Monthly Archives: July 2009

Nothing was going to give or everything was going to give

The meeja loves looking at things past for titbits about current events, and there was plenty to chew over about last night’s Under-21 final between Waterford and Clare in Dungarvan. Clare’s appalling 0 for 12 record in Munster finals stood in curious contrast to Waterford’s, whose three wins in the competition came at the expense of the Banner. Normally lazy hacks bang on about how “something has to give”, but last night it was all or nothing.

And in the end, it was all. I’m not saying for one second that the Waterford team didn’t care, but there was no denying that once Clare got in sight of the finishing line there was only going to be one winner. We would have been able to observe the phenomenon of a team feeling liberated by the prospect of ending the pain that had afflicted previous generations of their county men when we won the 2002 Munster championship. I wrote then how “the Waterford team must have been a terrifying sight. Nostrils flared, eyes bulging, sweating adrenalin, they steamed after every ball as if their lives depended upon it”, and you could see echoes of that in Clare last night. Ger Loughnane lost to Waterford in 1974 as a player and 1992 as a manager at this stage of the competition, so it must have been inspirational to the Clare team to have succeeded where so many of their illustrious predecessors had come up short.

Hard to know what to make of it for Waterford i.e. I don ‘t know enough about the team to make in informed judgement. Obviously it’s disappointing they couldn’t close out the deal after that thumping win over Tipperary, but there’s no shame in losing a tight game against an inspired team. There’s not much point in waiting to see how Clare do to gauge how good we were – they could be a brilliant team yet still lose to Galway. Whatever happens now, it’s been a great year at underage level.

Two last observations, or one with a sting in the tail. It was good to be able to feel no animosity towards Clare on the basis that they were Clare. The wounds of 1998 have well and truly healed. So it has nothing to do with being a bitch when I note that despite the momentous nature of their victory, nobody in Clare seemed bothered updating the Wikipedia page, that task falling to Pmunited, a contributer “living in the US, but born in Ireland”. And there was me thinking Ennis was Ireland’s information town . . . okay, that was rather bitchy. Well done to the Banner.

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How do Nemeton do it?

Tonight the Munster Under-21 final will be broadcast live on TG4. It’s not exactly a trek to Fraher Field to cover the match for Nemeton from their base in An Rinn, but there doesn’t seem to be any part of the country in to which their reach does not extend to cover live sport. They are even showing eleven League of Ireland matches. So why is it that big daddy up in Montrose seems incapable of such coverage, to the extent that when Bohemians played Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League qualifiers they felt the need to play the beal bocht to justify not showing it? 

The perverse thing is that coverage of the big matches is so all pervasive these days that it probably harms attendances – the GAA were likely relieved to get a round-ish figure of 30,000 at the match last Sunday – yet for all-ticket affairs like tonight’s match in Dungarvan we have to rely on an independent broadcaster from beyond the Pale. It all comes from the licence fee eventually, but if Nemeton didn’t exist would they be invented?

The lowdown on the Under-21’s

Giveitfong has given Clare folk some insight into the Waterford Under-21’s in a post on AFR. Some of us (ahem) might find it informative too:

For the benefit of Clare supporters. The Waterford goalkeeper Adrian Power is the senior sub goalie and many people believe he should be on the first team due to his sometimes unbelievable shot stopping abilities and his excellent puckouts, although he is also inclined to do crazy things [after Cider and Ray Barry, clearly a grand Waterford tradition]. All three full backs are on the senior panel with Noel Connors in the first team. Full back Shane Fives was excellent against Tipperary while the other corner back Jerome Maher was possibly even better. This line’s performance was a key factor in the defeat of Tipp.

The half back line is the same as that which won De La Salle their first All-Ireland colleges title in 2007. Philip Mahony is also on the minor team and is the best hurler of the three. Stephen Daniels had a shaky enough first half against Tipp but was super in the second half: he is not physically big and relies on hurling and positioning. I though the other wing back David O’Sullivan was weak enough against Tipp.

The two big Abbeyside men who started against Tipp were both very poor, but only one of them – Seán O’Hare – was taken off, and his replacement Shane Walsh probably played the key role in turning the game Waterford’s way. I think the occasion got to O’Hare who is a better hurler than he looked that night, but I can’t for the life of me say what John Gorman is doing on the team (well, I do have an opinion but can’t express it here).

