By Mike Fitzpatrick
Waterford 2-14, Offaly 1-12
Both former recent junior champions, Offaly and Waterford came face to face here in an attempt to catch up with league leaders Limerick in this hurling tie Sunday at Gaelic Park. Offaly’s last performance at Gaelic Park was one that displayed a fine fighting spirit, and Sean Guinan must surely be proud of the passion shown by his side when they achieved a draw at the death versus Clare, despite being severely understrength. Guinan introduced himself at halftime during that fixture, and it was clear that his experience had a lot to do with Offaly’s comeback. Neglecting to include himself in this match up, Offaly succumbed to Jimmy Duggan’s Waterford side despite at times threatening to take the game.
Senior hurling is proving itself to be one of the most difficult divisions to predict, what with so many good sides involved in the championship race. Waterford’s performance here was quite impressive, possessing a number of players within their ranks who must surely be champing at the bit to mix it with the division’s big guns. Goalkeeper Kevin Martin had a fine game in goal for Waterford, stopping a number of shots, and firing long clearances upfield to be caught by Michael Curtin and Dave Ryan, who proceeded to register scores.
Missing Davie Phelan up front, Waterford’s attack seemed as if it were a little lopsided going into the tie, but within minutes of the start, Phelan’s partner up front, Cormac Murray, fired in a goal to go along with Mike Curtin’s early point to set the tone for the game. Offaly’s ever reliable Dave Reynolds hit a couple for Guinan’s men in retaliation, and James Healion hit one to drag his side back into the fray a little. Waterford though, were on fire and points from Michael Curtin, Donncha Crotty and Dan Sweeney provided Waterford with a healthy six point lead going into the interval.
Both goalkeepers saw plenty of action in the second half, with Waterford’s Martin denying Healion and Mike O’Brien at various stages, and then Offaly’s Jim Miller preventing Dan Sweeney from scoring a three pointer with a fine save. The resilient defending from Offaly could not hold out for long though, and before long, Waterford had increased their lead thanks to efforts from Sweeney, Dave Ryan and Crotty again. Veteran Sean Donaghue in the Offaly midfield showed his class with a finely struck point, and this was followed by efforts from Enda Condron and Dave Reynolds.
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A late attacking purge from Waterford killed off any hopes Offaly had of gaining victory, and despite a late goal from Healion, Offaly succumbed to points from Curtin, Ryan and Cormac Murray, and a goal from Curtin to give Waterford a much-needed victory, and therefore keeping them in the championship hunt.
Waterford: Kevin Martin, Stuart Barry, Tom Bermingham, Jojo Sullivan, Conor Power, Owen O’Connor, Thomas Maher, Michael Curtin (1-4), Mike O’Shea, Dave Ryan (0-3), Dan Sweeney (0-3), Cormac Murray (1-2), Donncha Crotty (0-2).
Offaly: Jim Miller, John Hyland, Sean Nolan, Paul Cauldwell, Enda Condron (0-1), Pat Leavy, Sean Donoghue (0-1), Colm Scanlon, Dave Reynolds (0-3), Mike O’Brien (0-1), Kevin Dunne (0-1), Brendan Coughlan, James Healion (1-2). Subs: Tom Collins (0-3), Johnny Hanlon.