It should have been a good omen. We left Tramore around 11-ish thinking that, on the basis of last year’s Munster final and repeated bleating that ticket prices of one Fabergé egg were too steep, there wouldn’t be much of a crowd. But no sooner had we left Youghal behind than we hit the traffic running into Killeagh. Part of the blame must lie with the Gardaí for not anticipating a Munster final would be busy, an excuse about as convincing as Rebekah Brooks claiming that she was shocked to see hacks being unethical – yeah, I know I didn’t think it would be busy but I’m not paid to get these things right – but with the best planning in the world you’re going to have traffic jams in Killeagh and Castlemartyr if there are sufficient numbers on the road. So this was a good sign – Waterford people clearly believed.
The first indication that this wasn’t going to be a good day came upon arrival of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. This was right at the end of the first half of the Minor match (dealt with elsewhere) and for a team of whom I had high hopes to be seven points down was perturbing. It didn’t get much better in the second half and after a fine speech by Clare captain Tony Kelly we braced ourselves for the Senior match. But nothing could prepare us for the Hitchcockian horror that greeted us coming down the tunnel: what was Clinton Hennessy wearing?! I remember reading in the short-lived 1980’s weekly publication The Book of Gaelic Games that when it was proposed in the 1970’s at Congress that goalkeepers should wear a different coloured geansaí to their teammates, one delegate expressed suspicion at something coming in from a ‘foreign code’. And if, having seen this atrocity, that delegate isn’t turning in his grave then he’s probably died of a heart attack.
After the initial exchanges you hoped that there was something wrong with the jersey because if there wasn’t there was something wrong with the team because after an early Tipperary wide from the throw-in, Waterford lost the first two puckouts with alarming ease. The first was sent straight back to John O’Brien who was fouled by Jerome Maher, not that he was playing full-back as the team lined out exactly as even the most mutton-headed analyst had predicted, and Eoin Kelly opened the scoring from the free. The next puckout was gobbled up by Shane McGrath and drilled back into O’Brien whose initial effort was blocked by new full-back Michael Walsh and knocked over the bar on the rebound. There was a flicker of cheer when Eoin Kelly missed a long-range free after McGrath had been fouled again, but such cheer didn’t last long as a raking ball from out on the left eluded the despairing lunge of Walsh and found its way to Lar Corbett who turned like a well-oiled machine to bat the ball past Hennessy.
Okay, don’t panic. Galway were 1-3 down against Cork on Saturday night and they won pulling up. Perhaps a strategy for avoiding panic on the pitch is to spread it to the stands as the Waterford backs contrived to clear a ball with the maximum of fuss before Walsh eventually wriggled the ball to Kevin Moran who played it towards John Mullane. Mullane drew the foul and Pauric Mahony opened our scoring from the free. The next play found Eoin McGrath in space to do some damage but rather than reinforce Davy’s faith in him he played a poor ball straight to Padraic Maher who put us right on the back foot with a penetrating ball to O’Brien to put Tipp five points ahead again.
More careless handling in the middle, this time by Shane O’Sullivan, allowed Tipperary to get O’Brien in space again to score and while you hoped that such ineptitude was a sign of a team who hadn’t settled yet, you feared that they were so under the cosh that such mistakes were inevitable. A couple of frees from Mahony suggested it was the former, the first after Mullane had won a rather soft free in his corner, the second a more substantial affair after Brian O’Sullivan had done very well to elude his marker and draw a foul designed to prevent a goal chance. But the calories he expended in winning that score was in stark contrast to Tipp’s next point, an effortless catch-and-strike from Lar Corbett. O’Brien almost got in again but was just denied by Walsh who went one of his jinking runs to get the ball clear to Richie Foley who went on a mazy dribble of his own before hitting a rather apologetic effort wide. The cleverness of Walsh’s run led me to make a contemporaneous note: NOT A FULL BACK. The genius he routinely demonstrates close to the middle of the park is a luxury in the full-back line where the priority has to be to get the ball clear. It may seem wise after the event, but already I was thinking we needed to get Liam Lawlor on because this was an experiment that was beginning to make some alarming banging noises.
