David Dunne goals see Wexford hit the ground running on return

Waterford lack fluency as Davy Fitzgerald’s side begin like an express train at Walsh Park

Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan in action against Wexford’s Lee Chin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A match at Walsh Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan in action against Wexford’s Lee Chin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A match at Walsh Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

 

Waterford 0-19 Wexford 2-20  

A tale of two counties: Wexford hitting January like an express train and Waterford still servicing the engine. A competitive January behind them, David Fitzgerald’s team were well conditioned for this successful return to the top division for the first time in seven years.

A blistering second half in Walsh Park before 7,467, highlighted by David Dunne’s zippy running and 2-2 from play, buried Waterford’s initial hopes of getting back into the match and ensured a comprehensive win.

Waterford stuttered, as key players struggled for fluency – Tadhg de Búrca’s Fitzgibbon involvement giving him an edge amongst his colleagues, which was evident in his composure in the customary sweeper role – with Pauric Mahony missing half a dozen frees and Austin Gleeson at one stage failing to rise one himself.

The match was delayed by 10 minutes because of crowds but the home side took nearly twice that to register a first score. At half-time though, they must have been happy enough to go in just six behind, 0-6 to 0-12 after facing a strong wind. Wexford exploited the conditions with ruthless efficiency, knocking over points from distance – goalkeeper Mark Fanning dispatching three giant frees – and hitting the lead so emphatically that they led by 0-7 to nil after the first quarter.

As a consequence they weren’t threatening goals and anyway, De Búrca’s vigilance and the Waterford backs’ resistance were complicating the task. But with Kevin Foley, Aidan Nolan, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and the increasingly influential Lee Chin driving through the middle Wexford were in control.

Waterford’s Stephen Bennett is tackled by Wexford’s Lee Chin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A match at Walsh Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Waterford’s Stephen Bennett is tackled by Wexford’s Lee Chin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A match at Walsh Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

The match, as would have been expected from two sweeper-orientated teams, was mostly played out in a thunderous middle third where Wexford created enough of a supply to turn into a stream of points despite the congestion.

Well-known local radio man Liam Spratt referred to the wides’ count in the minutes before half-time: “And Wexford have three. No, I’m told they have none,” and without missing a beat, “ – and it’s not often I get to say that.”

To keep everyone rooted, Kevin Foley supplied one in the 32nd minute – to take the bare look off things.

Waterford did well to recover in the second quarter. Mahony found his range and they began to probe Wexford a little. Stephen Bennett scorched through the defence but his goal attempt was kept out by Fanning for a 65, converted by Mahony.

Common consent appeared to rate the wind a six-pointer on the GAA scale so it was all to play for in the second half. Waterford backed up the prospect of recovery with four of the first five points after the break – the last a great crowd-rouser from his own half by De Búrca.

Then, just as they began to push up on their opponents, they conceded the watershed score. Nolan hit the sort of long ball into the full forwards that had been rare enough in the first half and Dunne got up brilliantly to win possession and take off on a run – Conor Gleeson trailing in his wake – that he climaxed by batting the ball past Ian O’Regan for a 1-13 to 0-10 lead and to restore the six-point difference that Waterford had worked so hard to trim.

The wind went out of the home side’s sails and the match lost competitive mass. Scores were traded but it was no surprise that Wexford pulled farther ahead and on the hour Dunne sprang out of a ruck and sped in on goal before firing in a shot like a bazooka blast.

Wexford manager David Fitzgerald wasn’t getting carried away. Would this be a launch pad for the championship like last year?

“Not a f***ing hope. I’m looking on it as a launch pad to win this game and try and win the next one. We’re not thinking of that. In Wexford, we know that this is a development process; this is going to take time.”

His counterpart Derek McGrath said that he had deliberately used no replacements, as he wanted to get a hard 75 minutes into his players.

It’s Tipperary next week for Waterford. McGrath said that he and his management had already picked the team last week with a view to rotating and including some of the Fitzgibbon Cup players omitted for Sunday.

“There’ll be significant changes. They won’t be reactive. We sat down Thursday and Friday and depending on CIT’s game against UCD and Kieran Bennett getting through the LIT game, we’ll be hoping that Mikey Kearney, who hasn’t been exposed to much over the last year or two and DJ [Foran, UCD] will see time next Saturday night and Patrick Curran, who had a back spasm after his two games in four days last week.

“We’ll be hoping to have a look at how they’re all going next week in Thurles.”

Pack up and move on.

WATERFORD: I O’Regan; C Gleeson, B Coughlan, S McNulty; Philip Mahony, A Gleeson (0-1), D Fives (0-1); J Barron (0-2, one line ball), K Moran; J Dillon (0-1), S Bennett, Pauric Mahony (0-12, nine frees, one 65); T de Búrca (0-1), M Shanahan, T Ryan (0-1).

WEXFORD: M Fanning (0-3, frees); D Reck, L Ryan, S Murphy; S Donohue, M O’Hanlon, P Foley (0-1); K Foley (0-2), A Nolan (0-1); J O’Connor, L Chin (0-8, six frees), D O’Keeffe (0-2); P Morris (0-1), C McDonald, D Dunne (2-2).

Subs: J Guiney for K Foley (61 mins), C Dunbar for Morris (68), H Kehoe for O’Connor (74), A Maddock for Nolan (74).

Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).

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