Tuesday, 12th December 2017
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Showdown on Leeside

There are no safety nets in Pairc ui Chaoimh on Sunday next when Waterford face Wexford in the All-Ireland senior Hurling Quarter Final. It is a case of winner takes all and heads to the semi-final while the loser will have to lick wounds until the start of the 2018 campaign. I'm expecting an incredible atmosphere in the famed refurbished Cork venue. Indeed reports from the venue following the huge amount of development suggest we will see a full house for the second game of championship hurling weekend, Tipperary face Clare on Saturday, so there is also a novelty "being feeling" about the whole fixture.

The Slaneysiders come into this stage of the competition following their defeat to Galway in the Leinster Final 0-29 to 1-17. Fair to say that most observers and indeed odds layers have the Tribesmen right at the top of the market regarding the ultimate claiming of the Liam McCarthy Cup and perhaps with some justification. Davy Fitzgerald and his charges

were bitterly disappointed with their Leinster final following a superb win over Kilkenny in the semi-final 1-20 to 3-11, and no doubt the Clare man, formerly bainisteoir with Waterford, will hope to have all the angles covered as he faces this Deise outfit. Wexford were also beaten by Kilkenny in both the under 21 (0-30 to 1-14) and the intermediate (1-26 to 1-8) Leinster deciders so there will be a huge effort made by the team not to see their final hurling hopes disappear into the Lee.

Goalkeeper Mark Fanning is a serious custodian and the Glynn Barntown will be difficult man to pass for the Waterford attack. The defence has been well marshalled throughout the year by Liam Ryan at full back and Matthew O'Hanlon at number six with the tigerish Willie Devereux covering from corner back. With their defensive colleagues they will hope to "snuff out" what is a superb front six for Waterford. In midfield Davy Fitz and his management will rely on the hard working Shaun Murphy and Aidan Nolan with centre forward Lee Chin liable to pop up in the spaces of midfield on regular occasions. The attack will boast players like Jack O'Connor, Paul Morris, Jack Guiney and Harry Kehoe and when one adds in the ever dangerous Conor McDonald and the athletic Chin, one readily sees there is a threat all over the forward division.

Derek McGrath and his Waterford management team have seen a remarkable turnaround in form over the past number of weeks. Sluggish in the Munster Championship clash against Cork where they went down 0-23 to 1-15 for a number of reasons least of all the huge break between the Allianz National League and their opening game of the Provincial Championship. Facing into the qualifiers the Deise went to Tullamore and handed a 1-35 to 0-14 defeat to Offaly. That set Waterford up with a game against old adversaries Kilkenny and on that fateful day in Thurles, it was Waterford after a long long time finally beating the old foe on a 4-23 to 2-22 scoreline. It would be an understatement to say that it was an enjoyable win but there are now bigger games ahead starting with Sunday next.

The selectors will surely remain close to the team that began against Kilkenny. Stephen O'Keeffe will be in goal with Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan and Noel Connors forming the last line of defence. The magnificent Tadhg de Burca will be the anchor at number six with Philip Mahony and Darragh Fives on the wings. Jamie Barron has time and again proven that he is one of if not the most accomplished midfielder in the game at present and beside him fellow clubman Conor Gleeson will keep the engine ticking over. Up front player of the year Austin Gleeson will be at number eleven with a rejuvenated Kevin Moran and superb freetaker Pauric Mahony on the wings. The inside line of Shane Bennett, Jake Dillon and evergreen Michael Walsh will seek to cause endless problems for the Wexford defence.

However I must also add that there are a number of players who have recently put down a "firm marker" for inclusion. Big Maurice Shanahan, Stephen Bennett, Tommy Ryan, Colin Dunford, Brian O'Halloran, Patrick Curran, Shane McNulty, Stephen Daniels and substitute goalkeeper Ian O'Regan, the list goes on. Certainly one of the strongest benches the county has had and I for one would not fancy the job of selecting the opening fifteen.

At the end of the day I expect Waterford will come through to a semi-final although we must be aware that on a couple of occasions it was Wexford who upset our applecart not least 2014 when the Slaneysiders beat Waterford 3-15 to 2-15 in Nowlan Park.

REBELS STRIKE

With time rapidly running out and down to fourteen players, Cork came back from the abyss to claim an unexpected finale win in the Bord Gais Munster Under 21 semi-final at Walsh Park on Thursday last. On a superb

evening and a pitch in pristine condition it was a excellent encounter for the four thousand fans who came to the famed Keanes Road venue. For the majority of the game it was the Sean Power managed Waterford who

enjoyed the greater amount of possession and indeed going into the fifth minute of additional time, led by two points 1-19 to 1-17. Two minutes earlier Cork senior star Darragh Fitzgibbon had been dismissed by referee Feargal Horgan after the Charleville start caught Waterford goalkeeper Billy Nolan in a rash high challenge. While the final result

was a huge disappointment for the legion of Waterford fans the game was entertaining throughout with a Munster Final appearance against Limerick the prize on offer for the victor.

The opening minute saw Waterford's Cormac Curran and Declan Dalton of Cork exchange points and there was precious little between the teams with the sides tied 0-4 apiece after ten minutes. Both Patrick Curran and Colm Roche were very much to the fore on the scoring charts for Waterford. There was still little to seperate the teams as the half progressed although, the visitors thanks to the accuracy of centre forward Declan Dalton did hold a two point lead 0-10 to 0-8 at the break albeit with the wind advantage. Sean Power and his backroom teams would have to be happy with the opening half performance and would be looking for much of the same in the following thirty odd minutes.

Within two minutes of the restart two Patrick Curran points had the teams level but seven minutes into the second half the Waterford defence was caught cold as Michael O'Halloran burst through to claim a Cork goal 1-12 to 0-11. Dara Fitzgibbon added a point and Cork were five points clear. Undaunted Waterford then hit four points from Andy Molumby, Patrick Curran and brace from Colm Roche to a solitary Declan Dalton point for Cork. The lead was back to two points 1-14 to 0-15. The Cork defence was opened up by Jack Prendergast in the 52nd minute as he paved the way for a clinical finish from Shane Bennett and the hosts were ahead 1-15 to 1-14. Although the ever accurate Dalton replied with a point for Cork, three points from the stick of Dungarvan clubman Patrick Curran saw the Waterford lead out to three points 1-18 to 1-15 and the

Deise looked to be driving on for victory. Two points for the visitors from Dalton either side of a Jack Prendergast effort saw Waterford 1-19 to 1-16 as the clock went into an astonishing five minutes of additional time. Declan Dalton landed a point to leave Waterford with a very dangerous two point lead as Darragh Fitzgibbon then saw red. In the sixth minute of added on time a break from Cork midfielder Paul Leopold saw the Rebels attack and when Jack O'Connor was fouled it resulted in a penalty which Declan Dalton despatched clinically to the net. Cork against the odds were back in front 2-17 to 1-19 and there was no time for Waterford to regroup and so the reigning champions were out.

Overall it was a hugely disappointing evening for Waterford. No doubt they were the better side for the majority of the game but that little bit of luck deserted them at the end. However one cannot but applaud the efforts and no doubt these young lads will learn from the experience. Certainly a number of these under age lads have mapped themselves for future success.

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