Back at the ranch, Noel Connors snuffed out another chance and got hammered by
Eoin Kelly John O’Brien for his troubles. The Tipp forward looked a little unfortunate as there didn’t seem to be any malice, the force if the impact coming about as someone got between the two of them for a split-second and Connors was blindsided, but it was a teeth-juddering collision and Connors stayed down for a worrying length of time. Eventually he got up and Waterford worked the ball up the field via Kevin Moran whose point effort fell short and was stuffed back down our throats. O’Brien was shepherded wide by Walsh when a goal seemed on and eventually chose to knock the ball over the bar. An injury to a Waterford player’s foot – boot? – led to delay which Clinton Hennessy seemed to use as an excuse not to take the puckout and there was a scary moment when it seemed the ref might penalise him but he took it in the end and was well won by Shane O’Sullivan only for him to hit the ball wide. Mullane then seemed to over-carry the ball but was taken around by the neck by a Tipp defender thus making it easy for the ref and Mahony stroked over the point. Kevin Moran next had acres of space to pick out Shane Walsh in the top corner and in the ensuing scramble a Tipp back got hit in the side as he went down to get the ball, yet no free was awarded to understandable Tipperary consternation. There was a degree of karma to the next move, a long sideline ball sailing all the way through to Eoin Kelly to turn and put Tipp eight points clear.
Eight. We were only twenty minutes in. It wasn’t quite the same level of OMGness as during the 2008 All-Ireland final when I noticed Kilkenny had scored ten points in the first fifteen minutes, but it was close. We needed scores fast, and unlike then when Kilkenny scored two goals to really twist the knife it was Waterford who responded, Tony Browne firing over our first point from play after some good approach work from Mullane, then Mahony casually knocked over another free after a Tipp back had picked the ball off the ground under pressure from Shane Walsh. Okay, in between those scores Corbett had pounced on a knockdown from Michael Walsh to get another score – you see, full-backs shouldn’t be batting the ball down! – but at least we had, uh, prevented them getting back-to-back scores. There was then a curious incident which saw Jerome Maher go down in a heap, something only spotted when a Tipp clearance went to him in acres of space while in the foetal position on the ground. Play went on and Tony Browne eventually hit it wide allowing Waterford fans to mutter dark conspiracy theories about what had befallen Maher. The linesman had been close but it’s hard to believe he had seen anything untoward and was keeping schtum about it. It was a sign of our desperation that we were hoping they’d punish Tipp player or players unknown just to keep things even.
Because even things certainly weren’t. Eoin Kelly gathered a high ball with a salmon-like leap and teed up O’Brien for another score. We managed to put together a run of two (!) scores, Shane Walsh winning the ball despite the close attentions of a number of backs and feeding Shane O’Sullivan for a score, then Brian O’Sullivan won an overhit ball into the corner that he had no right to win and found Mahony who was fouled to allow him to trim the gap to six. There had been another moment sandwiched between those two phases when Corbett had eluded the whole back division yet again and cut in towards goal only for Kelly to fumble the handpass and allow Michael Walsh to clear the danger. With them showing some fallibility and Shane Walsh beginning to motor at the other end – he had another brilliant take only to hook his point effort when he had more time than he had thought – there was flicker of hope. We certainly didn’t need to be going for goals and when Mullane managed to wriggle free of his marker a point to keep the scoreboard ticking over might have been the more judicious option. Instead he tried to bat the ball into the net from about twenty metres and saw it trickle embarrassingly wide, much to the delight of the City End Terrace.
I say the above not in some retrospective suggestion that that was the moment when the game was lost. What happened next simply defied any contextualising. Reading my notes, four goals crammed into one page of a notebook, it still seems hard to credit. The first goal saw Noel McGrath win the ball and play it forward to Eoin Kelly who, bolstered by that forward momentum, turned and lashed a bouncing bomb past Hennessy. Waterford tried to respond and Eoin McGrath seemed to have clean possession only to fall to the ground clutching some part of his body. It looked like a foul but the ref quite clearly indicated play on, a gesture the shell-shocked Waterford forwards ignored as they waited for a whistle which never came. Tipperary swept up the field and Kelly raced onto a through ball to crash the ball high into the net. Waterford were completely rattled and Patrick Maher managed to suck most of the backs into a space under us in the Uncovered Stand and play the ball into Seamus Callanan in acres of space. He raced though and administered the full three strokes of the cane. Thoughts of ‘we’ll settle for a six-nine-twelve-point deficit at half-time’ were not keeping up with reality as Corbett was allowed in around the back to rattle in a fourth goal in the space of five hellish minutes. Mahony added a sheepish free after Mullane had been chopped at, and Mullane tried to burrow his way through the entire Tipperary in a gesture meant to inspire but only induced more despair as it was repelled. The ref blew for half-time and if it had been a boxing match he would surely have put his arms around our collective shoulders, but instead there was going to be thirty-five more minutes of this calamity to come.
What does a manager say to a team after that? Legend has it that Sven-Goran Eriksson said nothing at all to the team when England were level with Brazil at half-time in their 2002 World Cup quarter-final and a bit of silence would probably have been appropriate here because teacup-throwing would have seemed irredeemably trite. The speed with which Waterford emerged suggested there wasn’t much to be said, the blizzard of substitutions speaking volumes. The swapping of Maurice Shanahan for Eoin McGrath was poignant. It’s hard to see Pat McGrath’s youngest appearing at this level again so God only knows when we’ll next see a McGrath in a Waterford shirt.
Tipperary leapt straight out of the blocks in the manner of someone running downhill with the wind behind their back, Michael Walsh fouling Noel McGrath and allowing Eoin Kelly to stretch the lead further. Corbett scored another trademark catch-and-strike effort, and a woman nearby opined that just getting the same amount of white flags as them would suffice, something that looked implausible even with thirty-three minutes left. The only thing which had gone right for Waterford was Pauric Mahony’s free-taking and he kept that habit going with another free after Shane O’Sullivan had been manhandled. A scramble on Waterford’s 45 saw the ball pop up into the welcoming hands of Gearóid Ryan who took the gift by popping it over the bar. John O’Brien managed to hit a poor wide which led to some ironic cheers from the Waterford faithful who, it should be noted, stayed in decent numbers – although that was perhaps a function of not being able to get out of their wendy house seats. No less a person than James Murray was struggling along behind us, baby in arm, and observed to no-one in particular that “they certainly made it small enough”. Another wag summed up the spirit of staying behind with the comment that “Tipp have ruined the game as a spectacle”. You had to laugh, or else you’d cry.
Tipp had the luxury of being inventive now, two forwards combining to kick the ball through to Eoin Kelly to gather and strike over another point. They had now Was there enough space on the scoreboard? Waterford tried their best – really, they did – to prevent such a scenario being played out. Kevin Moran earned a free after a fine run ended in a foul from which Mahony scored, then Mahony scored from Shanahan after a good win from Browne. There was even a suggestion that we might just possibly be capable of maybe getting near their goal, David O’Sullivan’s clearance being broken by Shane Walsh in John Mullane’s direction but his occasional habit (particularly when we’re really struggling) of over-eagerness showed itself and Tipperary cleared. At the other end Kelly gathered a free-out to knock over another fine score and Tipp moved on 5-15, a score that seems to have a scary symmetry to it, both figures representing a decent seventy minute total – there were still twenty-seven minutes to go.
Every ball into the backs was going to induce fear at this stage and Waterford really struggled to clear the next ball, Clinton eventually pirouetting past a couple of forward to find space for David O’Sullivan to clear. The ball broke out for a sideline which was well won by Shanahan who got fouled for his troubles and there was Mahony again to do the needful. The Waterford defence then went AWOL in echoes of the tail-end of the first half but Callanan’s goalbound effort was brilliantly saved by Hennessy and cleared as far as Kevin Moran after a heart-stopping moment when it seemed like the Waterford backs had decided the save in itself was enough. Moran managed to get the ball up to Shanahan and he had time to steady himself and score but only steadied himself and hit it wide. Clinton then managed to get some unjustified abuse from the fans who only moments earlier had been congratulating him on the save when he could only fumble a long-range effort out for a 65. The 65 was missed so no harm done, eh?
The game seemed to be settling down into a tit-for-tat pointfest – no sense in either team busting a hump for a game that was well over. A galloping run down the left by Mahony gave Mullane the opportunity to get his first point of the game, Shanahan missed another effort and Shane Walsh got his first score after a typically great piece of scrappy fielding. Molumphy tried his chances from way out but saw it go wide. Waterford then had another sniff of a goal, our Eoin Kelly (on as a sub for Brian O’Sullivan) being beaten to a ball that, had he been on a little longer, he may have gotten to. As it was, this seemed to enrage Tipperary who charged down the field, the other Eoin Kelly levering his way around his marker and hitting another thunderous shot past Hennessy.
