar tactics from the off, with one of their corner-forwards, Colin Dunford, drifting out the field and eventually being picked up by Liam Ryan after the Rapparees man stayed close to goal in a loose role at the outset.
Páuric Mahony opened the scoring from a midfield free after a foul on Jamie Barron, with the effort sandwiched in between the first two of Waterford's ten wides before half-time. Wexford only had two in contrast, with Ian Byrne missing the target before Conor McDonald levelled in the fourth minute.
Good play by Noel Connors, who kept a close eye on Liam Og McGovern, led to Colin Dunford restoring the Waterford lead, with Mahony obliging from another free before Ian Byrne cancelled his effort from close to the right sideline after McDonald was impeded (0-3 to 0-2).
Kevin Moran and Jake Dillon combined to set up Stephen Bennett for the next Waterford point in the eleventh minute, but Wexford quickly drew level as Byrne converted another free after a foul on Diarmuid O'Keeffe before Andrew Shore's catch and David Redmond's delivery led to McGovern's opening score (0-4 each).
The latter followed up with a wide in a game that Wexford never led, with a crossfield Michael Walsh pass ending with Colin Dunford's second point before Mark Fanning advanced smartly to thwart a possible goal chance for Stephen Bennett.
Podge Doran had a half-chance bravely blocked by Philip Mahony before his ill-advised handpass ended with Jake Dillon picking off a fine score from long range. That made it 0-6 to 0-4 for Derek McGrath's side, and when Lee Chin won the puck-out and created an opening for a Diarmuid O'Keeffe point, Wexford must have been reasonably happy with the situation although they were a long way from their optimum performance.
The next nine minutes were to have a huge bearing though as Waterford's greater composure, eye for the best pass, and hunger to win the ball in the first place, led to those six points. Páuric Mahony scored from a free and from play, the latter after a hook by Andrew Shore on Colin Dunford, with Jake Dillon stretching the lead to 0-9 to 0-5 before a needless short crossfield pass in defence led to a free which Mahony took pleasure in driving over.
He repeated the dose before Austin Gleeson caught the puck-out and returned it between the posts with interest. The rot was eventually stopped when a foul on Chin led to Ian Byrne's third pointed free, with Chin and McDonald - now at centre-forward - linking up before Liam Og McGovern narrowed the gap to five points.
Páuric Mahony had an unexpected miss from a free but quickly atoned with his next attempt, leaving Waterford ahead at the break by 0-13 to 0-7 and already shaping up as the more likely promotion candidates.
Wexford resumed with Jack Guiney and Kevin Foley on instead of Ian Byrne and Podge Doran, with Conor McDonald restored to the full-forward berth. And although Pádraig Foley reduced the deficit after a mere 15 seconds, unfortunately it wasn't a taste of things to come.
Forty seconds later Mark Fanning kept out Kevin Moran's shot for goal, with Páuric Mahony converting a free before an unfortunate incident when Conor McDonald lost his helmet seconds before handpassing to Diarmuid O'Keeffe who had a clear run at goal. Referee Colm Lyons was obliged to halt the play though once a player was without his headgear, and then poor Jack Guiney had to suffer some undeserved taunts from those not fully au fait with the rules when he tapped the indirect free to re-start to his left and it came to nothing. Those aghast at why he didn't put it over the bar clearly haven't been at too many games since this playing rule came into force.
Waterford once again tested Fanning in the 41st minute as he turned a Stephen Bennett shot around the post for a '65 which Páuric Mahony missed, but the top scorer atoned from a free shortly after Harry Kehoe replaced David Redmond at midfield. A bad situation grew rapidly worse when Kevin Moran lofted a pass into the left corner and Jake Dillon effortlessly glided it over to leave the Deise men with a commanding double scores lead of 0-16 to 0-8 after 44 minutes.
Jack Guiney punished a throw by the falling Austin Gleeson with his first pointed free which was quickly cancelled out by Páuric Mahony, with Wexford's best goal chance following soon after. Guiney and Diarmuid O'Keeffe presented an opening for substitute Kevin Foley but, under pressure from a defender, he drove the sliothar high to his left and wide at the town end.
Garrett Sinnott came in to the fray for Eoin Moore as Lee Chin reverted to centre-back, with the gap narrowed to six when a Kevin Foley handpass set up Diarmuid O'Keeffe for a score before Sinnott and Daithí Waters were involved in a move and Guiney made it 0-17 to 0-11.
A weak shot from Liam Og McGovern was comfortably saved by Stephen O'Keeffe before Jamie Barron floated a beauty over the bar from the left flank, leaving seven in it at the three-quarters stage.
O'Keeffe, from a Daithí Waters pass, struck his third point before Mahony and Guiney exchanged frees, but Waterford never looked in danger as Mahony and substitute Tom Devine added further efforts from play. Guiney hit the second of three Wexford wides after the break in between, but he accounted for the last three scores too, all from placed balls.
It took a timely tackle by Liam Ryan on Michael Kearney to deny Waterford a goal chance in the 68th minute, while Kevin Foley's kick was kept out at the other end and Guiney couldn't make the most of the rebound deep in added time.
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Liam Ryan, Matthew O'Hanlon (capt.), Eoin Conroy; Pádraig Foley (0-1), Eoin Moore, Andrew Shore; David Redmond, Lee Chin; Daithí Waters, Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-3), Ian Byrne (0-3 frees); Liam Og McGovern (0-2), Conor McDonald (0-1), Podge Doran. Subs. - Jack Guiney (0-6, 5 frees) for Byrne (HT), Kevin Foley for Doran (HT), Harry Kehoe for Redmond (42), Garrett Sinnott for Moore (49), Shane Tomkins for Waters (63).
Waterford: Stephen O'Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Austin Gleeson (0-1), Tadhg De Búrca, Philip Mahony; Jamie Barron (0-1), Kevin Moran (capt.); Michael Walsh, Páuric Mahony (0-13, 11 frees), Jake Dillon (0-3); Brian O'Halloran, Stephen Bennett (0-1), Colin Dunford (0-2). Subs. - Maurice Shanahan for Bennett (53), Tom Devine (0-1) for O'Halloran (60), Michael Kearney for Dunford (66), Martin O'Neill for Dillon (68), Shane O'Sullivan for Barron (70 + 2).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).