By Mark Jones
There may still be a phony war element about the National Hurling League, but try telling that to Waterford. As if a recent victory over Kilkenny wasn’t enough for Gerald McCarthy’s team, the scalp of All-Ireland champions Cork last Sunday has sent Waterford shooting to the top of Division 1B.
More than 17,000 fans packed into Walsh Park to witness this revival, and while luck played a part in a 2-17 to 2-14 success for the home side — Barry Walsh’s match-winning goal arrived in injury time — it was as if some psychological barrier had been broken.
Waterford had met Cork on five occasions since McCarthy took the managerial reins and Cork had won each time until last weekend.
"Tremendous, a great win," McCarthy said. "But I’d have settled for a draw at the end. In the past we’ve lost games we were controlling and this time we stuck in there when things went against us. There’s a confidence growing through the team now."
With Tony Browne making his return after a long-term injury, Waterford’s victory means they are now virtually assured of a place in the semifinals, even with games to come against Laois and Tipperary. However, in the closing seconds, a draw had looked by far the more likely outcome.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
A Neil Ronan goal with five minutes remaining had put Cork right back in contention, but when Waterford were awarded a penalty, Paul Flynn elected to take the point and give his team a one-point advantage. But Flynn’s gamble failed to pay off as Alan Browne equalized for Cork in the 73rd minute.
With most of the spectators resigned to the outcome, referee Dickie Murphy awarded Waterford a free — a decision which Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy failed to appreciate. Up stepped Flynn to drop his shot into the square and after a scuffle close to the line, Walsh was able to boot the ball into the net.
"That free at the end was a bit harsh," said Barry-Murphy. "I felt we deserved a draw."
Waterford, meanwhile, were only looking ahead to the semifinals.
Kilkenny 2-14, Tipperary 2-9
Kilkenny kept up their challenge with an emphatic victory over Tipperary at Semple Stadium, where debutant Eddie Brennan made his mark with two brilliantly taken goals.
Taking his place because of an injury to D.J. Carey, Brennan picked off both his goals during the first half and then added three points for good measure. Henry Shefflin kept up his impressive scoring record with 0-10, including nine frees.
Tipp were "terrible," according to former star Donie Nealon, and following a game of mis-hits and poor clearances from defense, manager Nicky English clearly has some work to do before the summer.
Wexford 2-24, Derry 3-9
Wexford registered a second win of the campaign when an early scoring burst set them on the way past Derry at Slaughtneil. Ten unanswered points following the puck-out put Wexford on the right track, and although Ollie Collins hit two goals for Derry, the issue was never in doubt.
While Galway were making it four wins from four at the top of Division 1A, Limerick’s challenge continued apace when they got the better of Munster rivals Clare by 2-11 to 0-13 at Milltown Malbay.
Galway had little more than a training spin when they crushed Kerry by 7-14 to 0-14 at Tralee, where Fergal Healy bagged five goals and now the semifinals beckon for the Connacht champions. Limerick, for their part, have a 100 percent record from three outings following Clare’s off-color performance.
Manager Ger Loughnane was not best pleased with his players, whose uncharacteristic defensive blunders let Brian Begley and Barry Foley in for two vital second-half goals.
"This was a serious setback, you’re looking at a malaise all over the place," Loughnane said. "The players don’t seem to have the appetite for it. It’s a serious situation. There’s no getting away from that."
Dublin were almost caught at the finishing post following a remarkable Antrim fightback at Parnell Park, but the home team managed to compose itself in the dying minutes to run out winners by 3-13 to 3-11.
Armed with an eight-point lead with five minutes left, Dublin were shocked by three Antrim goals in quick succession. First Gregory O’Kane was on the mark for the Ulster champions, and then the Dublin supporters had the worry beads out when Conor McCambridge struck.
Amazingly, McCambridge repeated the dose and Antrim were a point clear and seemingly on the way to a first League win of the season. But with desperation setting in, Dublin responded with substitute Ciaran Brady firing home the vital goal.
Meath’s promotion hopes received another boost when Nicky Horan’s goal spurred them to a 1-15 to 1-11 triumph over Down at Trim. Carlow kept up the chase with a 1-14 to 1-6 victory over Armagh at the Athletic Grounds and Westmeath made it three wins from three with a thrilling 3-13 to 1-18 success against Kildare.