All six Waterford forwards are on the senior panel. Paul Murray is usually a defender but put in a great hour against Tipp and landed three points. Thomas Connors, brother of Noel, had a whale of a second half – strong and aggressive and can take a score. Maurice Shanahan is unreal – a much better hurler than Dan, with a bit of his father’s devil in him, and an excellent freetaker. Shane Casey has great pace and skill and also very good vision – did really well both a full forward and on the wing against Tipp. Thomas Ryan is small in stature but has great pace and skill and an eye for a goal (got two against Tipp). Brian O’Sullivan is very skillful but was the least impressive of the forwards against Tipp, but I think from his club form that he is capable of better.

Waterford played with a great combination of skill, commitment and discipline against Tipp and if they repeat that they will be hard to beat. Also 3-21 was a big score to get in a 60-minute match against a team with Tipp’s credentials.

Dungarvan is a big pitch and would always have been regarded as one of the best hurling pitches in Ireland. However, whatever they did with the drainage when they built the stand in the early 1990s it was never the same afterwards. They are after having a couple of gos at fixing the problem and I must say that for the semi-final it looked in the best shape I have seen it in 20 years.

Most people travelling to this game from Clare will probably come through Tipperary, Cahir and Clonmel. There are three roundabouts in a row approaching Clonmel from the Cahir side and I don’ think any one of them as a signpost for Dungarvan. The best advice is to take the exit at around one/two o’clock (looking at the roundabout facing you as a clock) i.e. the one after the exit for Waterford. This should bring you up to traffic lights (petrol station on the left hand side) where you turn right (over the river Suir) for Dungarvan, turn right at the roundabout at the far side of the river (no advance sign for Dungarvan here either) and then turn left about half a mile further on. Very picturesque road between the Comeragh and Knockmealdown mountains but rather twisty in places.

Just west of Dungarvan the road meets up with the N72 from Killarney/Lismore (at the Master McGrath monument) and just beyond this junction there is another junction with the road to Dungarvan off to the right and the road to Waterford to the left. You can approach Fraher Field by either road. Taking the Waterford road, take the next right turn and this brings you to the ground along the river Colligan. I believe there is parking at the Cattle Mart just before the ground. This might be the best bet for people coming late.

If you take the road into Dungarvan, turn left at the first roundabout (petrol station on the right) and the ground is to the left of the second next roundabout you meet. However, the traffic situation in this area will be dire. If coming early, go straight on at the first roundabout which brings you into the town square – there are several car parks in the vicinity of the square, which is about ten minutes walk from the ground. Recommended pubs include the Local, the Lady Belle and Paddy Foleys (all in one corner of the Square) and the Moorings and the Anchor on the Quay. The Park Hotel is next to the ground and is also a great meeting place for games.

Welcome to the Déise and enjoy everything about your visit except the match result!

Waterford United 2-1 Limerick

The chief guest at the wedding at Cana was aggrieved that the best wine was saved until the end of the reception. He could have been talking about this Waterford sporting weekend, for the champagne came in Thurles after the Blue Nun had been quaffed in the RSC. It’ll be hard to cast a non-jaundiced eye over my first competitive home Blues of the 21st century after the excitment against Galway, but I’ll try. Honest.

The first thing to ponder is the price. Having paid €15 for the Ipswich ticket last week – okay, €10 as we got three for the price of two – I assumed that it would be cheaper on Saturday. The piece in the programme notes where they noted that they had considered putting prices up for that game but decided not to screw the loyal half-thousand had clearly sailed over my head, and after the initial WTF reaction, it struck me that that wasn’t too bad. What did I consider good value? €10? €8? Cutting prices would not lead to any more visitors and putting them up would probably lose them a few punters so they’ve probably pitched the prices just right. And the €200 price of a season ticket seems like excellent value. That wouldn’t buy you four seats in the Kop.

Rolling up to the RSC with my brother-in-law in tow, eager as he was to add another location on his Facebook application showing sports venues visited – ranging from Anfield, Old Trafford and the Millennium Stadium at the top to Selhurst Park and Fratton Park at the bottom – we handed over our money and received a big grin along the way. Being friendly or pleasure at seeing a new face? Probably the latter, because at the risk of blowing the big reveal from this post we were immediately confronted by the biggest problem facing the League of Ireland – lack of atmosphere. Initial feelings of awkwardness soon faded. They were probably a consequence of not having done this for such a long time and being nervous we’d end up in the wrong place. But the way individual voices echoed around the stand was excruciating. It’s classic Catch-22. You won’t get the crowds if there is no atmosphere, but you won’t get the atmosphere if there are no crowds.

I’ve watched a good few hurling matches where there was man and a dog present, so could the quality on offer or the lure of the Waterford brand overcome these concerns? My suspicions after the Ipswich game that a more even match-up with a competetive edge would prove more engaging were confirmed. The Blues were clearly the better team with the odd purple patch from certain players proving decisive at key points. Defender John Kearney looked the pick of the bunch early on and it was his calculated punt into the box which unlocked the Limerick defence, good control from *checks match report* Paul Walsh allowed the Blues to put the ball into the mix. If a Waterford player didn’t get to it a Limerick defender would find it hard to avoid it and so it proved, the ball looping into the net off Brian O’Callaghan. It was a good goal, but there was that whole atmosphere problem again –  a pregnant pause followed  while people digested this event. If there had been people behind the goal it would have been immediately obvous to all. There was almost an apologetic air about the celebrations that eventually followed.

What came next was typical of soccer, and indeed sport, the world over as the Blues failed to push on despite their manifest dominance. The only noteworthy moment in the first half was a dive by the Limerick no 9 which was correctly punished by the ref with a yellow card. By half time I was seriously wondering why I had bothered. The other potential hook, that of this being Team Waterford, was not massaging any emotional lobes. This had nothing to do with the team consisting of blow-ins, a charge routinely laid against the Blues by GAA types. In fact, the notes in the (rather good) programme demonstrated that seven or eight players were from the Waterford / Tramore area which is a good core to have in any team. It’s just . . . I was having to fake enthusiasm, and that’s no way to follow a team.

Then early in the second half, a curious thing happened. The Blues failed on probably four occasions to get rid of a ball that was just begging to be put in to row Z, or at least over the running track. Danger was only averted by a poor effort at goal from a Limerick forward. By the time I had calmed down, it was just possible to see the beginnings of actually caring a little bit about the outcome. Interest in a team doesn’t come from the womb or the drinking water, it has to be cultivated. Had I known the characters involved enough to be able to go “ah for f***’s sake, XYZ!” then it’s not hard to see some real interest developing. If I want to get the most out of the Blues then the onus is on me to make an investment, not the other way round. Catch-22 is all very well, but is that just an excuse to rationalise not going?

It was a bit easier to get involved now, and it helped that top scorer Graham Cummins stepped up to the plate. His runs became increasingly more threatening and one such foray culminated in a penalty shout that looked a bit optimistic to me but was awarded after some prevarication on the referee’s part. The penalty was terrible but it popped up from the save in such a way that much as with the own goal earlier it could only be finished by a Blue or knocked into his own net by a Limerick player and Cummins duly did the needful.

2-0 up and that should have been that. Limerick began to threaten a little more as the Blues withdrew a bit. Michael Devine flapped at one cross, but butter knives have more cutting edge than the Limerick attack and it was going to take something daft / special for them to get back into it. The daft was the awarding of a penalty when no one hit the deck and it  seemed that the ball struck no hand. Devine and another Blue got booked, so vehement were their protestations, which only shows that the habit of trying to lay down a marker for future 50-50 moments is a universal trait. The special was a brilliantly dispatched penalty, struck low and hard so that Devine wouldn’t have saved it even if he had known where it was going. There was to be no late grandstand finish though as the Blues closed the game out with commendable coolness . Three useful points earned.

So the $64,000 question: is that the weekly wage bill of League of Ireland club? Sorry, old habits die hard. The question is: will I be back? The answer is probably yes. It would help to find someone who attends the match regularly so I can share the experience and not feel like I’m watching the game on my own (irony-seeking veterans of European Cup semi-finals don’t count). And a season ticket would be good, allowing you to extract maximum value from each game and imposing a repetition on your viewing habits that creates positive feedback for the next game. Anyone got €200 handy?

Waterford 1-16 (19) Galway 0-18 (18)

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Does adrenalin speed your reaction times up to the point where time seems to slow down? I’m not sure if it is scientifically the case, but there is plenty of anectdotal evidence to suggest this and there was one such anecdote yesterday in Thurles. As Declan Prendergast – and I’m sure it was him, not Michael Walsh – emerged from his own half with the ball, soloing towards the Galway goal with all the grace of a gazelle with a lion on its back, who should I spy tearing up on his right hand shoulder but John Mullane. It was almost as if time telescoped as Mullane moved towards the event horizon of a black hole. Prendergast batted the ball towards him, Mullane caught in his stride and barely broke it as he sent the ball in a curving arc over the bar. And all hell broke lose among the Déisigh.

I’ve been following Waterford’s efforts closely for over a decade now – hurling started in 1998, doncha know – and plenty has happened in that time. We’ve had close games, a few big wins, a few big defeats, drew some, and lost games we should have won easy. But at no point have we won a game where we were behind the 8-ball for most of it. The only occasion that comes to mind where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory was when Paul O’Brien scored a late goal against Tipperary in the 2004 Munster semi-final. And even then we had led for most of the game only to be overtaken in the last ten minutes. Against Galway yesterday we were probably behind for 60 of the 70 minutes, and were six points down midway through the second half of a low scoring, goalless encounter. To turn that around was the stuff of fairy tales.

The day had not gotten off to the most auspicious of starts. Taking the wrong roundabout coming off the Clonmel ring road sent us on the Fethard road. It had been a while since we had taken this particular cross-country jaunt beloved of those convinced they can trim thirty seconds off the journey. No problem with going through Fethard then. It was just that it got really wacky when we found ourselves in New Birmingham. Who knew there was a place in Tipperary called New Birmingham? We certainly hadn’t, which informed us in no uncertain terms that we’d come too far. Turning around brought us in conflict with a road race where the wretched of the earth were shambling along in the middle of the highway causing us to do swerves that would have impressed John Mullane. Next time we’ll make sure we stick to the main road.

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We arrived in Thurles with flaming arrows poking out of our wagon and found the town eerily quiet. In retrospect, I was probably looking forward to some culchie craziness to make our English guests – my brother-in-law and Mrs d’s second cousin, although a much closer relation than that status usually implies  – come away thinking the Micks were all mad when in crowds. God forbid they might think it no different to a regular league match at Anfield or Goodison Park. Making our way into the ground you then started worrying that they’d be certain it was nothing like Anfield or Goodison Park as the decrepit nature of the venue blazed forth for them to see (although the Red part of me wonders whether the Toffee would have felt right at home, ho ho). As it happens the authorities made the sensible decision to close the Killinan End thus forcing everyone together and minimising the gaps that might have reduced the atmosphere. Allied to some relatively decent seats, certainly  by relaxed Ticketmaster criteria, I began to relax myself.

It wasn’t as if I had high expectations, and when the dust had settled my brother would confess that the main reason for going was what he saw as giving a send-off to this generation that have given us such a wild and wonderful time. With 15 minutes to go he would muse that this was going to be the last time Tony Browne would pull on a Waterford shirt. Then again, all things might well pass but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen today as Dublin failed to bring a tremendous season for them to the next level and reach an All-Ireland semi-final. Quite apart from hoping Dublin would make such a breakthrough and having those hopes dashed, there was a slightly queasy feeling at what would be said when Justin McCarthy’s new team did better than the team who had shafted him last summer – not that I begrudge Justin his happiness, but I can do without the trolling on the subject.

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So having got through usual pre-match pleasantries, i.e. Amhrán na bhFiann, which I’m relieved to report didn’t leave me embarrassed at such a brazen display of nationalism in front of the post-imperial visitors , I was trying harder than usual to keep cool. This wasn’t made any easier by the presence of as big a bunch of balubas as ever to grace a sporting event sitting directly in front of us. They weren’t obnoxious, they were simply clueless about the game of hurling in general and the etiquette of match-going in a non-segregated environment (which, as expected, freaked the English folk out no end) in particular. They would applaud the ref for giving a free to Galway when he had given it to Waterford. Every Waterford wide was greeted with cheering and leaping to the feet which is fine in the last five minutes but totally OTT in the first five. One yahoo even had a Dublin beanie hat on, doubtless an expression of true love from some Jackeen brassie he had met in the boozer a few hours before. In fairness to the lads none of their clownishness was directed at those around them, but it was a source of constant irritation throughout.

