WATERFORD launched the Davy Fitzgerald era in painless fashion with a goal-fest against whipping boys Antrim yesterday afternoon.
The northerners are perennial victims of an atrocious Championship system and watching them take beating after beating does little for anyone. Here, in front of 6,000 fans, they suffered another hiding at the hands of a still-sluggish Decie outfit in a one-sided clash that did little for either team.
Sambo McNaughton's side had shipped four goals by half time. But while they showed some nice touches and strung some decent passes together, in front of the posts they are short a killer touch.
As for Waterford? Well they began in sleepy enough fashion and it took a while for the game to get going. Only for the late arrival of Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen Hunt into the ground, the crowd would have had little to look at in the opening few minutes.
"We couldn't win today if we won by 20 points or two," Fitzgerald said. "The other counties wouldn't be too worried with what they saw but we know we have plenty of work to do," he added. "We used the ball well and got the forwards moving too. We tried Ken McGrath at full-back and we will see if it works in the coming weeks but we had to try something there. We have been leaking goals in the past few years -- there is no point in having the best centre-back in the country there if you are leaking goals in behind. We had to try that move. Personally it's nice to get the first game under the belt and hit the ground running. You would be a little nervous but you just go out and get stuck into it. It's the same as being a player."
The goal-glut began after four minutes when Eoin Kelly struck. Both he and John Mullane had grabbed two each before the interval to compliment points from the excellent Eoin McGrath and wing-forward Dan Shanahan.
Antrim tried to keep up but had no such goal-scoring prowess and slowly the home team pulled away. Having been so poor against Clare, it naturally took the home side a while to dust off the cobwebs. Indeed at the start of this game they looked clumsy and 15 minutes had elapsed before some of their players got up to the pace of the game. Their free-taking was dreadful too, after five first-half wides they only hit the mark from the placed ball after 42 minutes, something to be rectified for the next round.
There were some pluses, obviously. McGrath was well in control in his new full-back position but this guy could play in goals if he wanted, such is his array of skills. From centre-back, Tony Browne covered the half-back line like a spring lamb, shuttling from wing to wing, clearing ball after ball. His marker, Karl Stewart, had to revert deep for possession, but in fairness he too saw plenty of ball.
The Waterford midfield was only average and at centre-forward Gary Hurney spurned plenty of chances but the man of the match was McGrath, who was on fire. On the basis of his display yesterday, his lightning-fast speed and deft touch make him an exceptionally dangerous forward at the moment. Mullane and Kelly, too, looked sharp even against such poor opposition. With both in goal-scoring form, the summer could yet be an adventurous one for hurling's nearly men.
The main thing about this game is that Davy Fitzgerald's men are now off the mark and back in contention for the latter stages of the All-Ireland series. Being honest, while Liam MacCarthy could ultimately be a step too far for the Decies, with such firepower you simply couldn't dismiss them come September. That said, we've been saying that for a while.
What will they have learned from yesterday's game? Very little, only that it was important to get back hurling and back to winning ways. Their attack looked extremely sharp, they defended much better as the game went on but in the heel of the hunt they won't use this encounter as much of a gauge.
The main feature of the first half was their ability to rattle the net whenever they felt like it, even though their opponents had done as much hurling
Ultimately that deflated Antrim and whatever fight they had in the first half disappeared in the second. They did battle on gamely but were outgunned 2-9 to 0-4 in the latter 35 minutes as the Waterford forwards attacked at will.
Stewart hit two frees and one from play in the second half for the Ulstermen but Stephen Molumphy and Hurney goaled, while the usual suspects of Kelly, McGrath and Mullane hit a feast of points. Impressive Championship debutant Jamie Nagle also hit a fine brace.
Onwards and upwards for Waterford but it's back to that dark old drawing board for Antrim.
Scorers -- Waterford: E Kelly 2-3 (0-2f), J Mullane 2-2, E McGrath 0-5, D Shanahan 0-4, S Molumphy 1-0, G Hurney 1-0, J Nagle 0-2, P Flynn, D Bennett (1f) 0-1 each; Antrim: P Shiels 0-6 (4f), K Stewart 0-3 (2f), PJ O'Connell 0-2, J Campbell, C Herron, S McNaughton, B Quinn 0-1 each.
Waterford: C Hennessy; E Murphy, K McGrath, D Prendergast; S O'Sullivan, T Browne, J Kennedy; M Walsh, D Bennett; E Kelly, G Hurney, S Molumphy; E McGrath, D Shanahan, J Mullane. Subs: J Nagle for D Bennett (55), B Phelan for T Browne (55), P Flynn for G Hurney (58), R Foley for M Walsh (64), T Feeney for D Prendergast (64).
Antrim: R McGarry; A Griffin, C Donnelly, J McKeague; C Herron, K McKeegan, J Campbell; PJ O'Connell, E McCloskey; M Herron, K Stewart, B Quinn; S McNaughton, P Richmond, P Shiels. Subs: M McCambridge for J McKeague (23).
Referee: M Haverty (Galway)