Wicklow got the better of Roscommon at Arklow, where two goals by Jonathan O’Neill were instrumental in a 3-10 to 1-10 final scoreline. London, meanwhile, secured a second win of the season when they beat Tyrone by 0-18 to 0-9.
Louth and Longford share top spot in Division 3 after wins over Fermanagh and Sligo, respectively, while Leitrim move up into third thanks to a 4-11 to 1-14 verdict over Donegal.
Kerry 2-16, Donegal 0-14
Kerry booked a place in the National Football League semifinals with a convincing victory over Donegal at Ballyshannon last Sunday. Somewhat lethargic in the first half, Kerry burst into life after the interval, scoring 1-12, all from play save a solitary Dara O Cinneide free.
"We had a few words at halftime all right," manager Paidi O Se said. "They knew what was at stake and we improved 100 percent after that."
The creative attacking play of Brian Roper and Adrian Sweeney that had kept Donegal in the contest was snuffed out during the second-half as Kerry dominated. Noel Kennelly struck for a superb goal after 40 minutes to add to Mike Frank Russell’s earlier effort and from then on, the result was never in doubt.
Roscommon 1-10, Armagh 0-8
Roscommon are also on course for the semifinals following their success against Armagh at Hyde Park. Inspired by Derek Duggan’s second-half goal, Roscommon now have a great chance of making the last four if they beat Donegal on Sunday week.
The opening exchanges were tight with Oisin McConville and Diarmuid Marsden making their usual impression, but once Duggan found the net from a 40-meter free, Roscommon surged clear for their fourth win of the campaign.
Tyrone 1-12, Cork 0-12
Tyrone staved off the threat of relegation when they defeated Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in a game ruined by high winds. The contest was close throughout with the decisive score — a fisted Pascal Canavan goal — only coming four minutes from the end.
Derry 1-15, Down 0-7
In Division 1B, Derry remain on course for the semifinals thanks to a victory against a disappointing Down team at Newcastle. Down were competitive in the first half with Shane Ward and Shane Mulholland looking sharp. However, Derry took the initiative after the break with Anthony Tohill and Eamonn Burns in good form, and the game was over when Ronan Rocks fired
home a goal.
Sligo 1-10, Kildare 1-7
Sligo remain in second place in the table after their fully deserved victory over relegation threatened Kildare at Markievicz Park. In fact, Sligo were the better team throughout and the final margin should really have been greater.
Without Karl O’Dwyer and the suspended Anthony Rainbow, Kildare were disappointing and they were fortunate not to be on the wrong end of a drubbing as the Sligo forwards were guilty of a series of wides.
But Ken Killeen eased the home frustration with an excellent goal and Ronan Keane, Tommy Brennan and Paul Taylor each contributed two points.
Meath 1-10, Mayo 1-9
Mayo missed the chance to climb out of the relegation zone when they were pipped by Meath at Navan where Trevor Giles curled over the vital point in injury time.
An intense contest saw goals exchanged by Stephen Carolan for Mayo and Graham Geraghty, but in the end it was Giles’s contribution of 0-6 that made the difference.
Fermanagh 1-9, Clare 1-6
Fermanagh remain confident of reaching the playoff stages following their victory over Clare at Kilmihil. Even with the benefit of a strong breeze, Clare found themselves trailing by a point at the break, and even though Martin Daly struck for a home goal during the second half, Fermanagh were not to be denied.
Stephen Maguire soon canceled out Daly’s effort and Raymond Gallagher kicked 0-5 as the Ulster county pulled away for a deserved success.
Offaly continued on their winning ways in Division 2A with a 1-12 to 1-9 verdict over Leitrim, but there was controversy at the end of the game when referee Eugene Murtagh blew up 90 seconds early. Louth are second behind Offaly after their 3-14 to 0-13 triumph against Westmeath, Wicklow beat Antrim by 0-15 to 1-9, while Limerick got the better of London by 1-9 to 0-9.
Laois continue to emulate Offaly with a 100 percent record from six outings. The Midlands county leads the way in Division 2B thanks to a narrow 1-10 to 0-11 victory over Waterford. Longford defeated Monaghan by 1-12 to 0-11, Cavan were too good for Tipperary on a scoreline of 0-15 to 1-4 and Wexford beat Carlow by 1-15 to 2-8.