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Not as big as Waterford’s first half performance though. After the initial period of fencing Galway got on top. Looking at the programme beforehand I was struck by the lack of marquee players up front. When you consider how the likes of Noel Lane, Brendan Lynskey, Martin Naughton, Anthony Cunningham, Eanna Ryan and some fella called Joe C spring to mind even twenty years on, Galway’s attack – with the exception of some fella called Joe C – didn’t strike fear into our hearts. They’ve never had a problem racking up big scores since those days, the problem has usually been lightweight back lines. And to see Waterford being horsed out of it by the Galway backs was a source of great concern. Only Stephen Molumphy seemed to be getting any change out of the ball, and Ollie Canning’s limpet imitation on John Mullane was working a treat from Galway’s perspective. Points were exchanged from frees before Galway got the first point from play, an excellent strike from Aongus Callanan after an under pressure Clinton Hennessy had sent the ball straight down his throat. It was just as well that Eoin Kelly had brought his free-taking hurley – and it should be noted what a relief it is that this aspect of Waterford’s game is no longer such a source of angst – because Galway were well on top, helped along by a point from a sideline from Joe Canning. But the double-edged nature of such a talent would be illustrated by a period midway through the half. 0-5 to 0-2 up, Galway embarked on a shocking series of efforts, two dreadful wides bookended by two sideline cuts that were brilliantly struck but drifted wide. Waterford reacted to these let-offs with a couple of frees, one of them a really soft one when John Mullane was hit by what looked to me a clean shoulder, and a great point from Kevin Moran to almost miraculously level matters.

There was no disguising Galway’s ascendancy though, however scrappy it might be. Galway began to edge clear, helped by a point from Joe Canning when he was pulled all over the shop by Declan Prendergast and resorted to kicking the ball over the bar from a long way out. The unusual nature of the point disguised just how easily he had made the space. Waterford would be grateful for a great save from Clinton Hennessy which illustrated to the newbies the value of the reaction of the crowd in gauging what had just happened – abrupt ooh = wide / 65; ripple of applause = point;  huge roar = goal. Anyone taking notes would appreciate this later on.

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Canning knocked over the 65 and another ‘point’ from him soon after would cause consternation. Shooting from an acute angle the ball looked wide from where I was – admittedly as far away as it is possible to be and still be in the New Stand – but was signalled over after some hesitation from the umpires. What followed did no credit to either Waterford or the ref. Eoin Kelly in particular can consider himself fortunate to have escaped censure as he flew off the handle. The ball may well have been wide but the display of histrionics was unnecessary and could have seen him booked, or worse. The ref though displayed a surprising level of procrastination, heading in to have a consultation with his umpires when he was surely in no position to second-guess them then allowing the point. Either chalk off the score or get on with it. Eoin Kelly could probably claim on the sly that such pressure helps when the next 50-50 decision comes his way, and it looked right suspicious when Kelly went down in a heap right under the Old Stand on the 45m line. He scored from the subsequent free and we went in at half-time grateful to be only four points down and praying that the swirling wind was a factor.

Initially it looked like it might be the case with Mullane flashing a goal effort narrowly wide, Eoin Kelly scoring one of those ridiculously precocious over-the-shoulder efforts and Kevin Moran tacking on another fine point. But this was a false dawn as Galway struck back with three quick points, one of them the result of a free when Eoin Murphy simply chopped Damien Hayes down in a blatant professional foul. Joe Canning must have pondered having a go for goal to extract maximum punishment and Galway would come to regret such caginess.

