During the week, I was talking to a friend who went off on a rant about how all-pervasive is the bitterness in County Kilkenny towards Waterford City and County. The details are irrelevant for the purposes of this post, it is enough to observe that this hatred is bound up with the tribal loyalties generated by the GAA. I’m as prone to that as anyone – anyone not from Kilkenny, at least – and that is why I was eagerly anticipating what Wexford Youth would be wearing. While objectively I appreciate that there’s no requirement for a Wexford team to ape the GAA’s colour scheme, anything other than purple and gold wouldn’t seem like the real McCoy.
But pink! Again, I can objectively appreciate the homage that Mick Wallace is making to Juventus. It still looks terrible. In a world where fans universally ridicule players who wear boots that are any colour other than black, pink is asking for trouble.
Another thing which represents a departure from the norm was the price. I can’t recall the last time the price for a sports event fell, so fair play to the Blues for trimming two euro off the admission price. It may seem trivial, but having heard of the £32 that Liverpool charged punters for their recent clash with Unirea Urziceni, it’s good to see a sense of perspective in the League of Ireland.
Back to the game, and the big question was whether the Blues could cope with the loss of probably their two best players last season. Of the four games I saw, the player who was the most impressive by far was Kenny Browne and he has departed for Sporting Fingal. Over the course of the season, Graham Cummins was, despite this mullocking gait, the best source of goals so to lose him to Cork City Friends Of the Rebel Army Society Co-operative so late in the close season was a bit of a sickener. It would be fair to say I don’t know a hell of a lot about Vinny Sullivan, but I recall the ridicule heaped on Everton when Howard Kendall ended up back at Goodison for a third time – it’s rarely the charm in sport.
So it was tremendous, and pleasurable, surprise when Paul McCarthy’s apologetic effort at a through ball was inexplicably missed by a Wexford defender to allow Sullivan though on goal. It looked like he’d taken the ball too far but then he coolly slotted the ball past Packie Holden leading to a Fiesta in the stand. Only six minutes gone. Graham who?
Now all the Blues had to was keep a clean sheet and they’d be home and hosed. There were a couple of headdesk moments in the first half, perhaps a consequence of players trying to acquire an understanding with new goalie Chris Konopka who flapped alarmingly at one corner, but it also became clear that just about the only way Wexford were going to threaten was if Waterford gifted it to them. This was reinforced when Wexford were reduced to ten men after a crunching tackle between Kevin Murray and Warren Boarders. I saw ‘between’ because at the time it looked like a 50:50 challenge and it was 50:50 as to who had come off the worst. A few inches either way and it would have been Murray who saw red rather than Boarders. As it was, the ref had a better view than I did and barely hesitated before sending off the Wexford man, and speaking at half time to someone who had a clear sight of the incident it seems he got it right, but it was a fraught few seconds while waiting to see the direction in which the card would be brandished.
(I think Boarders volunteered to go off because he couldn’t bear to wear that kit any longer.)
If the Blues had a lot of possession up until that point, they had oceans of it now. Could they make anything of it? Everything seemed to going through Liam Kearney, clearly the great white hope of 2010 for the Blues. But those niggling doubts about the firepower up front will continue to niggle away. So let’s hear it for goalkeepers and strikers with inner ear problems. Willie John Kiely got off to a flyer last season but then ran out of gas so it was important for his confidence to get off to a flyer again this season. When some wretched defending allowed him the freedom of the park, it looked like once again a Waterford striker had taken it too close to the goalie. But inexplicably Holden threw himself at Kiely’s feet allowing Kiely the simplest of tasks to knock the ball into the goalkeeper-sized hole in front of the goal.
That was game over, and it got better when David Grincell, on as a substitute for Kiely, was once again found in oceans of space under the stand. Rather than putting the head down he decided to cut back in and effectively ran into the defender coming back. The two of them went down in a heap and the referee, to the bewildered delight of everyone, awarded a penalty. It looked so soft, but there was nothing soft about Alan Carey’s thunderous strike. It was just as well Holden flung himself out of the way, he might have had his head taken off otherwise.
The game petered out to its inevitable conclusion, only illuminated by Gary Dunphy crashing a shot from a ridiculous distance against the bar. The sending off prevented Stephen Henderson from telling too much about his team but given the opposition looming on the horizon – Cork Whateveryourhavingyourself and Derry City – three points might look great before too long.