Determined Déise 'ease the hurt' as Saffrons sink to new low with 29-point rout
Waterford 5-25 Antrim 1-8
Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30
Ollie Bellew didn't dance around the issue. This was as bad for Antrim as he suspected it would be.
An easy semi-final victory for Waterford in Semple Stadium provided some solace following the heartbreaking senior exit at the same venue a week previously.
Senior players Austin and Conor Gleeson, the Bennett brothers Stephen and Shane, Tom Devine and Patrick Curran (pictured right) all started this encounter and the gulf in class between the counties was stark.
Antrim were sent packing by 29 points and manager Bellew was left to lament the current poor state of hurling in the county - while at the same time graciously acknowledging Waterford's class.
For his part, Waterford manager Seán Power admitted that "the hurt of last week still lives on a little bit".
Curran, in particular, was keen to exorcise some demons as he collected 2-7, while Stephen Bennett took the man-of-the-match award.
Shane Bennett went off early with the ankle problem that had troubled him in the senior Kilkenny match and Austin Gleeson succumbed to a shoulder injury towards the finish at Semple Stadium.
Both should be fit, however, for a final against Galway on September 10, while goalkeeper Jordan Henley should be ready too after being ruled out due to a nasty bang to the chest sustained recently.
In Henley's absence, Gavin Power stepped in and performed capably but in truth, he had very little to do.
At half-time, Waterford were 3-10 to 0-6 clear after playing against the breeze. Saul McCaughan, Antrim's bright spot on an otherwise forgettable day, stole in for an early second-half goal but normal service was quickly resumed and Waterford went on to beat the 25-point handicap on offer from the bookies.
Power explained: "Shane had a troubled ankle - it didn't go so well in the warm-up but we gave him a few minutes and he got a good score as well.
"He was delighted to play his part but we felt that with the hope that we were going to win this game that we could afford to take him off early in the game and rest him for the next day.
"His ankle's a bit sore and Austin's shoulder's a bit sore. We'll have the medical team assess them straight away and see where we are then."
And so a season that saw Waterford's senior crew belatedly light up the race for Liam MacCarthy could yet be rounded off with a first U-21 title in 24 years.
The 1992 vintage featured the likes of Tony Browne, Fergal Hartley and Paul Flynn, but this crop is arguably better, and Waterford will start as hot favourites against Galway.
They were as low as 2/1 in places to win the competition at the start of the season. Now, they're 1/7.
Antrim were mere cannon fodder as Waterford cleared the semi-final hurdle with considerable ease.
When the Saffrons played Wexford at the corresponding stage last year, they operated with two sweepers and lost by 12 points. This time, they went more conventional and paid an even heavier price.
Bellew was thrust into the role in June and delivered an Ulster title but he saw this one coming.
Bellew explained: "I don't know, I think everything was said during the week. We knew how bad our preparation was and things in Antrim are a wee bit messy at the minute.
"It's been a tough couple of years and that cements it - it tells us where we are and what needs to be done.
"The other side of the coin is you've got to respect that team out there - Waterford have done everything right over the last three years, they've put the work in, such an amazing bunch of athletes.
"I've said it a few times - they're on the crest of a wave and I really hope they push on now at senior and U21."
Scorers - Waterford: P Curran 2-7 (0-4fs); T Devine 1-2; Stephen Bennett 1-1; M Kearney (1 sl), DJ Foran 0-4 each; E McManus 1-0 (og); A Gleeson 0-2; M O'Brien, Shane Bennett, P Hogan, A Farrell, J Fagan 0-1 each. Antrim: S McCaughan 1-4 (0-3fs); M Connolly 0-2 (1f); D McMullan (f), D Nugent 0-1 each.
WATERFORD - G Power; W Hahessy, C Gleeson, D Lyons; M Harney, A Gleeson, C Prunty; C Roche, Shane Bennett; Stephen Bennett, T Devine, M O'Brien; P Curran, DJ Foran, M Kearney. Subs: P Hogan for Shane Bennett (16), A Farrell for Roche (39), B O'Keeffe for Lyons (41), J Fagan for Devine (44), D Ryan for A Gleeson (50).
ANTRIM - R Elliott; G Walsh, T Burns, E McManus; D McMullan, P Burke, R McCambridge; C Ross, A Delargy; M Connolly, D Nugent, J O'Connell; S McCaughan, TT Butler, R McKee. Subs: J Connolly for Ross (28), R Gillan for Walsh (40), C McNaughton for Nugent (43), C McAllister for O'Connell (47), R Delargy for McManus (51).
Ref - D Hughes (Carlow).