Three points separated the sides in Saturday’s highly entertaining senior hurling Qualifier between Wexford and Waterford in Nowlan Park.
In truth, the Slaneysiders’ supporters should not have had to endure such a tense ending.
Those supporters came droves to Nowlan Park. There is no doubt that their encouragement is helping the Wexford players to scale heights they have thus far not reached in championship hurling.
Waterford is a team in transition and like their neighbours the support of Déise followers is especially important to the emerging players. While a sizeable contingent of Waterford supporters travelled up the motorway they were heavily out-numbered by the opposition.
The almost full-house in Nowlan Park created a great atmosphere and we witnessed some existing fare. The hurling was far from vintage and the big question was how much would the two tough games against Clare, including extra time on both days, affect the Wexford players.
On a balmy evening, the Leinster side lived up the motto emblazoned on the collar of their jerseys – ‘attitude and intensity’. Their opponents were also well up for the contest even if they had a much easier passage with a victory over Laois.
Wexford has shown an ability to get goals and their first from Paul Morris was threatening even before it arrived in the 11th minute. Waterford responded well and a succession of pointed frees from Padraic Mahony appeared to level matters as the game headed towards half-time.
The Model County, though, kept up the intensity and were rewarded when full-forward Conor McDonald shot to the net following a defence splitting pass form Liam Óg McGovern.
Wexford’s inaccuracy against Clare on both days could have proven costly. The Model County had no such problems in the first half, but the wides malaise returned after the interval.
Those missed chances looked as if they might come back to haunt Wexford. A brilliant individual goal from David Redmond had the Wexford supporters in raptures, but when Colin Dunford scored a brace of goals Waterford were back in the game.
It was then that the character which Wexford showed in both games against Clare came to the fore. Despite the loss of Keith Rossiter the Wexford defence stood up manfully to the Waterford fight-back.
The winners appeared to get their scores a little easier than their opponents and this was especially evident in the closing stages when the Déise attack was well contained. I was surprised at Waterford’s substitution of Padraic Mahony in the second half. Perhaps he picked up an injury but when their leading scorer was called ashore it was surely a blow to his fellow players.
The Déise are in transition and we know there is some fine talent emerging. Patience is required, though, from supporters because it will take time to build a team that is capable of challenging the top sides.
And so the Wexford momentum continues with Semple Stadium, Thurles the next port of call and Limerick their quarter-final opponents on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are as unpredictable as the Irish weather.
After a superb Munster championship last year they failed miserably to offer any challenge to Clare in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final. This year has been somewhat similar. Limerick’s late surge saw off Tipperary but the Shannonsiders disappointed against Cork in the Munster final.
I believe Limerick will offer a stern challenge. The Leinster side may be on an impressive run but if Limerick plays to its undoubted potential I can see them securing an All-Ireland semi-final spot against, possibly, Kilkenny.
Tipperary will start the second game as strong favourites against Dublin. The players took heavy criticism after losing to Limerick. The Qualifiers has allowed the Tipperary players to rediscover their confidence with big wins over Galway and Offaly.
On a couple of occasions in both games Tipp switched off. We know Dublin is capable of a much better performance than we witnessed against Kilkenny in the Leinster final. We will see a much better display from the Dubs but I cannot see their defence coping.