Wexford just pipped by league champions after valiant fight

The hosts ran Waterford close with a Maurice Shanahan point proving the difference

Wexford’s Liam Ryan attempts to gather the ball under pressure from Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan during their Allianz League clash. Photo: ken Sutton/Inpho

Wexford’s Liam Ryan attempts to gather the ball under pressure from Waterford’s Maurice Shanahan during their Allianz League clash. Photo: ken Sutton/Inpho

 

Wexford 1-13 Waterford 0-17

“Did it get to me?” asks Liam Dunne, repeating the question of whether the criticism levelled at him last week was hurtful. “Not at all,” he says, with perhaps some gentle sarcasm.

Because nothing and yet everything about Wexford’s performance here suggested they were hurting about something, or at least of players wanting to ease some of the pain on their manager. They fought rebelliously against the reigning league champions and in the end fell just a point short, the impeccable Maurice Shanahan suitably providing the winning score for Waterford with a tightly-angled free at the death.

Indeed for Dunne, who was fairly well pilloried within his own county for taking a short holiday over Easter weekend, the performance seemed more important than the end result, even if Wexford came out the wrong side of it. What lost it for them were some costly wides in the second half - seven in succession: a free-taker with any level of accuracy would have meant certain victory.

Still, when pressed further on those questions about his commitment last week, Dunne chose to hold fire, and there is a sense Wexford may well be reserving some further steam for their championship date with Dublin on May 21st.

“I could blow my head off now, if I wanted to,” Dunne admits, “but at the same time I’m well pleased with the commitment I’m getting from these guys. Everyone has their opinion, and is entitled to their opinion, but there are lots of keyboard warriors out there that know it all.

“But nobody knows what’s going on in there between the dressing room walls. Waterford are league champions, probably fancy their chances to win the All-Ireland, and I was expecting we’d beat them, to tell you the truth. The scoreboard shows Waterford won, and unfortunately we just came up short. A few mistakes, a few bad wides, in the second half, just cost us.”

Indeed it was a lucky escape for the league champions - their manager Derek McGrath admitting as much. They were six points down after seven minutes and even when well on top in the second half struggled to put Wexford away. A close-range goal from Conor McDonald, deftly set up by Cathal Dunbar, levelled the scores with two minutes of normal time remaining, before Shanahan - who finished with a brilliant tally of 0-12 - finally sealed the deal for Waterford.

“There was nothing between us, really,” says McGrath. “And when we talk about nothing between teams maybe more people will believe us. We probably got the bit of luck, in the end, but we’re very happy. Wexford, traditionally, when they’re written off are very, very dangerous.”

With that McGraths lends some words of support for Dunne, highlighting the fact that intercounty managers are coming under increasingly intense scrutiny.

“I’m pleased for Liam, that he got such a good performance, because I know how hard he works. It’s not some legion of managers here, some sudden affinity. I know in my first year we were relegated, and I went on holidays with my wife for four days, before the club championship. And I got a text to say Waterford hurling is in crisis, and the manager is in Portugal.

“I’m not poor-mouthing us either, and we know the scrutiny that comes with it, but the workload is huge, and the sustainability of that into the future is questionable.”

Waterford certainly sustained their performance over the 70 minutes here, and needed to. Wexford’s fiery start, with sweet points from Lee Chin, Paul Morris, and what looked like accurate free-taking from Ian Byrne, gave them plenty to chase, and required some working repairs. Austin Gleeson was soon recalled from full forward to the half back line with near immediate effect, while Tadhg de Burca provided the platform for some long-range attacks with a series of outstanding catches.

Shanahan was having his best game of the year, chasing tirelessly for ball and often rewarding himself with a score - and helped level the scores just before halftime, before Wexford eased one point clear again.

It stayed close and pretty crowded for much of the second half, although gradually Waterford spread their wings, Gleeson adding two long range scores, while Shanahan’s free-taking remained flawless. Wexford, in contrast, missed a few sitters, from both play and placed ball, and indeed was later replaced by David Redmond.

Harry Kehoe still did his best to keep Wexford in it, but their 12 wides in the end (the same as Waterford) proved too costly. Had McDonald’s goal come a little earlier they might have rallied to victory, although in fairness they were tiring towards the end, whereas Waterford’s physicality proved more enduring.

“Sure it was hardly worth our while coming here at all, according to everyone,” Dunne also says, again in sarcastic mode. “We took a lot of tough punches in the league. We should have beaten Clare, and they’re one of the favourites to win the All-Ireland as well. But you have to take the good and the bad, and I only hear about the bad.

“And by the way Paul Morris and Harry Kehoe are off to Germany next week, for a few days. Just in case someone thinks there’s dissent in the camp, and we’re all after falling out again.”

For Waterford, a league semi-final date against Limerick will be warmly welcomed, and McGrath is nothing but content. With Shanahan in this sort of form they won’t be surrendering their league title without a considerable fight.

Waterford: S O’Keeffe; N Connors, B Coughlan, S Fives; P Mahony (0-1), T de Burca, K Moran; J Barron, C Dunford; J Dillon, M Walsh (0-1), S Bennett; M Shanahan (0-12, eight frees, one 65), A Gleeson (0-2), P Curran (0-1). Subs: T Devine for Curran (45 mins), B O’Halloran for Dillon (50 mins), M Kearney for Bennett (60 mins), S McNulty for Connors (64 mins),

Wexford: C O’Leary; J Breen, L Ryan, D O’Keeffe; E Moore, P Foley, M O’Hanlon; J O’Connor, I Byrne (0-4, three frees, one 65); A Nolan (0-2), L Chin (0-2), C McDonald (1-0); L Og McGovern, P Morris (0-1), S Tomkins (0-1). Subs: H Kehoe (0-3) for O’Connor (32 mins), D Redmond for Byrne (52 mins), A Kenny for Nolan (60 mins), C Dunbar for Tomkins (61 mins), D Dunne for McGovern (69 mins)

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).

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