I’ve always shied away from the blood sport that is picking a team to be picked apart and shot down by all and sundry. I’ve always rationalised this on the belief that I don’t know much about the science of the game, and you one can appreciate the big classical tunes without knowing anything about counterpoint or fugues. However, getting to so many League games this spring has made me think I’ve being selling myself short. I’m still not sure what makes for a good wing forward as opposed to a corner forward, but I have observed lots of players, seen them play well and play badly, and learned something as a result. So it’s time to take the plunge and see how close my thoughts match up with those of the selectors.
Davy Fitz gets a lot of flak from many quarters, most of which strikes me as being unfair – because we lost, there must have been a formula which would have guaranteed success, right? Actually, no. It’s hard to see what team formation could have beaten Tipperary last year, a Tipperary that would go on to slaughter the five-in-a-row chasing Kilkenny. But – and remember, everything before the but is bullshit – his scatter-gun approach to what should be the relatively cut-and-dried position of goalkeeper would lead a soccer crowd to chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”. Waterford find themselves in the marvellous position of having three goalkeepers who all look up to the standard required. So it made sense to experiment with them in the League. However, we are none the wiser as to who is the best after seven games, and the lack of joined-up thinking from the management is one of the reasons for that. We started off with Adrian Power (edit: initially recalled it as being Clinton), then changed to Stephen O’Keeffe, whose reward for keeping a clean sheet against Wexford was to be replaced by Clinton Hennessy for the Tipp game. After his horrible clothes-lining dismissal Adrian Power came in. Surely a chance for him to make the jersey his own, yet after a clean sheet performance of his own against Cork he gets replaced by O’Keeffe who duly concedes two bad goals which proved so costly against Kilkenny. So for the final two games it was back to Clinton Hennessy, and we find ourselves none the wiser despite all that experimentation. Justin McCarthy was often accused of being too conservative, and after his one truly great gamble – playing Ian O’Regan in the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny – blew up so spectacularly in his face you can see why that was. Yet I’m going to risk repeating history and say we should play Adrian Power. No disrespect to Clinton who has been marvellous for years now, but there is a slight suspicion that he doesn’t have the shot-stopping cojones that distinguishes Brendan Cummins and PJ Ryan from the rest. Power has to be given a chance if we are ever to find out if he is the one.
The corner back positions are easy. Noel Connors’ All Star-winning performances last year demonstrated a cast-iron inter-county hurler, and Darragh Fives has made the other corner his own. This might strike some as being a bit hard on Eoin Murphy but if the League is to have any meaning then good performances in it have to be rewarded, so Fives is in. Which bring us to the full back position. Oh dear. The hot potato of Waterford hurling. Jerome Maher had a few games earlier on in the campaign and Liam Lawlor at the end against Galway, but the only standout performance was that of Wayne Hutchinson against Cork. I got a withering response to this suggestion on AFR (“forget about Wayne Hutchinson”) and I must confess I was ignorant of the fact that he’s been tried there before, but if Shane Walsh can step up then why not Hutchinson? Again, if you play well in the League then get spurned come the Championship, what’s the point? *deep breath* Hutchinson for full back. May God have mercy on our souls.
The half back line is straight forward. It may seem contrary to everything I’ve said about the full back line to select one player who has only played one game and another who has played none, but the wing back positions should be the same as last year, i.e. Tony Browne and Declan Prendergast. None of their stand-ins – Jamie Nagle, David O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Shane Fives, even Kevin Moran – did enough to dislodge that pair. Prendergast, freed from the torment of the full back dungeon, was probably the most improved player of 2010 (NB obviously I’m assuming he will be fit). And one shouldn’t need to defend Tony Browne. No, honestly. Then there’s Michael Walsh. wellboy, formerly of the UptheDeise.com parish, was fervent in his belief that he should be tried at full back, that the likes of Kevin Moran would deputise just fine at centre back and the turbo boost he would give us at full back would lift us to a new level. I can see the logic of trying that, but the window of opportunity has passed and, despite the beating he took at the hands of Noel McGrath at Thurles, he is still the best option in the position that is the most decisive on a hurling pitch.
The midfield is the one position that gives real cause for pause. Kevin Moran seems to me an obvious choice for the scrapping, bustling role of midfield – no better man for proving to an opponent the truth of he who hesitates being lost. My other choice for midfield, Stephen Molumphy, is a bit more of an enigma. Since bursting onto the scene in 2007, Molumphy hasn’t followed through on the promise of being couple-of-points-a-game forward that is so prized, their respective surfeit of options in that department explaining the dominance of Kilkenny and Tipperary in recent times. There seem to be better options for that kind of role in the front six, but it would be criminal to lose the acute sense of awareness of those around him that so distinguishes his play. It seems so obvious to me that this would be best utilised in midfield that it makes me doubt whether I have a clue what I am talking about – he’s never had an extended stay there, so more knowledgeable men – and I definitely count Davy Fitz in that group – must be seeing something that I am not. But given that ability to win the small ball, and at the risk of being accused of damning someone with faint praise, Molumphy would be my choice to partner Moran in the midfield.
