FOR the second game in a row, Eoin Kelly inspired Waterford to victory to keep their Liam McCarthy hopes alive.
A total of 2-13 from the dangerman saw his team through against a brave Offaly side in front of 35,000 people at Thurles yesterday evening. That Kelly got all bar five points of his team's tally says it all.
Apart from an early cameo by John Mullane, Kelly was the only Waterford forward on form. Both from frees and open play, Kelly was sublime.
In the end his continued excellence steered his county through stormy waters. For 60 minutes Offaly had pushed and pushed but in the end they ran out of puff. It looks like Joe Dooley has a fine young team on the way. A year should do a huge amount for their development, and they should push Kilkenny hard next season.
"They were very dogged," said Davy Fitzgerald, "but we gave them the respect they deserved and we came through. I think, though, that Wexford won't be too worried by what they saw today."
The match began with all of Waterford's forwards fizzing, it's just worrying that they didn't maintain the tempo.
John Mullane out-sprinted Michael Verney in the right corner to shoot the opening point. We didn't have time to digest that by the time Eoin Kelly had fired a free over. Seconds later Kelly had a goal to his name. Mullane darted into space, pulled first time to Kelly, Brian Mullins failed to cut the pass out and the Passage man shot into an empty net.
The tide soon turned. Buoyed by their display against Limerick, Offaly didn't lose confidence and hit eight points on the trot to level the game.
At this stage there were warning signs for Waterford. Dan Shanahan, operating between half and full forward still hadn't touched the ball. Their half backs and half forwards struggled, but their inside backs and forwards were in top form. Ken McGrath tracked Offaly dangerman Joe Bergin from the start and by half-time the hat-trick hero of the Limerick game had scarcely touched the ball.
At the other end Davy Fitzgerald's men looked like doing damage. And in the 21st minute Kelly capitalised on a Ger Oakley mistake to break free and raise another green flag. Mullane found Eoin McGrath a moment later for a point and the gap was 2-5 to 0-9. Points from Carroll and Hanniffy kept Offaly ticking over, however, and by the break they were only a point behind.
The restart was dramatic; Carroll and Shane Dooley fired points immediately and a clash of heads with Eoin McGrath saw Ger Oakley somehow booked after 40 minutes. Kelly hit the free and the sides were level for the third time. Within minutes they had swapped scores again.
Five minutes later came the score of the game. Corner back David Franks raced out of defence, hopped the ball off the sod, raced on and popped the ball over to put Offaly one ahead. The joy was short-lived though and Kelly hit another free to level it for the sixth time.
In the end Waterford hung on but it was only down to Kelly's brilliance. The rest of the forwards have serious catching up to do.
Scorers -- Waterford: E Kelly 2-13 (0-9f, 1 '65), J Mullane 0-2, E McGrath, S Molumphy, S Prendergast 0-1 each. Offaly: B Carroll 0-9 (7f), B Murphy, R Hanniffy 0-2 each, D Molloy, P Cleary (f), S Dooley, J Bergin, D Franks 0-1 each
Waterford: C Hennessy; E Murphy, K McGrath, D Prendergast; S O'Sullivan, T Browne, J Kennedy; M Walsh, J Nagle; D Shanahan, G Hurney, S Prendergast; E McGrath, E Kelly, J Mullane. Subs: B Phelan for J Kennedy (40), S Molumphy for G Hurney (40), P Flynn for J Nagle (62), D Bennett for E McGrath (70).
Offaly: B Mullins; D Franks, D Kenny, M Verney; K Brady, G Oakley, P Cleary; B Murphy, R Hanniffy; S Dooley, J Brady, D Molloy; B Carroll, J Bergin, D Currams. Subs: C Hernon for M Verney (23), C Mahon for D Currams (60), J Rigney for C Hernon (63)
Ref: M Haverty (Galway)