The scoreline is deceptive -- Waterford deserved to win by a whole lot more under the glorious sunshine at Walsh Park yesterday.
Galway travelled south with their fate in their own hands and a whole lot of issues to clarify after a pathetic effort against Tipperary two weeks earlier. A win would have served two important purposes for Galway, keeping them in line to retain the Division 1 title while also rebuilding confidence.
They left Waterford as ex-league champions and with a sense of insecurity that needs to be urgently addressed if they are to transform the 2011 championship into something more cohesive than its recent predecessors.
Galway gave Shane Kavanagh, Joe Canning, Damien Hayes and Kevin Hynes their first starts of the season, an injection of talent that seemed likely to be significant against a depleted Waterford team.
However, it made no appreciable difference as Galway muddled their way through another underachieving afternoon while Waterford proved that they have considerable strength in depth. Indeed, as they signed off on the league campaign, manager Davy Fitzgerald is in a pretty happy place ahead of the upcoming Munster championship campaign.
It was the experienced input of 'Brick' Walsh, Shane O'Sullivan, Shane Walsh, Tony Browne and Kevin Moran that exerted most influence, but Waterford could also be very pleased with the performances of Darragh Fives, Gavin Crotty, Pauric Mahony, Shane Casey and sub David O'Sullivan.
Mahony landed nine points (0-8 from frees), including the winner in stoppage-time. In a pattern that had prevailed from the throw-in, Galway's struggling defence conceded a free which Mahony pointed from long range. Galway had one late chance but Waterford held firm after a long-range free dropped in front of goal.
Galway never led in a game where Waterford posted 0-4 in the opening nine minutes of the first half and 1-4 in the same period after half-time. Their goal came from hugely impressive full-forward Shane Walsh, who presented Galway full-back Kavanagh with a horrible return to the big time.
Waterford's clever use of space enabled them to create several Walsh v Kavanagh individual duels. Walsh won most of them and had helped himself to 1-4 by the time Gerard O'Halloran replaced Kavanagh in the 44th minute.
Waterford were leading by 1-12 to 0-9 at the time and while a Hayes point and a superb goal from Canning rebooted Galway, they never established a consistent rhythm.
Nonetheless, they did succeed in clawing their way level as the game ticked into stoppage time but, just as they had done all day, Waterford held their nerve under pressure and were rewarded by Mahony's late winner.
"We have a mountain of work to do ahead of the championship -- our last two outings highlight that. Our inability to win primary ball continues to kill us and if we don't sort that out, our championship prospects will be completely undermined," said Galway manager John McIntyre.
It's an accurate assessment of their situation, but the big test facing Galway is to correct the ball-winning problem. Waterford had a much superior work ethic and turned it into an impressive imprint right from the off.
Their accurate passing, clever movement and general application was in contrast to Galway, who were relying on individual bursts. A Waterford player in possession always had a choice of options, whereas Galway players often found themselves isolated.
Still, they recovered from a sloppy opening period to draw level in the 31st minute before Shane Walsh pointed Waterford ahead (0-8 to 0-7) just before the break. Galway would have been relatively happy to be so close after not really firing but the problem was that their inertia resurfaced on the restart when, after drawing level, they conceded 1-3 in the space of four minutes.
They battled back but couldn't complete a task which, given Waterford's understrength side, should have been within their range. Ultimately, they lost out to Waterford's gritty determination which never flinched at any stage.
"We haven't been beaten in Waterford since March 2009. We didn't want that record to go today so we put real pressure on ourselves to win," said Waterford manager Fitzgerald. "Galway were coming in off a big beating by Tipperary so we knew they would be all guns blazing but we stuck with them."
He will have been delighted with the performance of the younger set as it intensifies the battle for places.
"The one thing I'll say about all these lads is that they'll be honest and work very hard. Look at the last two years -- we have lost the least number of games against the top five. I'm very excited about the lads who are coming through."
Waterford leave the league on four wins and a draw, losing only to Tipperary and Kilkenny which is a good innings. Galway had four wins but closed their account with two defeats which is not the recommended exit strategy.
Galway will be pleased with the return of Canning and Hayes, but there are still more questions than answers over the squad as it heads into serious championship training. "We picked up training for the last fortnight and had targeted a win here, so this is a big disappointment," said McIntyre.
It's a huge loss for Galway but they can have no complaints about surrendering their crown. They suffered a Munster wipeout against Cork, Tipperary and Waterford and were lucky to beat Dublin, so it hasn't been a good season so far.
As for Waterford, they were already thinking ahead to the championship, even before they left Walsh Park yesterday. "I'm fierce worried about Limerick," said Fitzgerald, wearing one of his agonised looks. Guess what? Limerick will be mighty worried about Waterford too. And rightly so.
Man of the Match: Shane Walsh (Waterford)
Scorers -- Waterford: P Mahony 0-9 (8f), S Walsh 1-4, B O'Sullivan, S O'Sullivan, S Casey, K Moran 0-1 each. Galway: J Canning 1-6 (4f), D Hayes 0-3, I Tannian, B Daly 0-2 each, J Coen, N Healy, T Og Regan (f) 0-1 each.
Waterford -- C Hennessy 7; J Maher 6, L Lawlor 7, D Fives 7; T Browne 8, M Walsh 9, Philip Mahony 6; K Moran 7, E McGrath 6; G Crotty 7, S O'Sullivan 8, Pauric Mahony 8; B O'Sullivan 7, S Walsh 9, S Casey 7. Subs: D O'Sullivan 8 for McGrath (51), E Murphy 6 for B O'Sullivan (55), J Nagle for Lawlor (67).
Galway -- J Grealish 6; D Joyce 6, S Kavanagh 5, D Collins 7; D Burke 7, T Og Regan 6, A Cullinane 7; J Coen 7, B Daly 7; D Hayes 7, J Canning 7, K Hynes 5; E Forde 5, I Tannian 6, A Callanan 6.
Subs: G O'Halloran 6 for Kavanagh (44), C Donnellan 6 for Hynes (46), N Healy 6 for Forde (53), D Barry 6 for Cullinane (61).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork).