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'Keeper Murphy rolls back the years as Waterford earn opening-day win at Pat's

Kevin O’Connor scored the only goal as the Blues started the season with three points at Richmond Park.

Brian Murphy celebrates Waterford's opening goal.
Brian Murphy celebrates Waterford's opening goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Saint Patrick’s Athletic 0

Waterford 1

Dave Donnelly reports from Richmond Park 

THE FIRST GOAL of the 2020 League of Ireland season went to Waterford’s Kevin O’Connor but it was a vintage performance from keeper Brian Murphy that saw the Blues to victory at Richmond Park.

The goalkeeper, signed this week from Cardiff City following a decade in England, pulled off a string of masterful second-half saves as Alan Reynolds’ side opened the season with a hard-fought win.

Wexford man O’Connor, on loan from Preston North End, toasted the first goal of the season early in the second half but Saints boss Stephen O’Donnell will wonder how his side left without at least a point.

Valentine’s Day or not, there’s little love lost between these sides after the Saints were the beneficiaries of Waterford’s disqualification from European competition last season.

The effects of that decision linger as Waterford boasted nine debutants in the starting line-up, four of whom are on loan: centre-backs Andre Burley and Akin Odimayo the latest to arrive from Reading.

Pat’s, likewise, featured a raft of new faces with six debutants in their 11, including the former Dundalk title-winner Robbie Benson in the heart of Stephen O’Donnell’s midfield.

It was Waterford, operating with a midfield diamond headed by Kevin O’Connor, who made the early running in a combative first half.

Michael O’Connor, captaining the team at age 21, went close with an early header before glancing a sensational Kevin O’Connor cross onto the roof of the net.

The Athletic slowly found their feet and began to dictate, but created little until Dean Clarke, a late replacement for Darragh Markey, saw his spectacular 30-yard lob just clear the crossbar.

The second half took just four minutes to deliver what the first had never looked likely to, and it inevitably came on the back of a mistake.

Benson left his pass back for Brendan Clarke short, allowing Matty Smith to nip and, with Clarke wrongfooted by the striker’s shimmy, the pull-back sat up for O’Connor to slot into the empty net.

Pats had a big chance to level with a minute as captain Ian Bermingham pulled back for Billy King but the winger steered the ball meekly at Murphy.

Ex-Blues defender Rory Feely had a strong appeal for a penalty as he looked to be fouled in the box by Burley but instead he got a yellow card for his protests.

From the resulting corner, however, Feely met King’s corner with a glancing header and it took an outstanding save from Murphy to keep the Blues’ lead intact.

Another wayward backpass almost did for Pats again as Luke McNally left Clarke short, but this time Michael O’Connor couldn’t control the ball as he looked to round the keeper.

Bermingham headed wide from close range before Dean Clarke failed to beat the man on the post when McNally had flicked on brilliantly for the winger.

There were a few hearts in mouths late on but Waterford, whose shirts will be adorned by the 24/7 Cardiac Cover for the South-East logo from next week, held out for the three points.

SAINT PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: B Clarke; Feely, Desmond, McNally, Bermingham; Lennon (Hale 67), Benson, McClelland (Forrester 55); D Clarke (Doona 79), King, Rennie.

WATERFORD:  Murphy; Odimayo, Bone, Burley, Wilson; Allardice, Coote, McCourt, K O’Connor; Smith (Power 79), M O’Connor.

Referee: Sean Grant

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