A stoppage time goal by Stephen Bennett helped a nervous Waterford edge past a superlative second half rally by Laois side at a tension-filled, sun-drenched UPMC Nowlan Park.
Having led by eight points at half-time – the margin which separated these teams when last they met back in the 2015 Championship – one expected Waterford to kick on and comfortably secure victory.
But Laois emerged after the interval much the more energised of the sides and had turned an eight-point deficit into a single point lead by the 59th minute. Inspired by PJ Scully and Paddy Purcell in particular, Laois showed incredible temperament to work their way diligently back into the contest.
But ultimately the difference between the two sides lay in the depth of their respective benches, with Waterford substitute Michael Kiely playing in Stephen Bennett for the match-deciding goal.
In sweltering conditions, Waterford were the first to settle and led by three unanswered points after three minutes, with Patrick Curran nabbing an early brace, followed by Bennett's opening score.
PJ Scully, at the heart of so much of Laois’s positive play, turned over his first free from 55 metres after five minutes before Paddy Purcell landed the first of his four opening half white flaggers after 10.
Points from Kevin Moran, Jack Prendergast and Jack Fagan sent Waterford three clear by the 13th minute before Ciarán Collier replied for Laois.
From the next attack, the Déise somewhat fortuitously goaled through Kevin Moran, whose shot was deflected off Donnchadh Hartnett and beyond the flat-footed Enda Rowland. Austin Gleeson and Neil Montgomery were next to score, leaving Waterford 1-08 to 0-04 clear by the water break.
Purcell and Dessie Hutchison traded points in the 22nd and 23rd minutes before Stephen Bennett converted Waterford’s first free of the afternoon after 25 minutes.
Purcell sent over a brace of frees before Bennett’s point-blank range effort was bravely blocked by the onrushing Hartnett; Bennett sent over the subsequent 65, adding another free in the 28th minute. Podge Delaney and Scully (another free) narrowed the arrears with further points from Scully and Charles Dwyer keeping Laois in touch.
But Waterford finished the half strongly, with two Stephen Bennett frees either side of an Austin Gleeson effort leaving them 1-16 to 0-11 clear – and seemingly in command.
Just 25 seconds after the resumption, Charles Dwyer pointed for Laois, which was followed by an inspirational free converted by goalkeeper Rowland.
Calum Lyons steadied the ship for Liam Cahill’s side with a 38th minute point but Waterford failed to score for the next 10 minutes, during which time Laois tagged on a score from Scully.
Laois substitute James Keyes pointed in the 47th minute, followed moments later by another Scully free to leave only three points separating the sides. Bennett and Scully traded further frees before Scully superbly cut over a sideline ball.
As the cries of "Laois, Laois, Laois" went up in the stands, the Leinster men took the lead through Ciarán Comerford’s goal after a brilliant fetch by Charles Dwyer.
Another Stephen Bennett free restored parity in the 57th minute before Scully turned over a free from inside his own 65. Waterford were in danger of recording their most infamous Championship defeat since their 1993 reversal to Kerry but with nine minutes of normal time remaining, Hutchinson brought the Deisemen level once more.
Aaron Dunphy had soon restored Laois’s slender advantage before a brilliant catch and pass by Gleeson sent Curran through for a vital 62nd minute goal.
Two minutes later, Bennett landed another free to leave Waterford two points ahead with time running out but Scully’s free reduced the arrears to the minimum in the 69th minute.
Bennett and Darragh Lyons both found their range in the 70th and 71st minutes with Scully rounding off his contribution with another free seconds later.
But with the last passage of play in the game, Waterford secured a nervous victory thanks to Bennett’s goal following a fine assist from substitute Kiely.
Waterford remain alive in this year’s Liam MacCarthy campaign – but only just.
Waterford: Shaun O'Brien; Conor Gleeson, Conor Prunty, Ian Kenny; Calum Lyons (0-02), Iarlaith Daly (0-01), Kevin Moran (1-01); Austin Gleeson (0-02), Neil Montgomery (0-01); Jack Fagan (0-01), Jack Prendergast (0-01), Stephen Bennett (1-08; 0-07f, 0-01 65); Dessie Hutchinson (0-03), Shane Bennett, Patrick Curran (1-02).
Subs used: Darragh Lyons (0-01) for Neil Montgomery (30), Michael Kiely for Kevin Moran (49), Peter Hogan for Jack Fagan (52), Jamie Barron for Jack Prendergast (58) and Shane McNulty for Shane Bennett (61).
Laois: Enda Rowland (0-01f); Stephen Maher, Sean Downey, Donnchadh Hartnett; Podge Delaney (0-01), Ciaran McEvoy, James Keyes (0-01); Fiachra C Fennell, Jack Kelly; Paddy Purcell (1-04), Cha Dwyer (0-02), Ciaran Collier (0-01), PJ Scully (0-10; 0-09f, 0-01 Sl), Wille Dunphy, Ross King.
Subs used: Ciaran Comerford (1-00) for W Dunphy (33), James Ryan for Stephen Maher (35), Aaron Dunphy (0-01) for R King (56), John Lennon for C McEvoy (63) and Matthew Whelan for J Keyes (73).
Referee: Liam Gordon (Wexford)