Saturday 16 December 2017

McGrath's boys hit high notes but face battle for survival

Waterford 3-21 Laois 0-12

Paddy Purcell, Laois, in action against Jake Dillon, Waterford
Paddy Purcell, Laois, in action against Jake Dillon, Waterford
Jamie Barron, Waterford, in action against Brian Stapleton, Laois
Cahir Healy, Laois, in action against Shane Bennett, Waterford
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

SEAMUS Plunkett has done wonders for Laois hurling to date but he faces a serious challenge now to lift their morale after this terrible drubbing in Dungarvan on Saturday night.

The O'Moores lost to Waterford by 10 points last summer but that was nothing compared to this 18-point collapse.

Yes, there were some mitigating factors.

They lost Stephen 'Picky' Maher to a damaged collarbone before the half-hour, an injury that looks set to prove equally costly to Carlow IT's Fitzgibbon Cup fortunes in the coming week.

An even bigger loss was 'Cha' Dwyer to a second yellow card in the 50th minute because they were only three down (0-11 to 0-8) at half-time, and it was only when they were reduced to 14 men that Waterford got all three of their goals.

They were outscored by 3-10 to 0-4 (all Zane Keenan frees) in the second half and the final scoreline certainly didn't reflect just how close it was earlier when the sides were level seven times, with Pauric Mahony and Keenan both giving an exhibition of free-taking.

It didn't show how well their full-back line played for half an hour, how well their goalkeeper Enda Rowland played throughout or how many chances Laois needlessly wasted from distance (eight wides) before the break.

But it also doesn't tell much about their tactics, which inevitably came under scrutiny.

For the second week in-a-row they lost with 14 men. Sticking rigidly to a two-man full-forward line who got absolutely no change from a packed Waterford defence (with sweeper), and persisting doggedly with 'Route One' (shooting from long range) only played into their opponents' hands.

But Plunkett was unapologetic afterwards.

"That is our offensive game, we shoot from distance. Last weekend we scored 15 points from play, most of them from the middle third," he said.

"If this was summer you might maybe move ball a little quicker to the forwards but you've got to be cognisant of the other team, that's how the game has gone now, it's very tactical."

That may be true but surely the ability to adapt - and take on your man - will never be defunct either?

They met a Waterford team in typically combative mood who were improved the minute Jake Dillon came off the bench.

Derek McGrath is like the Louis Walsh of the hurling world these days; managing a team so young they resemble a boy-band whose adoring fans are constantly wondering why they're not amassing more Number Ones (goals).

They scratched that itch this time and their first goal, inevitably, was scored by their latest teenager to get a league debut.

Shane Bennett started for Dillon and showcased his speed and touch with a great goal chance on the half-hour which he kicked narrowly wide.

He more than made up for it in the 52nd minute when Dillon whipped an inch-perfect pass into the square and he managed to scoop it up off his knees and then tuck it home.

Shane O'Sullivan and 'Brick' Walsh combined to set Mahony up for the Decies' second goal eight minutes later and substitute Thomas Connors threw in a nice dummy to get their third with virtually his first touch.

When Bennett was called ashore, with 1-1 to his name, the crowd acknowledged his great debut but, as McGrath stressed, he's a Leaving Cert student this year so they have to handle his transition carefully.

Mahony (right) also retired to an ovation after his wondrous 1-14 (9fs), which was decorated with some real gems from difficult angles.

Tadgh Burke and Austin Gleeson impressed in defence, Kevin Moran and Walsh's old hands were clearly on the tiller and they head to Offaly in two weeks' still unbeaten but you still have to wonder at their over-dependence on Mahony's free-taking.

"Everyone says we need to get goals, I certainly don't say it because if you over-say things they become like an obsession, which kind of hinders any natural flow," McGrath said.

"We work on it in training, every facet of the game is worked on in training - if anything we over-analyse it maybe, but it was nice to see a natural flow though that was probably as much due to the space being created by the (Laois) sweeper not being there at that stage."

After losing two from two, Laois next face the tough trip to Ballycastle but Plunkett said "hurling is a very dynamic game and when a good quality team gets a run on you they can get a lot of scores up quickly. You just take it on the chin."

Man of the Match: Pauric Mahony (Waterford)

Scorers - Waterford: P Mahony 1-14 (0-9fs), S Bennett 1-1, T Connors 1-0, A Gleeson 0-2, B O'Halloran, M Walsh, S O'Sullivan, D Breathnach 0-1 each. Laois: Z Keenan 0-9 (9fs), P Purcell, W Hyland, R King 0-1 each.

Waterford - S O'Keeffe 8; S Fives 6, B Coughlan 7, N Connors 7; Philip Mahony 7, A Gleeson 8, T Bourke 8; K Moran (Capt) 7, J Barron 7; M Kearney 5, Pauric Mahony 9, M Walsh 7; S Bennett 8, T Devine 6, B O'Halloran 7. Subs: J Dillon 8 for Kearney (h-t), S O'Sullivan 7 for Devine (45), P Prendergast 6 for Fives (49), D Breathnach 7 for Bennett (59), T Connors 7 for Pauric Mahony (64).

Laois - E Rowland 7; J A Delaney 7; C Healy 7, B Stapleton 7; J Fitzpatrick 6, M Whelan (Capt), 6 D Palmer 6; Z Keenan 7, P Purcell 6; C Dwyer 6, J Campion 5, W Hyland 6; S Maher (inj), T Fitzgerald 5, R King 5. Subs: C Stapleton 6 for Maher (inj, 26), PJ Scully 5 for Campion, B Conroy 5 for King (both h-t), C Dunne 5 for Stapleton (52), J Purcell 5 for Fitzgerald (64).

Ref - D Kirwan (Cork).

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