Waterford advance as Baker demands change to format
WATERFORD 0-21 OFFALY 1-14
BIG Maurice Shanahan stepped out of the shadow of his older brother Dan to lead Waterford safely through the minefield that was a resurgent Offaly playing on home territory in Tullamore on Saturday night.
The retired 'Dan the Man' had his mantle taken over by his not-so-little brother as Maurice played a huge role in decommissioning the explosive energy Offaly brought to the match.
Ollie Baker's men hoped to build on the four goals they hit against All-Ireland giants Kilkenny at the same venue last month, and were stoked up for a big performance.
In the end, they had to bow the knee to Shanahan and a canny Waterford who cleverly utilised space and the ball to good effect in the second half when they faced into a very strong wind.
The margin was only four points at the finish, and it took a great save from goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe two minutes from the end of normal time to prevent Offaly's Dan Currams from hitting home a crucial goal, but the better team won the match.
Shanahan's 13-point contribution, five of them from frees, was immense, especially on a night when Waterford hit 17 wides.
That statistic didn't worry Waterford manager Michael Ryan as he looks forward to Saturday's qualifier outing against Westmeath in Mullingar.
Said Ryan: "The plus side is that we got 21 scores and 17 wides which meant that we had 38 shots at the posts away from home.
"Despite what some people have been saying we have a very high level of fitness. We've had more than 100 field sessions and our fitness is very good.
"Offaly had a major boost coming in having played so well against Kilkenny," said Ryan. "We felt that if we kept our composure we would have a very good chance."
And so it proved, although Offaly never made it easy for the visitors, especially after Shane Dooley's shock early goal.
Jake Dillon had knocked over two points in the first seven minutes to give Waterford the early lead.
However, in the eighth minute, Dooley took advantage of a slack hand pass by Deise defender Liam Lawlor to gain possession and rifle home a goal. That was a tonic for the home team and their big support in the 8,200 attendance, especially as the game was delayed for some five minutes because of congestion at the turnstiles.
Unfortunately, their joy was short-lived, as Offaly centre-forward Derek Molloy collapsed with what looked to be a serious knee injury just after Dooley's goal.
The game was held up for seven minutes while Molloy received treatment on the pitch. He was replaced by Conor Mahon.
Offaly captain David Kenny had won the toss and opted to play against the powerful wind for that first half, and for long periods of the qualifier it appeared to have been a good decision.
Kenny dealt capably with the threat of Shanahan when they were in direct opposition, and he and centre-back Ger Healion backboned what was a really strong Offaly defensive effort.
Gradually Waterford got to grips with the rhythm of the match and became more threatening, especially when Shanahan migrated further out the field and took on a more roaming presence.
He opened his account with a point from a free in the 16th minute, added another one almost immediately afterwards, also from a free.
By half-time, Waterford had 0-13 on the board, seven points coming from Shanahan, three of them frees, to Offaly's 1-6, so the home team looked to be in good shape for a serious challenge.
For Waterford, Michael Ryan spelled out the plan: "At half-time we emphasised the importance of playing intelligent hurling and using the ball against the wind.
"If the guys up front made the runs, it would be up to our guys in the half-back line and midfield to seek them out," he said.
Ollie Baker's men did their best to thwart the opposition plans, but it grew increasingly difficult as Waterford's Michael 'Brick' Walsh and captain Kevin Moran exerted a growing influence on the play and the Deise seized control.
Offaly were briefly level at 1-11 to 0-14 at the 47 minute mark, only to see Brian O'Sullivan pop over a lovely point for the Deise within another minute.
From that moment on, Waterford looked like winners, but it took a great reaction save by their goalkeeper O'Keeffe from Currams two minutes from the end, followed by another impressive one quickly afterwards from Joe Bergin, to ultimately see Waterford safely through.
Of the Currams effort which he first blocked and then flicked the sliotar to safety almost simultaneously, 21-year-old O'Keeffe said: "I was just looking to get the thing as far away as possible, as quick as possible.
"I suppose I was lucky in a way that, one, the shot came around me and I was able to get to it, and two, when I cleared it, it went to one of our lads."
Offaly manager Ollie Baker had no complaints about the outcome of the match, but he questioned the value to hurling of having teams such as Offaly sidelined from competitive play until next February.
"It was a hard enough evening for hurling, but I thought it was a very entertaining and honest game," Baker said.
"It is just a pity that we are out on June 22 and our next competitive game won't be until next February. Those lads deserve better than that from the organisation.
"They have given up eight months of their lives and they have played only seven matches this year.
"There has to be a change for the development of hurling as a game."
Scorers – Waterford: M Shanahan 0-13 (5fs), B O'Sullivan 0-3, J Dillon, 0-2, P Prendergast, K Moran, S O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 1-4 (4fs), K Brady, J Bergin, B Carroll, D Currams 0-2 each, C Mahon, D Morkan 0-1 each.
Waterford – S O'Keeffe 7; S Fives 7, L Lawlor 7, N Connors 7; J Nagle 7, M Walsh 8, D Fives 7; P Prendergast 7, K Moran 7; J Dillon 7, S Prendergast 7, S O'Sullivan 7; J Barron 7, M Shanahan 8, B O'Sullivan 7. Subs: P Mahony 7 for J Barron (35), M O'Neill 6 for S Prendergast (59), R Foley for D Fives (63).
Offaly – J Dempsey 7; C McDonald 7, D Kenny 8, D Mooney 7; R Hanniffy 7, G Healion 7, D Morkan 7; B Carroll 7, K Brady 7; C Egan 7, D Molloy (inj, not on long enough to rate), C Slevin7; S Dooley 7, D Currams 7, J Bergin 7. Subs: C Mahon 7 for D Molloy (12), P Cleary 7 for D Mooney (35 ), S Cleary 7 for C Slevin (51), S Gardner 7 for P Cleary (56), S Ryan for K Brady (70).
Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath)