Waterford’s Shane Bennett is tackled by Laois’ James Keyes during their All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Qualifier Round 1 at UMPC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny on Saturday. Photo: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan.
All-Ireland SHC Qualifier: Waterford v Laois: The Big Match Breakdown
It was a Saturday afternoon where the fans got 99s from the ice cream van and the reporters got bottles of water from the stewards. A scorcher.
On the warmest day of the year, the red-hot favourites were made to sweat for victory.
“Laois, Laois, Laois” was the chant at the second water break as the underdogs went from eight points down to one point up. The shock of the summer was on the cards.
For Déise supporters, this was too close for comfort. Back in 2017, Waterford hockeyed Offaly 1-35 to 0-14 after a flat Munster semi final loss to Cork. A blowout. A show back on the road performance. This wasn’t.
Two moments of Austin Gleeson magic steadied Waterford when they were wobbling.
One point down with nine minutes left, he went up into the clouds, plucked the sliotar and sent Patrick Curran away for the simplest of finishes. A mighty catch.
In injury time, with Waterford only a point up, he grabbed another Shaun O’Brien bomb and won a free that Stephen Bennett tapped over. Gleeson gives an aerial threat to that forward division.
After Curran goaled with nine minutes left, Waterford made heavy weather of closing out the game. The leaders were guilty of six wides including three frees (two from Stephen Bennett and one from Austin Gleeson). Bennett missed four frees in total.
Waterford hit ten of their 18 wides in the second half. They tried to force goals when points would have kept the scoreboard ticking over. Calum Lyons twice tried to work three pointers that flew across the face of goal. Stephen Bennett volleyed wide while Michael Kiely had a goal disallowed. It left the door ajar for Laois before those late goals from Curran and Bennett.
“I’ll be rewarding any player that puts their hand up over the next fortnight or three weeks for a qualifier because at this stage I’ve nothing to lose,” said Liam Cahill after the loss to Clare. He was true to his word with five changes for the trip to Nowlan Park.
Positional switches aplenty as well. Shane Bennett to wing back, Patrick Curran to midfield, Kevin Moran to wing forward and Austin Gleeson to full forward.
Bennett started at number seven, where he made his name with the Waterford minors. Management wanted him to offer an attacking threat but the experiment didn’t go to plan as he shot three first half wides from long range. He was involved in two scores late in the half for Austin Gleeson and big brother Stephen. On 59 minutes, Podge Delaney turned him over in front of the Waterford selectors. Two minutes later, Shane McNulty was on and Bennett was off. With Kieran Bennett injured, the Déise now have a dilemma in that position. Shane Bennett? Kevin Moran? Shane McNulty?
Curran did enough to keep his place next time out. He pointed twice inside two minutes, assisted a point for Calum Lyons and delivered that late goal. The Dungarvan man should be accommodated in attack.
Moran bounced back from his early withdrawal against Clare. He offered his club mate Shaun O’Brien a puckout target on the wing. The former captain scored 1-1 in the first quarter, although he looked a bit guilty to claim the goal that took a wicked deflection off Donnchadh Hartnett to send it past Enda Rowland. He was involved in the Stephen Bennett goal chance that was blocked on the line by Hartnett. As well as his 1-1, he was guilty of two wides before he was subbed on 49 minutes.
Gleeson’s two big plays towards the end may persuade Cahill to keep him up front. He started at full forward with Dessie Hutchinson and Stephen Bennett in the corners. He moved out to centre forward to allow Jack Prendergast roam.
Darragh Lyons made an impression at midfield, including an injury time point when his hurley went flying, so he should get the nod alongside the returning Jamie Barron.
Playing for keeps
Shaun O’Brien was a surprise selection between the posts as Billy Nolan didn’t do anything out of place against Clare.
It’s not the first time Cahill has changed his goalkeeper mid-championship. When he was in charge of the Tipperary under 21s in 2018, he brought in Barry Hogan for the All Ireland semi final after they lost the Munster final to Cork by 13 points. Tipp finished that campaign as All Ireland champions.
On his championship debut, the De La Salle man gave a steady display and should stay in the number one shirt for Round 2. His distribution from puckouts and open play was assured all through. He picked out Kevin Moran for a point in the first half. Cha Dwyer’s pull along the ground tested him early. With a minute left, he caught a dangerous ball that took a high bounce off the hard surface.
O’Brien only had one blemish, a loose clearance that led to a point by Dwyer at the start of the second half.
- Report, reaction and analysis from Nowlan Park and previews of Saturday’s clash with Galway in this week’s Waterford News & Star, in shops now.