Friday 24 February 2017

Déise turn on style in five-goal Tribe rout

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Waterford players celebrate in the dressing room after their victory over Galway in Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 hurling final at Semple Stadium. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Waterford players celebrate in the dressing room after their victory over Galway in Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 hurling final at Semple Stadium. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

When Waterford suffered defeats to Tipperary and Limerick in the 2013 Munster minor hurling championship you could scarcely have envisaged the impact this group would go on to have on the county's hurling landscape.

Waterford 5-15 Galway 0-14

Within two months of that second defeat they were All-Ireland minor champions. Over the next three years they steadily nudged Waterford into hurling's top four. Now they are All-Ireland U-21 champions, the crowning glory of their developmental years.

Austin Gleeson of Waterford fields the sliotar ahead of Sean Linnane of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson of Waterford fields the sliotar ahead of Sean Linnane of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Where next? As goals of the highest quality flew in at either end of Semple Stadium on Saturday evening from all angles and means, it felt like anything is possible for these players.

Six of them are already regular fixtures in Waterford's first 20 senior players, six more have dipped their toes in the choppier waters of senior hurling.

They didn't unveil anything that wasn't already known about them as they landed the county's second All-Ireland title in the grade, 24 years on from their landmark first victory that featured such luminaries as Paul Flynn, Fergal Hartley and Tony Browne, who went on to give so much to the county.

However, this display confirmed the talent that is there already. They lived up to their billing and weren't burdened by the expectation. That can only steel them for the future, a future that has been building since their fledgling days as Tony Forristal Cup competitors.

Darragh Lyons of Waterford is tackled by Jack Grealish of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Darragh Lyons of Waterford is tackled by Jack Grealish of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It was quality more than quantity that broke a Galway team that had also lost the minor final three years earlier.

Each goal was better than the next, culminating in Stephen Bennett's 57th minute catch, from an Austin Gleeson sideline, turn and strike off his blind side to beat Galway goalkeeper Cathal Tuohy with a rasping shot from an angle that still looked impossible on any subsequent replay.

They won by 16 points - a margin in keeping with just about every other All-Ireland U-21 final this decade with the exception of Clare's six-point 2012 triumph over Kilkenny - to seal a sixth success for a Munster county this decade.

For Galway there was a touch of deja-vu about the evening, relating back to the five-goal mauling they took from a jubilant Tipperary in 2010.

Darragh Lyons of Waterford is tackled by Jack Grealish of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Darragh Lyons of Waterford is tackled by Jack Grealish of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

To their credit, though, after trailing by 13 points at the break, they got a foothold in the third quarter when outscoring their opponents by 0-6 to 0-1, Waterford's only point coming off a Patrick Curran free.

Easy

However, it was probably inevitable that the champions would sit off for a period. They had won their three previous games against Clare, Tipperary and Antrim by an average of almost 16 points and it was all becoming too easy for them.

They had three goals scored here by the 15th minute; DJ Foran finding the net with a thunderbolt with just 41 seconds on the clock after Gleeson had careered into Eanna Burke at the other end - referee Sean Cleere overlooking the probability of a free for the challenge.

Foran turned provider on nine minutes to send in Curran and he had the presence of mind to step in and bat down past Tuohy for a six-point lead. Galway heads were visibly wilting.

The trend of previous goalscorer turning creator continued when Curran delivered arguably the most magical moment of all, his lift and reverse pass in the one movement reminiscent of Joe Canning's lay-off against Cork in a qualifier some years ago, setting Stephen Bennett on the way for his first goal.

Brian Molloy did the most to offer resistance at the other end, while Galway dropped Darragh Dolan back as an extra defender to try and stem the flow.

It worked, as Sean Loftus operated in a sweeping role, but it was too little too late.

"Maybe as management we were a bit slow to do it, but it did slow it down. But then you have five marking six up the other end," acknowledged Galway manager Tony Ward.

By the break it was 3-10 to 0-6, estimates at where the final margin might rest in the 20-plus point mark. However, with Éanna Burke, Sean Linnane, Loftus, Shane Cooney and Conor Whelan lifting it, Galway did have their period.

Waterford's quality, though, was irrepressible. On 49 minutes Stephen Bennett steered a pass from the sideline across the goalmouth for brother Shane to slide in and tap home, as if it was the back garden in Ballysaggart they were knocking the sliotar about in. It looked straightforward, but for timing it was some feat of skill.

Even that was surpassed by Stephen Bennett's final flourish as, once again, the distance of a Gleeson puck-out gave them a real platform.

For good measure Shane Bennett landed the point of the game from close to the sideline and endline at the corner of the New Stand and Town End. The ball was barely airborne when he had turned to raise his fist to the crowd.

Afterwards, Gleeson, the only member of the starting team from the city, was satisfied they had put to bed any notion that 2013 was a bolt from the blue.

"We set our stall at the start of the year determined to prove that three years ago wasn't a fluke," he said.

Fluke

"A lot of people were questioning our performances three years ago, as if it was a fluke, because we lost two games in Munster and still went on to win the All-Ireland.

"A lot of people were saying that if different teams got to different stages that they would have beaten us. This year we wanted to show that we have a remarkable bunch of players. We did what we knew we could do.

"The amount of players that could go on and do great things in the game," he wondered. "We just know that we can believe in each other and if we do that and believe in the rest of the lads around us, God only knows where it can take us."

Defenders William Hahessy, Micheal Harney and Conor Prunty did their prospects of future elevation no harm, while Michael Kearney's two points suggested he might come again.

Waterford boss Sean Power was delighted with the manner of the performance as much as the win.

"We like playing a bit of hurling, an open, expansive game, attacking when we have the ball. We leak a few scores, but we score more than most.

"These competitions are very, very difficult to win. It's rare that a county like Waterford can go and win an All-Ireland. The senior grade was heartbreaking for us all, but this will ease the pain a bit."

Scorers - Waterford: P Curran 1-9 (0-6fs), Stephen Bennett 2-0, Shane Bennett 1-1, DJ Foran 1-0, M Kearney, A Gleeson (f) 0-2 each, T Devine 0-1.

Galway: B Molloy 0-6 (3fs), E Burke 0-3, C Whelan, S Linnane 0-2 each, K McHugo 0-1 each.

Waterford: J Henley; W Hahessy, C Gleeson, D Lyons; M Harney, A Gleeson, C Prunty; M O'Brien, C Roche; Shane Bennett, T Devine, DJ Foran; P Curran, Stephen Bennett, M Kearney. Subs: A Farrell for Devine (56), D Ryan for Lyons (57), B O'Keeffe for Harney (60), P Hogan for Shane Bennett (61), B Whelan for Hahessy (63).

Galway: C Tuohy; C Jennings, D O'Donoghue, D Cronin; V Doyle, S Cooney, S Loftus; D Nevin, D Dolan; K McHugo, B Molloy, S Linnane; T Monaghan, C Whelan, E Burke. Subs: E Brannigan for Monaghan (ht), J Grealish for McHugo (42), F Burke for Nevin (55), C Burke for Linnane (59), A Morrissey for Dolan (60).

Ref: S Cleere (Klkenny)

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