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The post half-time blowback had now evaporated and Galway moved six points clear. The Shanahan brothers came on – Maurice and Dan respectively, which demonstrates how the pecking order has changed – and Maurice made a nuisance of himself from the word go. Not enough of a nuisance to impact the scoreboard, although he could claim frustration when his good play put Mullane in the clear only for the effort from a narrow angle to go wide. Or did it? Instinct again told me it was over and we got another display of petulance from Waterford as it was waved wide, this time slapped down with righteous indignation by Diarmuid Kirwan. It looked like heads were beginning to drop as the good work by the backs wasn’t translating into scores at the other end.  It was around this point, as alluded to previously, that maudlin thoughts about the imminent departures from the white and blue began to play around in certain skulls. Waterford managed to trim the gap to three but Galway quickly moved back to the insurance score clear, and even the English second cousin could see that Waterford were going to need a goal, something that I suggested was not going to come.

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At some point Dan Shanahan had moved in to full-forward. In a sport which consists of 14 mini-battles all over the field with the final result dependent on the collective tally of those battles a simple switch can have a spectacular impact. It’s doubtful whether Noel Hickey would be as discombobulated as Eugene McEntee was, but the brief period where Dan made a difference was explosive. First he gathered a high ball and drove the ball goalwards. Narrowly wide but 10/10 for the effort. Then it happened again, only this time he got the ball clear. I couldn’t see who it fell to or how it ended up in the net – after-the-event nod in the direction of Shane Walsh here for a fine finish –  but the reaction of the Waterford crowd on the Town End told us all we need to know. Suddenly it was a one point game. Galway had a chance which drifted hopelessly wide allowing Waterford to come back down the pitch, earn what looked like a soft free even at the time, thus allowing Kelly to level matters up right on the stroke of the 70 minutes. Extra time loomed but Prendergast and Mullane brought up that thrilling, scarcely believable denoument. There was time for Joe Canning to leap into a phone box and don the outside-the-suit underpants but his tricky effort slipped wide sparking wild celebrations – what was that about not celebrating opposition wides? – as the two minutes of injury fizzed into the bottom of the egg timer.

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The final whistle blew and Thurles reverberated to disbelieving Waterford celebrations. During his bout where Waterford supposedly boozed away the chance of beating Dublin in the League, Bernard Dunne found himself well behind on the judges scorecards as it went into 11th round. He had to land a knockout blow and he did. This was similar. We hadn’t exactly been battered by Galway and while they were well ahead it could still be won with a knockout punch. It didn’t seem at all likely though as we went into those last rounds, which was what made it so special when they landed that late flurry of blows and Galway didn’t get up off the canvas. No one in Waterford will be under the illusion that Kilkenny will be quaking in their boots after this. But each individual Championship success has value when you are from Waterford, and the manner of this one will rank it up there with the very best.

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Waterford:  Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors, Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Aidan Kearney, Kevin Moran (0-2; Dan Shanahan), Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle (Maurice Shanahan), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Stephen Molumphy, John Mullane (0-1), E Kelly (0-12, 0-11 f), Shane Casey (Shane Walsh, 1-0)

Galway: Colm Callanan, Damien Joyce, Eugene McEntee, Ollie Canning, Fergal Moore, John Lee, Eoin Lynch, Ger Farragher (0-2), Kevin Hynes, Aongus Callanan (0-2), Cyril Donnellan (Kevin Hayes), Andy Smith (0-1), Damien Hayes (0-3), Joe Canning (0-9, 0-5 f, 0-1 65), Niall Healy (Joe Gantley, 0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-7 Galway 0-11

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)

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The dead arose and appeared to many

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There’s been lots of drama in Waterford games over the years, but not once have we come back from the dead to win – until today. Watching it on Sky+ just now, I was shocked to see we were four points down with three minutes to go having been behind by six for much of the game. And yet there it is, one point winners. Yeah, Kilkenny are probably going to cream us in the semi-final, but the next few days are going to be about just enjoying such a pulsating win.

Tonight’s the night

Waterford United will have the pleasure of my company this evening as they take on the might of Limerick FC. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Stay tuned . . .

Update: and well done to the Blues, deserved 2-1 winners over Limerick in the RSC. Further thoughts to follow, but first it’s time for some beauty sleep in preparation for the main event tomorrow.

Enough with the spooky parallels

If we’re going to think positive about how similar the results at Minor and Under-21 have been so far with events in 1992, then it’s only fair to note the yang of the Intermediate team’s loss to Cork tonight in the Munster final: 5-24 to 3-9 has a horrifying symmetry with . . . no, I can’t say it! Move along, nothing to see here . . .