Just Justin

When I started with the results archive, I was wondering whether anyone had done it before and was thus reproducing something that was already out there – discovering recently that there was a blog for my club didn’t inspire confidence that there wasn’t something concealed by the web. And not long after my first efforts went online, I heard that RTÉ’s South East correspondent Damien Tiernan was writing a book about Waterford hurling. Great. He was bound to have the time and resources to gazump my piecemeal efforts.

But it transpired that the book would be about the last twelve years, that era when Waterford were as much to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness as any amount of All-Ireland winners. This was sincerely great news, because a) it barely touched on what I was up to (you didn’t need to trawl through newspapers to know Waterford’s results from that period), and b) it was bound to be rubbish. Sports books of this style are rarely insightful, stuffed to the gills with boy-done-good stories and rehashing the misery of failure. Tiernan would presumably be hidebound by an RTÉ hacks need to be non-controversial. And with a name as naff as The Ecstasy and the Agony, how could it possibly go right?

The book is nearly here, and the work-in-progress title has somehow survived the production process. What is more surprising is there is a danger the book might be interesting, at least if the content of Tiernan’s interview with Justin McCarthy is anything to go by. At the time my sympathies lay almost entirely with McCarthy, not least because of the dignified way in which he handled his departure. But he clearly is no longer as sanguine as he was at the time. You really need to read the whole article in the Irish Examiner to get the full impact of his bitterness, but Michael Moynihan’s opening paragraph captures the flavour pretty well:

JUSTIN MCCARTHY has broken his silence on his departure as Waterford hurling manager, describing the players as “bluffers” who did not give him credit, stating it wasn’t a “f**king creche” he was running when manager in the southeast.

Please Justin, don’t hold back. You can see his point, the way in which the players ganged up on him at the infamous meeting in Tramore having plámásed his hurling talents to all and sundry over the years. Had he said all these things at the time he would have had a lot of receptive ears, especially when set against the sight of Dan Shanahan snubbing him as he left the field against Clare (something we’ll get back to in a moment). But he also earned a lot of respect for refusing to set off a civil war in the county. He couldn’t have clung on in the way Gerald McCarthy did as the County Board had decided not to back him, but he could have made life very awkward had he chosen to.

But he didn’t, and to come back now after all this time suggests that it is his experience in Limerick that has focussed his mind rather than these feelings being truly contemperaneous. What is especially unhelpful to his cause is the reaction of the players. As part of his own opus, Big Dan has chosen to show contrition for the Gaelic Grounds episode, labelling it “the biggest mistake of my life”:

“I didn’t know then that that was the start of me getting some amount of s***. If I’d even said to him after the match, ‘Justin, I’m sorry I didn’t shake your hand,’ things might have gone differently, but I didn’t.”
Interrogate that comment very closely and you might surmise that he regrets the abuse he received rather than what he did, but I’m inclined to believe he sincerely wishes he hadn’t been so cold towards Justin. And only one spin can be put on Eoin Kelly’s direct reaction to Justin’s comments as he shows a display of sweet reason that would make Ban Ki-moon blush:

“It’s a bit disappointing to read that.

“All of us in Waterford would be well aware of Justin’s contribution to our success in recent years. I don’t think we were unwilling to give him credit for the games and titles that we won.

“I remember in 2002, when we won the Munster hurling title after a gap of 39 years, Fergal Hartley praised Justin at length from the podium in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, for instance.

“I’d say you could go back through the records and find plenty of other examples of players praising Justin and his management team after games.

“I know it ended badly between Justin and the team but a lot of people in Waterford would have good time for him and would give him plenty of credit for all that he did for the county.”

This really was the perfect riposte, to the point where he could plausibly say that it wasn’t a riposte at all for he felt so little animus towards Justin that a ‘riposte’ was not even necessary. In a week when the ultimate exponent of player power, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, finally ran out of road, it was a good one for the Waterford players. And Damien Tiernan will be feeling pretty chuffed too.

Update: An Moltóir has written his initial impressions on the book here.

Update II: Kieran Shannon hits back, announcing his own personal bias as the ghost writer of Justin’s autobiography then making the valid point that:

In contrast to his namesake and fellow Corkman, Gerald McCarthy is portrayed in very flattering terms, with Ger Loughnane’s thesis that he underachieved with Waterford going without mention, let alone examination. Another glaring inconsistency is that while the mishandling of the 2008 All Ireland final is brilliantly detailed by Tiernan, the character and workings of Davy Fitzgerald escapes the same scrutiny that Justin’s were subjected to, an imbalance Dan Shanahan may address in his book released later this week, because, unlike Tiernan, he no longer has to deal with the man.

Fair comment. We all adored Gerald for telling us how great we were, in contrast to Justin’s habit of saying managing an inter-county team wasn’t an effin’ creche. Yet it was Justin who won a Munster title within a few months of Gerald’s departure. Am I sitting on the fence? These splinters are dead comfortable.

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