Thursday 27 June 2019

Shanahan goal turns tide in thriller

Wexford heartbreak as Waterford 'rebellion' sets up Tipp showdown

Waterford's Dan Shanahan celebrates with his daughter Chloe ( 9) after his side's victory over Wexford at Semple Stadium, Thurles, yesterday
Waterford's Dan Shanahan celebrates with his daughter Chloe ( 9) after his side's victory over Wexford at Semple Stadium, Thurles, yesterday
Waterford's John Mullane attempts to brush off the attentions of Wexford's Brendan O'Leary during yesterday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Thurles

Davy Fitz fell to his knees in a snowstorm of flashbulbs and the boys of the rebellion went bounding towards him.

John Mullane first, then big Dan, wrapping weary arms around the Clare man as if they were stepping from life-rafts onto a crowded pier. A game looser than a poorly-bound book had just pitched them into their sixth All-Ireland semi-final inside a decade.

Given they've lost the previous five, a light vaudevillian tinge inevitably ran through the post-game humour.

Davy talked of the impending clash with Tipp -- solemnly blowing out his cheeks and scuffing his shoes -- like a man assigned to lead nervy horses into a burning stable.

Lash

Waterford, he declared, would at least turn up on August 17 and "give it a lash." Liam Sheedy won't doubt their capacity to do that and more.

They were ragged and unconvincing at times yesterday and, when Wexford goaled twice in quick succession during the 44th minute, the opportunity was there for Waterford to become a kind of rabble, encouraging supporters to invoke the wisdom of Justin McCarthy and his spurned evangelism.

Wexford led by four at that point, but a quick-fire Dan Shanahan goal at the Killinan-end seemed to liberate Fitzgerald's men. Dan, the matinee-idol of 2007, had -- hitherto -- been having a cursed summer. So, to see him materialise under a mis-hit John Mullane delivery and beat Damien Fitzhenry with a smart finish bore an efficacy far beyond the snaffling of three points for Waterford.

In fact, they scored five of the next six and, while Wexford never quite bowed or curtsied, Waterford never again looked like a team waiting to be wheeled to a scaffold.

The concession of three goals will rekindle the debate about playing Ken McGrath at full-back but, save for a testing opening ten minutes on Stephen Banville, McGrath actually hurled well at No 3. Maybe even more pertinently, Tony Browne was in exhibition mode at six.

Wexford, as is often the case, looked a different proposition away from the wounding talons of Kilkenny. They hurled intelligently and, when Stephen Doyle cut inside Declan Prendergast to knife home a fine sixth minute goal, Waterford would have sensed the difficulties brewing. Malachy Travers was doing a fine job on Mullane and, while Dan made a few bullocking runs towards the town-end goal, he finished another half without a flag to his name.

Eoin McGrath was the only Waterford player scoring freely, yet Eoin Kelly's whipped 20-metre free on the stroke of half-time sent them spilling down the tunnel with whooping in their ears.

Fitzgerald moved Big Dan to full-forward on the resumption, pulling Kelly to the wing. But it was John Meyler who made the most telling repairs.

The Wexford boss surprisingly drew out Banville to the right-wing, then whipped him ashore altogether in a move that seemed to fly in the face of their needs. Yet, within seconds, Rory Jacob's delivery flew unaided to the Waterford net, Willie Doran and Brian Phelan scuffling as it flew by their hurlies. Then the electric Doyle cut inside a slipping Ken McGrath and goaled again. Wexford 3-9; Waterford 1-11.

That was the moment Waterford were asked to look at their own reflections and make a decision on what it was they wanted to see. Dan's goal hit them like a dose of smelling salts but, with Eoin Quigley and David Redmond pretty much bossing midfield, the game was still there to be won.

Mullane came manfully to the fore now, landing three points in the remainder and, tellingly, being fouled twice for Kelly frees.

Yet, Wexford were thrown a rope ladder with maybe seven minutes remaining when Kevin Moran pulled down Quigley for a Wexford penalty. Meyler immediately signalled for Fitzhenry to make the safari from his goal.

"I was mindful of what Fitzy did against Tipp last year," he explained later. "I just felt that if we got a goal then we'd kick on and Waterford might be in trouble."

Fitzhenry, though, blazed over and, though a 'Gizzy' Lyng free brought Wexford level with just three minutes remaining, Mullane and Kelly lobbed huge, invigorating scores for Waterford at the Killinan end.

It ended with thumping hearts, sweaty palms and a cacophony of Waterford whistles. One minute into injury-time, Lyng stood over another free and Meyler told him to put it over. "I was sure he (the referee) would let us have another puck-out at least," said Meyler. He did, but blew as the sliotar landed.

So Davy Fitz, every molecule of him aching for that sound, just fell to the ground in what looked exhausted prayer. And the boys of the rebellion spilled towards him.

Three weeks, then, to get themselves right for Tipp. Their hardest summer may yet have a wild, redemptive lyric.

SCORERS -- Waterford: E Kelly 1-8 (1-6 f, 0-1 '65'), E McGrath 0-4, D Shanahan 1-1, J Mullane 0-3, J Nagle, S Prendergast and S Molumphy 0-1 each. Wexford: S Doyle 2-1, D Lyng 0-6 (all frees), R Jacob 1-2, D Redmond 0-2, W Doran, S Nolan, D Fitzhenry (1f) and E Quigley 0-1 each.

WATERFORD -- C Hennessy 6; D Prendergast 6, K McGrath 7, E Murphy 6; S O'Sullivan 6, T Browne 9, B Phelan 7; M Walsh 6, J Nagle 6; D Shanahan 7, S Prendergast 7, S Molumphy 7; E McGrath 8, E Kelly 8, J Mullane 8. Subs: K Moran 6 for Phelan (45 mins), J Kennedy 6 for O'Sullivan (47 mins).

WEXFORD -- D Fitzhenry 7; M Travers 7, P Roche 6, B O'Leary 6; M Jacob 7, D O'Connor 7, C Farrell 6; E Quigley 7, D Redmond 7; PJ Nolan 5, W Doran 6, D Lyng 6; S Doyle 8, S Banville 5, R Jacob 6. Subs: S Nolan 6 for PJ Nolan (27 mins), D Stamp 6 for Farrell (41 mins), B Lambert 6 for Banville (43 mins), K Rossiter 6 for S Nolan (56 mins).

Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).

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