Cunningham joy as Galway subdue Deise
MICHAEL Ryan had predicted that the last 10 minutes of all of yesterday's 'Super Sunday' games might decide Division 1A's complicated permutations, but it was the opening half that cost his Waterford side a semi-final spot.
Come the restart, the Deise were back to their trademark battling best, with Maurice Shanahan, Seamus Prendergast and Kevin Moran leading the cavalry as the home side outscored last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists.
But failing to score for 24 minutes of their wind-assisted first half and trailing 0-8 to 0-3 at the break left a mountain to climb.
Ultimately, in front of a big home support, Waterford avoided a relegation play-off, which at half-time looked a distinct possibility – that provided some consolation.
But this year's surprise package must be feeling some regret, especially about a nervy-looking first half when their first touch deserted them and Galway bossed them physically.
"We never really got into it, we stood off them and gave them too much time," Ryan said.
"I thought we should have had one penalty, if not a second, in the second half but I certainly couldn't fault our lads' commitment after the break."
It is no exaggeration to say that Galway left Walsh Park cock-a-hoop after staging this little Easter resurrection.
They arrived as table-proppers and left with a semi-final spot secured against the old stripey enemy, a match-up that has already set pulses racing.
"Kilkenny again, will that add spice to things?" came the inevitable query to manager Anthony Cunningham, who saw that tackle coming a mile off.
"We always love playing Kilkenny!" he grinned. "Look, we are just delighted, we don't care who we play so long as we are in the semi-finals.
"What you want at this time of year is matches. We have loads to work on after today and we won't be getting carried away because, as I said to the lads, there is no abundance of league medals (in the squad).
"But what a great thing to get a crack at Kilkenny again! It is what we want."
Galway's form, especially their over-dependence on Joe Canning for scores, has been criticised this season but they certainly answered that yesterday, finishing with six scorers from play.
They needed the load to be spread. Their most famous sniper scored 0-5 from half-forward and made one sublime long-range pass to set up Davy Glennon, but actually had an off day by his vaunted standards.
Canning failed to put away a penalty after 15 minutes (saved by Shane O'Sullivan) and he shot more than half of Galway's eventual 10 wides.
But Glennon in particular, who earned that early penalty, helped take up the slack, scoring 0-4 from play, all of them from difficult angles.
The return of St Thomas' David Burke and Conor Cooney after their All-Ireland club victory was also a big factor.
Johnny Coen, operating at wing-back, caught the eye in a half-back line in which Adrian Harte and David Collins also held the line well for long periods.
But in the first-half, the form of All Stars Iarla Tannian and Niall Burke was equally important, with the former's complete midfield dominance emblematic of how his whole team were out-muscling their opponents.
Referee Anthony Stapleton annoyed the home support a few times with some puzzling decisions.
However, Waterford could have no complaints in the second half when the free count was a remarkable 14-1 in their favour, a statistic that prompted Cunningham to comment: "Maybe, in fairness to him, he was trying to balance up one or two we got in the first half, but it was that type of game, it was hustle and bustle."
A marked improvement in midfield, more direct ball in and the stationing of Seamus Prendergast at full-forward, where he repeatedly outfielded Kevin Hynes, led to Waterford's brave fightback. Shanahan's free-taking, too, was excellent.
But his effort to goal a 20-metre free on the hour was blocked by Colm Callanan and a goal was the life-line the Deise badly needed.
Galway got a spectacular goal – David Burke flicking in overhead a brilliant Canning side-line cut – in the late stages which the ref over-ruled for a 'square ball'.
But as has been their form all season, Waterford were still full of running in the final quarter.
Galway were expecting that and could freshen up their side with players of the calibre of Damien Hayes, James Regan, Andy Smyth and Jonathan Glynn.
"We had worked on that a small bit and we introduced a few subs because they are very fit and Kevin Moran was lording it there in the last 20 minutes," Cunningham said. "We'd seen that they scored five or six points on the trot in the last 15 minutes last Sunday and we warned the guys at half-time about that.
"Having the St Thomas' fellas back gave us a few more options, even though they maybe tired there towards the finish, which was inevitable."
"Goalscoring is something we'll have to address," Deise boss Ryan admitted. "As the year goes on we may tweak our game plan to get fellas closer to goal.
"We're disappointed not to make the semi-finals but it's been a good league overall. We've finished fourth in the group and a few fellas have had their character tested so overall I'm happy enough with the league."
Man of the Match – D Glennon (Galway)
Scorers – Galway: J Canning 0-5 (2fs), D Glennon 0-4, N Burke, I Tannian 0-2 each, C Donnellan, D Burke 0-1 each. Waterford: M Shanahan 0-7 (5fs, 1 '65'), S O'Sullivan, S Prendergast, B O'Halloran, J Dillon (f), J Barron 0-1 each.
Galway – C Callanan 8; F Moore 8, K Hynes 6, N Donoghue 6; A Harte 8, D Collins 7, J Coen 8; I Tannian 7, J Cooney 6; D Burke 7, C Cooney 7, J Canning 7; D Glennon 8, C Donnellan 6, N Burke 7. Subs: D Hayes 6 for N Burke (52), A Smyth 6 for J Cooney (57), J Glynn 6 for C Cooney (61), J Regan for Donnellan (67), B Flaherty for D Burke (71).
Waterford – I O'Regan 6; S Fives 6, L Lawlor 7, S Daniels 6; J Nagle 6, M Walsh 7, D Fives 7; S O'Sullivan 7, K Moran 7; J Dillon 7, M Shanahan 8, B O'Halloran 6; R Barry 6, S Prendergast 7, J Barron 6. Subs: P Mahony 6 for O'Halloran (53), S Walsh 6 for Barry (56), P Prendergast 6 for Dillon (59).
Ref – A Stapleton (Laois).