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Destroyer Dunne powers Wexford to league lift-off

Wexford 2-20 Waterford 0-19

Simon Donohoe of Wexford in action against Jake Dillon of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Simon Donohoe of Wexford in action against Jake Dillon of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Davy Fitzgerald fired a mischievous jab at those who predicted that Wexford's stay in the top flight would be for one season only, reminding them after yesterday's impressive success in Walsh Park that "we've won one game anyway."

And how! Playing with the strong wind in the first half, they won it by six points before doing even better in the second half, which they edged by a point against the elements.

David Dunne of Wexford. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Dunne of Wexford. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

That was quite an achievement against opposition that exploited the wind early in the second half to cut the deficit to three points after 42 minutes.

The momentum appeared to have swung very much in Waterford's direction but that was as good as it got for them.

All changed in the 44th minute when David Dunne (right) scored an early contender for goal of the year.

He had a lot of work to do after making a spectacular catch but saw it through with dogged persistence, resisting tackles as he bore down on the Waterford goal before beating Ian O'Regan.

Jack O'Connor of Wexford in action against Tadhg de Burca, Jake Dillon and Philip Mahony of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Jack O'Connor of Wexford in action against Tadhg de Burca, Jake Dillon and Philip Mahony of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

That goal had a double impact, galvanising Wexford's effort and leaving Waterford with a challenge for which they were not fully equipped in their first competitive game of the new season.

Dunne, who finished on 2-2, scored a second goal in the 59th minute, by which stage even the most optimistic of home supporters in the crowd of 7,467 had written off the day.

So too had the Waterford management, who allowed the starting 15 to see the full game through without making any changes.

It's highly unusual nowadays for managers not to look to the subs' bench but Derek McGrath believed there was more to be gained by allowing the initial line-out to get a full game.

Tommy Ryan of Waterford in action against Matthew O'Hanlon of Wexford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Tommy Ryan of Waterford in action against Matthew O'Hanlon of Wexford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"We felt once the boys were struggling that there was no point giving lads a token run. Leave the guys to get the fitness into them for that 15-minute period when it looked like the game was gone from us.

"Our feeling at that stage was that regular fellas, Kevin (Moran), Jamie (Barron), Pauric (Mahony) could do with the full 75 or 76 minutes. That was the reasoning behind it," he said.

McGrath also explained that irrespective of how Waterford fared yesterday, there would have been several changes for the clash with Tipperary in Semple Stadium next Saturday night.

That was decided in advance of yesterday's game, which turned into a confrontation between two teams whose tuning was at different stages.

Wexford showed all the benefits of a confidence-building Walsh Cup campaign, which ended with victory over Kilkenny in the final, whereas Waterford clearly haven't removed the cobwebs just yet.

Jack O'Connor of Wexford in action against Philip Mahony and Austin Gleeson of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Jack O'Connor of Wexford in action against Philip Mahony and Austin Gleeson of Waterford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

So when Wexford got first call on the strong wind, it was always likely that their greater sharpness would enable them to build up a sizeable lead.

And so it proved as they sprinted into a 0-7 to 0-0 lead in the first quarter, before Jake Dillon opened Waterford's account in the 19th minute.

That settled Waterford into a more effective rhythm and they would have been quite happy to head for the dressing-room at half-time trailing by 0-12 to 0-6.

Their early progress in the second half suggested that the wind might be worth more than six points per half but once Dunne struck for Wexford's first goal, there was a discernible change of mood.

Wexford viewed it as the opportunity to drive on and make a bold statement on their return to the top flight after several years in 1B, while Waterford needed goals to give themselves any real chance of launching a successful comeback. With the Wexford defence providing solid cover for goalkeeper Mark Fanning, that was always going to be very difficult.

Indeed, Fanning had a quiet second half after a first half where, as well as making an excellent save from Stephen Bennett, he pointed three long-range frees.

"It's great to have a fella that you can say has a good chance of putting the ball over the bar from 100 yards out. They went over for Mark today.

"Our tactic in the first half was to get as many long-range scores as we could early on because they were maybe expecting us to hit more ball deeper. I felt that we'd maybe get more scores outside rather than inside with the wind," said Fitzgerald.

His assessment was correct as Wexford converted several chances from huge distances, their accuracy underlined by the fact that they scored 12 points in the first half while returning only one wide.

The manner in which they responded to Waterford's early second-half surge increased the satisfaction quota, leaving them high on confidence as they look ahead to next weekend's clash with Cork.

"There was a patch in the second half where Waterford pulled right back and that was our fault. We stood off them too much and let them run at us.

"But once we got the goal, we got right back into doing the stuff that we talked about doing, and it worked for us. I thought we were the better team today. The work ethic from the lads was phenomenal from start to finish

"We haven't been up there (1A) for a long time and we were wondering if we would be up to the pace and intensity. We were - and we're delighted with that - but it's only the start. We're still in January so we won't be getting carried away," said Fitzgerald.

Still, the league lift-off could hardly have gone any better for a side whose ambition levels are rising all the time.

Waterford have lofty long-term plans too and while yesterday was disappointing, it has to be seen in the context of a team having its first real game of the year.

Still, losing their first home game is a setback in a group where the finest of margins will almost certainly decide whether a team qualifies for the quarter-finals or faces a relegation play-off.

Wexford still have a lot of work to do too but they will go about it with a really positive mindset after yesterday's encouraging display.

Scorers - Wexford: D Dunne 2-2; L Chin 0-8 (6f); M Fanning 0-3 (3f); K Foley, D O'Keeffe 0-2 each; P Foley, A Nolan, P Morris 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-12 (9f, 1'65'); J Barron 0-2 (1 s-l); J Dillon, T Ryan, T de Búrca, A Gleeson, D Fives 0-1 each.

Wexford - M Fanning 8; D Reck 7, L Ryan 8, S Murphy 7; P Foley 7, M O'Hanlon 7, S Donohue 7; K Foley 7, D O'Keeffe 7; A Nolan 7, L Chin 8, J O'Connor 7; P Morris 7, D Dunne 9, C McDonald 7.

Subs: J Guiney 6 for K Foley (61), C Dunbar for Morris (66), H Kehoe for O'Connor (72), A Maddock for Nolan (73).

Waterford - I O'Regan 7; C Gleeson 6, B Coughlan 6, S McNulty 7; T de Búrca 7, A Gleeson 7, Philip Mahony 7; J Barron 6, D Fives 6; K Moran 6, Pauric Mahony 7, J Dillon 7; S Bennett 6, M Shanahan 6, T Ryan 6.

Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny)

 

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