Waterford 5-20 Wexford 0-16:
Such was the excellence of this Waterford display that they ripped Wexford asunder as they coasted to an eventual 19-point victory in this totally one-sided Allianz Hurling League semi-final at UPMC Nowlan Park.
The Waterford supporters must have been mesmerised at the display of their side, given they were short a number of key players, while also coming off the back of a defeat to Kilkenny at the same venue seven days earlier.
While they made it a miserable afternoon for a Wexford side coming into the game with a 100 per cent record, the only blot on an outstanding afternoon was the straight red card issued to Austin Gleeson as the game moved into additional time.
Gleeson had given one of his most outstanding displays for some time, having pocketed 2-3 as he totally outshone a number of opponents, but became involved in an off-the-ball incident with Wexford defender Simon Donohoe. Referee John Keenan took several seconds consulting with his umpires before brandished a straight red card that will see the Déise talisman miss the final clash with Cork next Sunday.
Waterford manager Liam Cahill was pleased with his side’s display.
“We are happy to be in a league final. We have been putting an emphasis on creating and scoring goals, and they were well executed to-day. We could have had a couple more goals but were denied by the opposition keeper Mark Fanning.”
On the controversial late incident involving Austin Gleeson, he said: “You’re always disappointed when you don’t finish the game with the full complement. I didn’t see the incident but the umpire was fairly sure there was contact there. We’ll have a look at it and see.”
Wexford manager, Darragh Egan, was philosophical in defeat.
“Our structure was poor today but overall we were second best in most departments. The league has otherwise been a success and the focus has always been on Galway in the first round of the Leinster championship on April 16th,’ he added.
Wexford’s problems surfaced in the early minutes of the game as Dessie Hutchinson cut through for a point inside 30 seconds, while one minute later he was in on goal when he appeared to be hauled down, which the unsighted referee Keenan missed.
When Wexford had bounced back for a levelling Conor McDonald point, one expected this to settle their challenge, but Waterford were firing throughout the pitch as they took the game to their opponents with speed and purpose, while the cohesion to their play was something the opposition were unable to match.
The Déise got back in front with a Pat Curran pointed 65 after a tremendous Mark Fanning save had denied Hutchinson.
Waterford were building momentum and Gleeson pounced on a short puck-out, cutting through the Wexford defence before planting an unstoppable shot beyond Fanning at his near post giving them a 1-2 to 0-1 lead after just five minutes.
But Wexford with points from Rory O’Connor, Damien Reck and Mikie Dwyer managed to stay in the game, and when O’Connor pointed a further 16th minute free after being fouled, just a single point separated the sides, 1-4 to 0-6, and when a fine Dee O’Keeffe point brought the sides level, one expected them to push on with a greater effort but wayward finishing was to prove costly.
With the impetus back with Waterford, they dealt the Wexford challenge a telling blow when Gleeson pounced for a brilliant individual goal on 18 minutes.Then Hutchinson cut through the Wexford defence with ease, not for the first time, only on this occasion he beat keeper Fanning with a splendid finish, a score that helped his side to an eventual 3-9 to 0-10 interval lead.
Wexford may have taken extra time in the dressing room during the half-time break but it failed to halt the dominance Waterford had up to the interval, for only brilliant Damien Reck defending denied Jack Prendergast a goal straight from the restart.
That was early evidence that Waterford were determined not to relinquish the initiative. Patrick Curran pointed a free, followed by further points from Hutchinson and a further Curran free to increase their grip on proceedings.
This was devastating hurling from the Munster county, and they really put Wexford to the sword when Jack Prendergast cut in along the end line before beating Fanning at his near post, firing his side a 4-12 to 0-10 lead after 41 minutes.
After Curran had stretched the lead further with a pointed free, Wexford finally managed their opening score of the second half a Rory O’Connor point after 44 minutes.
Waterford were now 4-13 to 0-11 up but they continued to play their pressure game, giving a display that was so different to some seven days earlier in the loss to Kilkenny. But it was becoming all too easy as they began to pick off scores at will while also utilising their bench.
Having moved into a 4-16 to 0-15 lead, sub Shane Bennett got in on the act when he clinically finished to the net from close range to put them further out of sight.
Even the appearance of captain, Lee Chin, for his first appearance of the season, failed to raise the Wexford crowd who were left shell shocked at such devastation, particularly following the side’s fine displays in their path to the semi-final.
The only other concern for Liam Cahill is an injury to Colin Dunford which forced his withdrawal, joining a long list of injured players as they look ahead to their final clash with Cork.
To cap a miserable afternoon for Wexford they had Jack O’Connor, who had came on as a sub, dismissed on a second yellow card close to the finish for throwing his hurl as Waterford ’keeper Shane O’Brien attempted to clear.
WATERFORD: Shaun O'Brien; Conor Gleeson, Iarlath Daly, Shane \McNulty; Jack Fagan (0-2), Tadhg De Burca, Cartach Daly; Darragh Lyons, Austin Gleeson (2-3, 0-1 free); Neil Montgomery (0-1), Jack Prendergast (1-0), Patrick Curran (0-7, 0-2 '65s, 0-5 frees); Colin Dunford, Michael Kiely (0-2), Dessie Hutchinson (1-3). Subs: Shane Bennett (1-0) for Dunford (24), Kieran Bennett for Kiely (53), Tom Barron for I Daly (60), Calum Lyons for Fagan (60), Pauric Mahony (0-2, 1 free) for Lyons (63).
WEXFORD: Mark Fanning; Matthew O'Hanlon, Liam Ryan, Simon Donohoe; Kevin Foley, Paudie Foley (0-2 frees), Damien Reck (0-1); Cathal Dunbar, Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Liam Og McGovern, Rory O'Connor (0-5, 3 frees), Charlie McGuckin (0-1), Oisín Pepper (0-1), Conor McDonald (0-1), Mikie Dwyer (0-1). Subs: Oisín Foley for Pepper (42), Jack O'Connor (0-1) for Dunbar (42), Rory Higgins for McDonald (47), Lee Chin (0-1, free) for Dwyer (54), Connal Flood (0-1) for K Foley (60).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).