It’s been a while since I visited the subject of Waterford United. Work commitments, holidays and visits from people who really wouldn’t appreciate the value of a trip to the RSC have meant that I haven’t been to see the Blues in months, and tonight against Wexford Youths will maintain that pattern. The next likely date is September 3 against Derry City. Hopefully I’ll be so broke after shelling out €70 for some event in Dublin that I won’t be able to go to that either . . .
Not going for various reasons is one thing. Not commenting is another matter, and there’s no point in pretending that the manner in which the Blues’ season has imploded hasn’t helped keep the interest levels up. At the time of writing the Blues have 38 points from 22 games. When you consider that they took 18 from their first 6 games, you can see just how badly things have gone since that flying start. Having already fallen outside the playoff spots, something that didn’t happen to them until the last few games of last season, it’s going to take something pretty extraordinary to salvage anything from this campaign.
It’s doubly galling for fans of the Blues because underlying all interactions is the hope that things would get better if someone got the cheque book out. When I started following Waterford United again (not that I ever followed them with much gusto at any point in the past), the priority was to be financially prudent. Looking at the manner in which Liverpool have sailed so close to Leeds United-style penury – and they ain’t clear of the storm yet – it was crucial that the Blues not engage in any splurges. To their credit, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the Management Committee have done this. But the temptation to do that, and particularly for the fans to demand it, must be overwhelming. No club in Ireland has greater untapped potential. Spend the money now, get the fans through the turnstiles, reap the rewards later – right? Wrong, as the experience of Bohemians in Europe will tell you, but that won’t stop people dreaming when the fiscally sound model isn’t working, as it clearly is not working at the moment.
(It’s easy to say this at the moment now that Waterford are competitive – Wexford fans would probably not feel the same way – but it does make you kinda grateful for the GAA’s model. When it comes to supporting a team you have to play the hand that your place of birth has dealt you. That has its own set of frustrations, but at least expectations can’t be inflated by the possibility of Roman Abramovich riding to the rescue.)
There’s an increasingly frantic air to the behaviour of the Blues management team, best exemplified by the signing of Daryl Kavanagh. Kavanagh has a decidedly chequered past, one that has antagonised a lot of the Ultras (read the last post on this page to see the charge sheet, so to speak). You could argue that the manager shouldn’t concern himself with the concerns of a handful of cranky fans, but when you only have a handful of fans it is utter folly to get on their wrong side.
And the manager is right to be worried. If there’s not a lot of money sloshing around, and it’s reasonable to assume that Monaghan United and Limerick aren’t rolling in it, then the chess pieces that the manager moves around the board take on a greater significance than in (say) England where a player can sell a pawn and buy a queen. Nearly two years in and Stephen Henderson has shuffled the pieces with regularity but doesn’t look any closer to a successful formula. So should he be made walk the plank? Sacking him now would probably run counter to notions of building something enduring. When he took over after a decent stint at Cobh Ramblers, he could have fairly assumed that he was going to get more than a couple of years to work the oracle. The first year is usually going to be a bust as the deadwood from the previous regime is removed and new players added. And while there is no evidence of improvement in year two Henderson could plausibly claim that the presence of Derry, effectively a Premier Division team after their enforced relegation, has severely reduced the scope for success this season. If Waterford United betray an attitude to any new manager that you’ve got two years to get promoted, there won’t be many takers of note.
It’s a bloody long season, following these soccer teams. And seeing the expectations of a successful season die by a thousand cuts over nine months is excruciating. Again, it makes you grateful for the event-junkie design of the GAA inter-county season. Then again, we could see Waterford slide back into Wexford levels of success in the next few years, at which stage I might be grateful for a team with more wins under their belt than losses. And the season isn’t over yet. When a last-minute charge sees us finish third in the division, beat Monaghan in their own backyard then thump Drogheda over two legs thus overturning two decades of history, we’ll all be smiling. You read it here first.