Waterford FC celebrated life back in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division with a well-earned 2-1 victory over Derry City at the Regional Sports Centre tonight.
After a decade outside of Ireland's top-flight, a superb team goal finished by hometown hero Dean O'Halloran in the 77th minute proved to be the winner after Gavan Holohan, one of seven new-signings in the Waterford starting eleven, canceled out Armin Aganovic's opener for Kenny Shiels' side.
As the 2,502 fans flooded into the stands, it was questionable whether the game would even be played. Heavy rainfall across the afternoon ensured the ground staff were at work right up to kick off, with the pitch passing referee Robert Hennessy's 7.15pm inspection.
There was little goalmouth action in the opening 15 minutes as the Blues tried to feed striker Izzy Akinade, with Darren Cole tamely scooping the Candystripe's best effort over the bar following an Aganovic knockdown on the edge of the box. The Swede's next header brought the first goal of the game in the 19th minute when he glanced a teasing in-swinging delivery from Aaron McEneff after a mistimed challenge from Stanley Aborah.
As the heavens open, testing the work of the fans who helped brush excess water off the playing surface an hour before kick-off, the home side seemed to acclimatise to the league. Akinade's runs down the right side unsettled the Foylesider's backline while Captain Paul Keegan and debutante Bastien Hery began to see more of the ball in midfield, with the Frenchman involved in the equaliser on 43 minutes.
Hery and Rory Feely exchanged passed on the right wing before the ball found its way to Holohan who cut directly towards goal before unleashing a low drive that skid under Doherty in the Derry goal.
Neither goalkeeper was forced into a save in the opening half hour of the second half, with Akinade nodding Waterford's best chance wide while McEneff couldn't capitalise on a poor clearance from the Derry keeper, floating a 35 yard effort over the bar.
The game's winning goal arrived in the 77th minute after man-of-the-match Hery swept the ball to the left wing before Aborah deftly shifted the ball to the overlapping Comerford, who's inviting low-cross was dispatched by the lively O'Halloran.
Despite leading, the Blues looked the more likely to score in the final stages, the match-winner meekly curling one effort towards Doherty, but aside a free from an identical position to the opening goal, Waterford were untroubled as they notched an opening night victory.
Waterford FC: Niall Corbet, Gary Comerford, David Webster, Kenny Browne, Rory Feely, Paul Keegan, Stanley Aborah (Dylan Barrett, 79), Bastien Hery, Gavan Holohan, Dean O'Halloran (Dean Walsh, 91), Izzy Akinade.
Derry City: Ben Doherty, Darren Cole, Armin Aganovic, Conor McDermott (Dapo Kayode, 80) , Nicky Low, Aaron McEneff, Ronan Hale, Jamie McDonagh (Ronan Curtis, 54), Rory Hale, Rory Paterson.
Referee: Robert Hennessy