Into the half forwards and we have a change brought on by the match against Galway. Shane O’Sullivan, who after a few false starts finally came out of the blocks last season, was always going to be play at midfield. But his performance at centre forward against Galway convinced me that he was worth a shot there come the Championship. Heretofore I would have seen this as a place for either Ken McGrath or Seamus Prendergast. Ken’s woes are well documented, Seamus’ woes less so. He’s never been the most mobile of characters, but the little he had that allowed his other talents to come to the fore seems to be gone. He scored a goal against Dublin but that wasn’t too impressive in a game where both teams behaved like it was a five-a-side game in an Arsenal training session, and his blood substitution appearances against Galway were painful to watch. Could O’Sullivan fill such mighty boots? Only one way to find out. On the wings, Maurice Shanahan should be good for one place. There’s something slightly unnerving about watching Maurice play. Perhaps it’s because you expect him to be like his brother, all guts ‘n’ glory. Instead he plays like his experience of the game comes from a holodeck, daintily dancing around safe in the knowledge that the opposition can’t lay a finger (pun unintended) on him – and then the reality strikes. This is, of course, ridiculous. Unconvincing as he may seem, he generally weighs in with the aforementioned couple-of-points-a-game. Having being virtually ignored in last year’s Championship, he surely deserves an extended run in the team, if only so I’m not left wondering whether the Lismore man his career will mirror is not that of Dan Shanahan but of the much-abused Dave Bennett. The other place is a contest between Richie Foley and Pauric Mahony. Mahony seems the better long-term bet with potential for a long and fruitful career. But at this point Foley is ahead. He took to the free-taking duties like a duck to water, and that sense of calm – it helps I didn’t see his seemingly dire performance against Wexford – gets him the nod. For now.
The full forward line contains two of the four positions, Connors and Browne being the others, that are no-brainers. At the start of the year it was clear that nothing short of injury or using the Charter Roll as toilet paper would have seen John Mullane out of the team. Someone who was nowhere near being a certainty was Shane Walsh. He had done well at full forward against Kilkenny in 2009, and perhaps it’s an indictment of Davy Fitz that this wasn’t picked up on by management. I prefer to think he has developed over the winter into a better player because there’s no way you could see a performance as thrilling as his against Cork and not see it – after all, even I saw it. He’s kept it up in the following games and with the retirements of Ken and Dan, and a drop in form for Seamus, Walsh’s position is assured and I’m eagerly anticipating him bringing that form into the Championship. Which all leads to the final spot at left corner forward. Having asserted throughout this post that if the League is to have any meaning then you have pick players who have excelled in the League it’s a tad inconsistent to pick a player who has probably not accumulated 70 minutes of game time throughout the entire League, and unlike Declan Prendergast and Tony Browne doesn’t have a stellar 2010 to fall back on. Eoin Kelly didn’t look like the star of yore in 2010, missing numerous opportunities to bury Cork in the Munster final replay and drawing a blank from play against Tipperary. Then there was a quite unedifying tantrum against Kilkenny in the League which gave weight to suggestions that his head isn’t in the right place. But just as I was willing to give Ken McGrath a chance right up to the point where it was clear that whatever about the spirit the flesh was weak, throwing out Kelly without decisive evidence that he has lost it would be folly. Hopefully putting him in the corner where less donkey work is required will give him the opportunity to thrive. It’s possible we’ll find out that he is no longer capable of the kind of precision that is required of the position. Either way, finding out which it is is worth the risk.
After all that, this is the Come on the Déise pick for the start of the 2011 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship:
|Darragh Fives||Wayne Hutchinson||Noel Connors|
|Tony Browne||Michael Walsh||Declan Prendergast|
|Kevin Moran||Stephen Molumphy|
|Maurice Shanahan||Shane O’Sullivan||Richie Foley|
|John Mullane||Shane Walsh||Eoin Kelly|
Even having done it, I’m a bit uncomfortable with picking a team like this. Quite apart from the potential for know-it-alls telling you you think he could play there ya gobshite you wouldn’t know which end of the hurley to hit the sliothar with go back to writing rambling match reports which barely mention the match there’s something weasely about picking teams like this. If Waterford lose – and let’s face it, we usually do – you can smugly imply we’d have done better if only we’d gone with this team. And if Waterford win, people will be too busy celebrating to notice. So take this team with the disclaimer that I’m not insisting the management pick this team or it proves that they’re insane. Who do you think I am, Roman Abramovich?