Great. All that effort and we were further behind than before. Sad to report but it was around this point that Waterford fans began to get a little tetchy. I realise that it’s hard to take, and some players probably didn’t come up to a minimum level of effort. But it must be soul-destroying to be out there. The idea that you can pull yourself together or try harder is a fatuous one. And even trying too hard can be held against you, as I’ll explain in a moment. Shanahan, demonstrating beyond doubt that he should have been on since the start, earned another free under the Covered Stand and Mahony got another point – it’s a combo that gives you some hope for the Galway game and beyond. Shane Walsh almost conjured another score but John Mullane overran the ball and Tipp cleared. The ball broke out for a sideline cut near Waterford’s 65 and Noel McGrath struck a magnificent effort over the bar. hurlingstats.com has been following this particular art form over the years and we seem to be in a golden era for it – nice to know we’re in any kind of golden era. At the other end John Mullane managed to fumble a winnable ball out over the sideline and the rumblings of discontent became shouts, a quite disgraceful state of affairs. As noted earlier, I feel Mullane tries to be two phases ahead of the play in his mind when Waterford needs loadsa goals and it can lead to him looking like a total numpty as the players living in the now snuff out the danger. It can look bad. In truth, it is bad. But to be giving him grief is to forget all he has done, as recently as one game ago. People need to look to themselves in terms of their attitudes towards our amateur countymen.
Mahony kept Waterford’s scoreboard spluttering over with another point from a free after he had been taken around the neck – I don’t think he missed a free all afternoon – but the threat of goals was never-ending at the other end, Pa Bourke getting through with the chance of another one but taking a point instead. Then came a moment that at the time felt humiliating, Brendan Cummins being replaced in goal by Darren Gleeson. It made no sense that this was about giving Gleeson a run out. What benefit could he glean from taking a few puckouts? So it seemed to me that Tipperary were just taking the mick in the way only they can. But Martin Breheny made the sound point in his match report that “[it] was a special day for Cummins, who equalled Christy Ring’s championship appearances (65). He was taken off late on, presumably to allow the Tipperary supporters to give him the ovation which his achievement merited”, which seems fair enough. Congratulations to Cummins on a magnificent career. Now for the sake of my sanity could you please retire?
At this point I speculated that six goal shelackings, while hardly common at the upper echelons of the Championship, are not unheard of. Did we not manage that many despite losing to Kilkenny in 1963 and famously got nine against Tipperary in 1959? So could we avoid the fate of conceding seven at least? Er, no. Mullane was penalised for sliding through a defender in trying to win the ball, and the subsequent free sailed through to Lar Corbett who ruthlessly first-timed the ball to the net to make it four for him and seven for Tipperary. Mahony got his thirteenth point of the day from his twelfth free of the day, and Molumphy helped reduce the amount of chatter about how few Waterford players scored by becoming our sixth scorer with a point on the run. Shanahan made it seven a couple of minutes later; Tipperary only managed eight, talk about reasons to be cheerful! In between those scores Tipp almost got another goal, Hennessy coming off his line to block down a chance for Patrick Maher and from the ricochet Pa Bourke got his second point as a sub. The other Bourke, Shane, became that eighth scorer to round things off on a day to forget for the Déise – not that we’ll be able to manage that.
I’ve often been accused of being pessimistic, a charge I reject. I’m a fatalist – I prepare myself for the worst, and if it doesn’t happen I’m pleasantly surprised. Nothing could prepare you for this though. I’m trying to come up with some pithy way of summing up the carnage, but I can’t. The scoreboard speaks for itself. Time for a drag from a metaphorical fag and give it more than 24 hours to contemplate what just happened. Let’s hope there won’t be any bitter recriminations between then and now.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Darragh Fives (Liam Lawlor), Jerome Maher (Jamie Nagle), Noel Connors, Tony Browne (0-1), Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran, Richie Foley, Stephen Molumphy (capt, 0-1), Eoin McGrath (Maurice Shanahan, 0-1), Shane O’Sullivan (0-1), Pauric Mahony (0-13, 0-12f), John Mullane (0-1), Shane Walsh (0-1), Brian O’Sullivan (David O’Sullivan)
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins (Darren Gleeson), Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, John O’Keeffe, Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher (Brendan Maher), Gearóid Ryan (0-1; Benny Dunne), Shane McGrath, Seamus Callinan (1-0; Pa Bourke, 0-2), Noel McGrath (0-2, 0-1 sideline; Shane Bourke, 0-1), Patrick Maher, Eoin Kelly (2-6, 0-3f)), John O’Brien (0-3), Lar Corbett (4-4)
HT: Waterford 0-7 (7) Tipperary 5-10 (25)
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)