IF you feared another dark day for Offaly hurling at Dr Cullen Park yesterday, you might have been tempted to rest a little easier in your seat after 20 minutes. If Waterford led by four points at that stage and were hurling with a lot more purpose and fluency, you could take consolation from the fact that Offaly weren't completely without bite and their full-back line was hol
Dr Cullen Park
IF you feared another dark day for Offaly hurling at Dr Cullen Park yesterday, you might have been tempted to rest a little easier in your seat after 20 minutes. If Waterford led by four points at that stage and were hurling with a lot more purpose and fluency, you could take consolation from the fact that Offaly weren't completely without bite and their full-back line was holding firm. By the same stage a week ago, Kilkenny had already taken them for three goals.
It was only false comfort, though. Not only were Waterford hurling against the breeze but on a far narrower pitch than Croke Park, the spaces Kilkenny enjoyed were less likely to open up. Ultimately the winning margin would only be 11 points and Waterford manager Justin McCarthy would have had stern words for his team afterwards but the Munster team do not have Kilkenny's killer instinct.
If you wished to extend Offaly a token crumb of comfort you could say their dying breath gave them life until as long as the 30th minute. They were trailing by a manageable five points when Damien Murray lobbed a free towards the Waterford square and if Aidan Hanrahan had connected more forcibly with his attempted flick, Stephen Brenner might have had trouble stopping it on the line. Had they scored then Offaly might have prolonged the contest until the second-half.
Instead they were struck by a blitz of Waterford scores and the match petered out.
Between the 33rd and 36th minutes John Mullane was all over the place, shooting over four points and racking up a total of six in the first-half alone.
The last of Mullane's first-half scores epitomised what was saddest about Offaly's performance. If Offaly were to take solace from the fact that Brian Whelehan was back in harness, the sight of their greatest ever performer being so cheaply blocked down and the ball running to Mullane, was an indication of just how deep their slump is.
That was only the worst of it for Whelehan. Starting at centre-back he'd already been taken for three points by the marauding Michael Walsh and by the restart he was back in his own familiar position of right half-back. Nobody was expecting Whelehan to return as the saviour of Offaly but few would have imagined he could be so far off the pace.
All they had to offer was honest endeavour and, in giving it, Offaly at least gave more than they did in Croke Park last week. Brian Carroll and Gary Hanniffy never stopped running and trying and there was enough evidence on show at least to suggest they will be more than a match for Dublin.
As for Waterford, last year's Munster champions surprisingly rarely threatened Brian Mullins' goal but that isn't to say they were ineffective or lacked a clinical touch. Any doubts that they were lapsing into cruise mode were dispelled when Paul Flynn stood over a 21-yard free 14 minutes into the second-half and, with Waterford 10 points ahead, tried to drill the ball past the Offaly backs manned on the line. Mercifully for Offaly, it was deflected out for a 65.
After an ineffective display against Cork, Mullane would have been delighted with his first-half performance. He was quieter in the second, though, and had to wait until eight minutes from the end before recording his seventh score of the day. That day's hero, Eoin Kelly, was less of an influence here and Justin McCarthy will worry that over the second 35 minutes Offaly not only held their own but were even managing to outscore their opponents until a late intervention by Paul Flynn.
Twice in the opening exchanges Offaly managed to score successive points and the tinkering John McIntyre made with his team had the desired effect in making them much more competitive. Hanrahan brought a lift to the game when he shot to Waterford's net following a cross by Colm Cassidy and when Brian Carroll sent over his third point of the night a minute later it looked as if Offaly were stealing a head of momentum.
It didn't last, of course, but they were never swamped. After Flynn sent over a relieving free for Waterford the scores were pretty much swapped for the rest of the game. That the denouement favoured Waterford was savagely unfair to Offaly the way they had brought the fight to their opponents in the second-half.
First Mullane sent over his eighth point of the night and wheeled away in predictable delight. Then Flynn stood over his second 21-yard free of the game and again there was no doubt as to what he intended. This time his shot was struck with venom and nestled in the back of the Offaly net.
That put a gloss on the scoreboard that, in the end, slightly flattered Waterford and maybe even offered Offaly a few crumbs of comfort. McIntyre's men will face into the rest of the qualifiers with some renewed confidence while Waterford should cruise into the All-Ireland quarter-finals knowing there is a lot of work still to be done.
SCORERS - Waterford: K McGrath 0-5 (2f 1 65), M Walsh 0-3, E McGrath 0-1, J Mullane 0-8, S Prendergast 0-1, P Flynn 1-8 (1-6f) Offaly: M Cordial 0-2, D Hayden 0-1, G Hanniffy 0-2, B Murphy 0-2, B Carroll 0-5 (1f), D Murray 0-3 (3f); A Hanrahan 1-0.
Waterford: S Brenner, T Feeney, F Hartley, E Murphy, T Browne, J Murray, B Phelan, E Kelly, K McGrath, D Shanahan, M Walsh, E McGrath, J Mullane (P O'Brien 25 blood sub), S Prendergast, P Flynn.
Offaly: B Mullins, K Brady, G Oakley, D Franks, P Molloy (C Cassidy 32), Brian Whelehan, R Hanniffy, M Cordial, Barry Whelehan (M O'Hara ht), D Hayden (C Parlon ht), G Hanniffy , B Murphy (S Browne 50), B Carroll, J Brady (A Hanrahan 27), D Murray.