Waterford advance to meet Kilkenny in the All Ireland Hurling semi-final with a determined second half performance to defeat Dublin by five points. Dublin started the game positively with Ryan O’Dwyer, Dotsy O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan prominent early scoring some impressive scores. Dublin exposed Waterford’s sweeper tactic defensively, playing ball into the space that De Burca (if playing as an orthodox wing back) had left. This also coincided with Dublin dominating the midfield exchanges midway through the first half with McMorrow, Boland to the fore. It forced Derek McGrath and Waterford management to pull Kevin Moran and Colin Dunford back into the midfield and half back line to stem Dublin’s dominance. Dublin continued to assert pressure and with Danny Sutcliffe more prominent in open play, they deservedly led at half-time. Ryan O’Dwyer work without the ball nullified the influence of Gleeson and De Burca and this prevented Waterford from building quality distribution from the black. It also forced Stephen O’Keefe to control distribution from the back and it led to mixed results. There was some good puck outs but also some poor distribution which led to Dublin picking a couple of easy scores.
Waterford were happy to see half-time, they were incredibly lethargic and their work rate levels compared to previous championship games lacked the intensity required. There was no scoring threat inside, no support runners to aid the inside full forward line. Derek McGrath and Waterford management have to be applauded for their words of wisdom at the break because Waterford emerged a completely different outfit. Yes, they had the breeze at their backs but the work rate and ball distribution was vastly improved evident in Shane Bennett’s goal. Maurice Shanahan’s vision to pick out Shane Bennett was outstanding and the finish (ground stroke to the left top hand corner) gave Gary Maguire no chance. Dublin were now suddenly 1-13 to 0-13 behind with Wateford hitting a quick four point burst to start the second half. Waterford’s hurling in the first fifteen minutes of the second half was excellent, the work rate, the intensity and tactical switches were all working to a tee and the bench was playing its part giving renewed energy. Patrick Curran really stepped to the plate upon his introduction, scored and was also very prominent in open play running at Dubin defensively. Waterford were now picking Dublin off with several lovely scores. Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh’s experience and game management orchestrating Waterford play throughout and their leadership on the pitch was obvious.
Dublin were now seven points down with fifteen minutes to go and they were given a lifeline with a stunning Schutte goal. Ryan O’Dwyer lead up work emphasized his unselfish work rate for others and his ball to the Cuala forward was world class. The strike was emphatic and Stephen O’Keefe made a great attempt to save the effort. Waterford’s full back line were now getting a bit nervy after the concession of the goal. Schutte was starting to have joy in aerial exchanges inside but lacked the support runners to inflict further damage. Kilkenny will have taken note of this. I am perhaps being harsh considering the withdrawal of the immense Noel Connors but it is an achilles heel for Waterford historically and Kilkenny with their speed and vision in the full forward line could caused massive problems.
Waterford after a nervy couple of moments after Schutte’s goal steadied the ship with a couple of open play scores. Shanahan and Curran points and link up was proving crucial but the sideline cut of Austin Gleeson from near midfield was emphatic and really spelled the end of the Dublin challenge. Dublin tried immensely hard to get back into the contest emphasized by Dotsy O’Callaghan’s lung bursting run at the death which was crudely stopped by Gleeson. The resultant free from Treacy was saved by Gleeson and that was that. There was still time for Liam Rushe to have the proverbial rush of blood to the head lashing at Shanahan. The incident prompted a red card and so a miserable afternoon for Dublin was complete.
Waterford advance but plenty of work is required to even compete with Kilkenny on this showing. The lethargic nature of their first half performance will be devoured by Kilkenny in a couple of weeks. The lack of scoring depth in the team continues to be a concern. If you take out Shanahan’s frees, there was minimal scoring threat from the rest of the forwards in that opening period. The good news is that they will be underdogs going into this semi-final encounter and the youthful panel should relish playing in Croke Park. Dublin’s season finishes in a disappointing result. Their performance was far improved from the one witnessed against Limerick two weeks ago. O’Dwyer, Boland and Rushe were the stand outs but Dublin require better attacking threat inside. The lack of goal threat this year has being glaring and is a primary reason for their exit today. Cian Boland is a talent and will be in the starting lineup next year. Ger Cunningham has a nucleus of a good team but retirement talk will surface on a couple of established stars such as O’Dwyer, O’Callaghan. It is going to be a long winter for Dublin and the months ahead in terms of personnel changes will be crucial on how viable Dublin will be in the championship for the next couple of years. Five years with more or less the same panel and no All Ireland to show for it, a rethink is required.