Aprés le deluges, le sol. During the day, when the sun was beating down like a hammer, the thought of going to the RSC filled me with dread. Yet a few weeks back when a typhoon swept down the Tramore Road, it didn’t feel that appealing either. The reality for the League of Ireland is that no amount of tinkering with times or toilets will bring back the punters – ultimately all it can do is endure with those who are already there and hope that people come around to their way of thinking.
In the end, the weather had cooled enough to make a trip to the RSC attractive. The conditions for sport were perfect – cool, dry and no glaring sun. And it quickly got better, Timmy Purcell finding himself in such ridiculous amounts of space on the right that I didn’t even stop talking to my friend, so unreal was the moment. He powered into the area, hit an uncomplicated belt across the goal that was just begging to be knocked in by friend or foe. It eluded Vinny Sullivan but not Willie John Kiely who had the simple task of knocking the ball into the gaping net.
What a start, the third game on the bounce at home where they’d scored early. And all the early creativity was from the Blues, Gary Dunphy hitting a fantastic strike from a clearance that fizzed past the post and Kiely hooking a shot just over the bar when he had no right to any sniff of goal. There was also a chastening moment in my journey with Waterford United with a tremendous solo effort which involved turning in the penalty area, jinking past two tackles then following up on a blocked initial effort, all from the boot of, um, ‘number eight’. Okay, check the programme, it’s Paul McCarthy. Never even noticed him before. No Mullanimal‘s yet then. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Limerick, who presented such a limp challenge in the corresponding fixture last season, were in a more determined mood this time though. Waterford were fortunate when a Limerick player got too much space of his own in the penalty area. Thankfully he had the turning circle of an oil tanker and defenders managed to get back, and when another Limerick player did get a shot off the penalty area was more packed than, well, am I mean enough to say the stands? It may have struck a hand in there, but it could have been anyone and the danger was cleared.
After that initial flurry of creativity, illuminated by a lovely moment out on the left when <insert name of left back> took the ball out of the sky and hit a firm pass inside to the midfield when there may have been a temptation to balloon the ball into the sky, a testimony to the manager’s desire for stylish play, Limerick were effectively stifling things and making life hard for the Blues.
And then came one splendidly shocking moment. A free from way out on the left was sucking everyone, most notably Kevin Burns, into the central axis of the pitch. One of the great pleasures of this kind of more intimate soccer is that these things are obvious, and there’s no doubt that the Limerick player meant it when he swung the ball in low towards the near post from which it cannoned off to safety. Waterford were relieved to go in ahead at half time, the timbers of the post still shivering through their spine.
This was only a brief reprieve as it took only seven second half minutes for Limerick to equalise, and what a doozy it was from Waterford’s perspective. Limerick earned a soft free – a recurring theme throughout the evening – which they lifted into the box. It bounced, then bounced again, was scuffed by a Waterford defender who had an opportunity to really put his foot through it, then took another bounce which Kevin Burns flapped at before it took yet another bounce right onto the bonce of John Tierney who was able to head it in from about six inches. It was an utterly appalling goal to concede, and the feeling of annoyance was compounded moments afterwards when a great run from a Waterford midfielder – jeez, I really am struggling to identify these guys – allowed Vinny Sullivan a clear shot on goal but he spooned his shot over the bar from no more than ten yards out.
In fairness to Sullivan, his tricksiness represented the Blues best chance of getting back in front during the second half, especially given an oddly subdued performance from Liam Kearney. He had one very good effort where he turned on a sixpence only for his snap shot to go straight at the keeper and another moment where he seemed to have a sight of goal but elected to pass and the danger was cleared. At the other end, Limerick were keeping Waterford on the back foot and the nerves were clearly showing.
Something need to be changed in the Waterford team and it was strange that Stephen Henderson didn’t feel the need to make a change until the 70th minute when David Grincell came on for Kiely. It’s an obvious switch, one that has been done many times in the past and will happen again. But that’s probably a bit churlish given that it would prove decisive to the outcome of the match. Grincell’s different style upset the Limerick defence, much as bringing on Shane Walsh did the same for the hurlers last weekend, and with seven minutes to go he combined brilliantly with Sullivan only to be scythed down just as he was about to pull the trigger. Blatant penalty.
Or was it? The ref wasn’t interested leading to a cascade of fury pouring down from the stand. Lacking television replays, we’ll never know for certain whether it was a penalty, but the manner in which the Limerick player emerged from the challenge with the ball suggested either a pocket-pick that would evoke memories of Paul McGrath in his pomp, or a brutal chop from behind. In other words, it was hard to see how it couldn’t be a penalty. Thankfully the linesman agreed and he planted himself on the edge of the penalty area with the demeanour of a man who wasn’t going to be argued with. Up stepped Alan Carey and it’s good to be able to say that you knew he wasn’t going to be argued with either as he rifled the ball to the back of the net.
The relief was acute. It was a tough break for Limerick and their fans armed with their collection of 70’s terrace chants – all that was missing was Here We Go – and apart from a free which went about a yard over from Carey it was Limerick who ended the game on the ascendancy, requiring another everyone-between-the-goal-and-the-ball clearance to prevent one effort and a hilarious pirouette from the Limerick full back down near the Waterford corner flag where he tried to kick the ball off the Waterford defender only to hit his own standing leg and see it go out for a goal kick. Cue guffaws from the suddenly super-cocky Blues fans. Waterford repelled the last few efforts to earn a slightly fortunate victory.
It wasn’t a great game, and it certainly wasn’t a great performance. But the law of averages can bear down on a team, and as the game wound down you sensed the 100% record was toast and that it wasn’t the end of the world. With the next four games before Shelbourne against Teams You Have To Be Beating, overcoming that sense of resignation could be significant.