Dublin 0-21 Waterford 2-15
A game which ended with more cards than you’d see on a mantelpiece at Christmas time – 12 yellows, two blacks and two reds – might indicate an unseemly affair at Parnell Park in this opening AHL Division 1B clash.
In reality, this full-blooded duel didn’t have any nasty undertones, just two teams going at each other with a gusto that underscores the importance of putting down a marker in the condensed league structure.
For Dublin, the new Walsh Cup holders, the draw – maintaining their unbeaten start to the year – was just reward for a serious effort in the second half when, playing into the wind, it had seemed their four points interval advantage looked gravely insufficient.
As it turned out, that lead was just about sufficient to see out a hard-earned draw with some massive performances in defence, with Eoghan O’Donnell outstanding, combining with Donal Burke’s stellar marksmanship, primarily from frees, to ensure parity.
Waterford, of course, had their own ace marksman. Stephen Bennett completed his day with a haul of 2-10, both goals came from penalties, whilst nine of the 10 points from frees.
That first goal arrived in the 10th minute. As Colin Dunford made his way along the endline towards goal Cian O'Callaghan stood firm and was adjudged by referee Colum Cunning to have used an unfair tactic to deny the Waterford attacker a goalscoring opportunity.
O’Callaghan was black carded and went to the sin bin for 10 minutes (which seemed to stretch a couple more beyond that timeline) and Bennett blasted home to give his side the lead, 1-1 to 0-3, for the first time.
The remainder of the first half was scrappy enough, not helped by a playing surface where the ball stuck and resulted in the kind of rucks seen at elephant feeding time in Dublin Zoo.
Rucking there was aplenty, which led to a degree of frustration and fed a number of off-the-ball scuffles that meant Cunning needed eyes in the back of his head.
Dublin led 0-11 to 1-4 at half-time and Waterford – with the wind for the second-half – appeared overwhelming favourites to get the job done, a suspicion strengthened when Austin Gleeson drilled over a long range free inside 45 seconds of the restart and DJ Foran produced a superb point from near the sideline on the golf course side.
But Dublin hung tough, tenacious in the tackle and still leading – by two points – when Carthach Daly bore down on goal in the 55th minute. His route was unceremoniously blocked by Dublin goalkeeper Seán Brennan.
Another black card resulted for Dublin, down to 14 men for a second time, and again Stephen Bennett made no mistake in dispatching the penalty past new goalkeeper Alan Nolan who was introduced at the expense of Ronan Hayes.
That second penalty restored Waterford’s lead – 2-10 to 0-15 – and Dublin’s plight was made even tougher in the 61st minute when O’Callaghan was yellow carded to go with his first-half black card – thus resulting in a red card.
Yet, Dublin stuck gamely to their task and, when substitute Eamon Dillon pointed a minute into added time, it gave Dublin a one-point lead which moments later was cancelled by Bennett's only point from play.
Three minutes into injury time, both teams were playing with 14 men after Waterford full-back Conor Prunty got his second yellow card and the endgame was played out with a Burke pointed free followed by a Bennett pointed free to leave matters level. It was probably the fairest result.
“It was a difficult day to hurl and a difficult day to referee as well to be fair with the intensity that was in the game. It mightn’t have been an all-out skilful game but it was very physical, a lot of big hits going in,” said Waterford manager Liam Cahill who knows that his Ballygunner contingent and others on the injury list will be back shortly.
For Dublin manager Mattie Kenny, there were also plenty of positives to take away: “It was good challenging stuff for this time of the year. I thought our lads showed massive character in that second half. When things seemed to be going against them, they stayed in the game. Both sides were very committed . . . . there was nothing nasty, just two very competitive sides going hard at it.”
DUBLIN: S Brennan; A Dunphy, E O'Donnell (0-1), C O'Callaghan; J Bellew, P Smyth, J Madden; C Burke (0-2), C Crummey (0-1); D Burke (0-12, 10 frees, one85), R McBride (0-1), D Sutcliffe (0-1); F Whiteley (0-1), R Hayes (0-1), C Currie.
Subs: E Dillon (0-1) for Currie (50 mins), D Keogh for Brennan (56 mins), A Nolan for Hayes (54 mins), D Keogh for Brennan (56 mins).
WATERFORD: B Nolan; C Gleeson, C Prunty, K Bennett; J Fagan, I Daly, T Barron; C Daly, J Prendergast; P Curra, A Gleeson (0-1, free), DJ Foran (0-3); Shane Bennett, Stephen Bennett (2-10, 2-0 penalties, 0-9 frees), C Dunford (0-1).
Subs: M Kiely for Shane Bennett (50 mins), B Power for Dunford (55 mins), K Kirwan for A Gleeson (56 mins)
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)