Waterford wrap up strong league campaign with Wexford win

Accomplished display sees Derek McGrath’s men Bounce straight back from Division One B

Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan tussles with Matthew O’Hanlon of Wexford during Waterford’s Allianz League Division 1A win. Photograph: Inpho

Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan tussles with Matthew O’Hanlon of Wexford during Waterford’s Allianz League Division 1A win. Photograph: Inpho

 

WEXFORD 0-16

WATERFORD 0-22

Everything was in place in Innovate Wexford Park yesterday. The spring sun beamed down the venue, as a crowd of 8,500 turned up for a match of real significance with the winners taking the prize of promotion to Allianz Hurling League Division One A. Unfortunately the only thing lacking was the match itself, on which Waterford imposed their authority from the second quarter until the end.

After last year’s championship improvement Wexford were hoping to take the next step and return to the top flight of the league but the evidence of the campaign to date had been that Waterford were the best team and so it proved yesterday.

Manager Derek McGrath wasn’t however getting carried away with the achievement, which sees Waterford also qualify for a home league quarter-final against Galway next week.

“Division One A is unforgiving. Four points got us relegated last year. Today four-points got someone (Galway) into a quarter-final. That is the way it is going to be next year. Call me pragmatic or realistic or mad, that is the way it will be next year. It will go down to the last game.

“People will say I’m realistic enough to point out when Paddy Power opens his book next year we will be favourites for relegation.”

Waterford’s superiority was total. They played a deep defence and squeezed Wexford for the space they needed to threaten goals and forced them into shooting from distance. Even that wasn’t straightforward as the winners’ defenders were sharp and unyielding, getting in blocks and tackles.

The attack was mobile and managed to lose their markers too easily. Pauric Mahony was as ever the scorer-in-chief and ended the day with 13 points, 11 from frees, but Colin Dunford and Jake Dillon were also a handful and Wexford, having kept in touch during the initial stages, were left adrift in the 10 minutes before the break when conceding six points on the spin, which was the margin at half-time, 0-13 to 0-7 despite having also shot 10 wides.

The home side weren’t helping themselves. Their touch was poor - one calamitous line-ball at the end of the first half forced Lee Chin into a foul, which Mahony unerringly punished - and they lacked assertiveness on loose ball. Time and again, Waterford emerged from rucks with the ball in hand - to the frustration of Wexford manager Liam Dunne who was asked what had most disappointed him.

“I suppose the ruck ball was something that we never won all day. All day and every time the ball broke to the ground a Waterford guy came out with it. They worked it back from the backs but they broke in numbers with overlaps and that and breaking tackles. Waterford were the better and the smarter hurling team today.”

Austin Gleeson and Tadh De Búrca played well in the half-back line - Gleeson catching one ball and dispatching it back over the Wexford bar in the 31st minute - and the home side struggled for attacking platform.

Liam McGovern had a good tussle with Noel Connors in the first half but the latter won the argument in preventing McGovern from getting any significant glimpses of goal and forcing him out the field to get on the ball.

Veteran Waterford hurlers Michael Walsh and Kevin Moran were also key contributors. McGrath made the point that they carry a large responsibility as the team’s primary ball winners but they discharged that duty impressively and moved the ball well when in possession.

Moran had a goal chance at the start of the second half but Mark Fanning blocked, which he did again in the 41st minute after Walsh had played Stephen Bennett in on goal.

His counterpart Stephen O’Keeffe was also sound in the Waterford goal although Wexford’s best goal chance fell to replacement Kevin Foley who went for the top left-hand corner but put too much on the shot and the ball whistled harmlessly wide.

Although Wexford displayed greater urgency in the second half and Jack Guiney converted a number of frees, the Waterford defence comfortably held out, denying their opponents space and being far more acquisitive on breaking ball.

They also maintained their lead at around six points throughout. It took a smart intervention by Liam Ryan to stop Waterford replacement Michael Kearney scooting in for a goal in the last few minutes.

“We have achieved our overall objective,” said McGrath. “People involved in Waterford county board in terms of financial constraints mentioned that they would benefit from being in One A next year so that’s a big factor if I am involved or whoever is involved in terms of the home games you can draw a crowd in when playing the best teams so it’s very exciting and let’s enjoy it.”

Liam Dunne wasn’t making any excuses.

“We’re disappointed with the result but more so the performance. In fairness to Waterford they had an extra guy behind the ball all the time. They’d 13 behind the ball at one stage but look - that was the game they brought to Wexford Park and it worked for them.

“Waterford were the smarter team.”

The quarter-finals have been determined. Waterford will play Galway in Walsh Park next week and Wexford face Cork at a venue to be announced today.

WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; A Gleeson (0-1), T De Búrca, Philip Mahony; J Barron (0-1), K Moran (capt); M Walsh, Pauric Mahony (0-13, eleven frees), J Dillon (0-3); B O’Halloran, S Bennett (0-1), C Dunford (0-2). Subs: M Shanahan for Bennett (53 mins), T Devine (0-1) for O’Halloran (60 mins), M Kearney fo Dunford (65 mins), M O’Neill for Dillon (68 mins), S O’Sullivan for Barron (71 mins). WEXFORD: M Fanning; L Ryan, M O’Hanlon (capt), E Conroy; A Shore, E Moore, P Foley (0-1); D Redmond, L Chin; D O’Keeffe (0-3), D Waters, I Byrne (0-3, frees); L McGovern (0-2), C McDonald (0-1), P Doran. Subs: J Guiney (0-6, five frees) for Byrne, K Foley for Doran (both half-time), H Kehoe for Redmond (43 mins), G Sinnott for Moore (49 mins), S Tomkins for Waters (63 mins). Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).

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