Hurling’s Andy Murray

One of the saddest sporting outcomes of 2011 was Rafael Nadal’s victory over Andy Murray in the semi-final of the French Open at Roland Garros (as opposed to the one at Le Golf National). It wasn’t sad because I like Murray. One shouldn’t need to expand on the reasons why he is more irritating than a can of Irn-Bru on a tooth cavity. What was sad was to see an obviously talented player, vastly superior to almost all of his peers, repeatedly bump up against the minority of his peers who are vastly superior to him. He lost to Novak Djokovic in the final in Australia and it’s always difficult to lose at Wimbledon given the jingoistic head of steam that builds up behind him every year, but it would have been the loss to Nadal in Paris that hurt the most. He matched the king of clay blow-for-blow for almost  the entire match – all three sets of it, as Nadal always had just too much for him on the crucial points. It would be enough to make you jack in all the blood, sweat, tears and overbearing parents and comfort-eat Mars bar fritters.

And so it is for Waterford. Not good enough for Tipperary and Kilkenny yet too good for everyone else. Sympathy for Davy Fitz was in short supply after the slaughter by the banks of the Lee, and rightly so. It was his roll of the dice against Tipperary that went so badly wrong so he had to carry the can. But today’s rampant win over Galway demonstrated the truth of the idea that he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Today’s lineup was breathtaking in its simplicity. A full-back at full-back, possibly the country’s best centre-back at, uh, centre-back, ball winners in the midfield and the half-forwards and a couple of additions to the forwards – admittedly enforced additions – who have been known to get a couple of points a game in the past. It’s so obvious, even I could have thought of it, and I’ve been told I’m particularly thick about these matters.

There will doubtless be lots of I-told-you-so’s from those who let rip at Davy in the tension-soaked 24 hours after the loss to Tipp when it looked like the county was about to descend into the tiresome internecine warfare that so characterised our internal relations in the past. Some of the off-the-record comments attributed to players would have made the creators of The Wire blush, and when even someone as mild-mannered as Stephen Frampton is rowing in behind those wanting Davy’s head, it was clear that gaskets were about to blow. If only we’d played the team that gave Galway the runaround against Tipperary, eh?

Well, no. Does anyone seriously think that team today would have done the same to Tipp? Look at the team that started today:

Clinton Hennessy
Darragh Fives Liam Lawlor Noel Connors
Tony Browne Michael Walsh Kevin Moran
David O’Sullivan Stephen Molumphy
S. Prendergast Shane O’Sullivan Pauric Mahony
John Mullane Shane Walsh Eoin Kelly

Now look at the team that started against Tipperary last year:

Clinton Hennessy
Eoin Murphy Liam Lawlor Noel Connors
Tony Browne Michael Walsh D. Prendergast
Shane O’Sullivan Richie Foley
Kevin Moran Stephen Molumphy Eoin Kelly
John Mullane Shane Walsh Brian O’Halloran

No fewer than eleven of the players that started against Tipperary, a match where Davy was near-universally condemned for his tactical incompetence, were the ones who tore Galway a new one today, and the similarity from 1-7 is particularly striking.

This shouldn’t be construed as a criticism of the players, and doubtless brighter hurling brains than mine will analyse what tactically went right for Waterford today as opposed to that day against Tipp. What I’m saying is that the scale of our respective defeats against Tipperary in the last two years, when set aside our victory today, shows we’re good enough for anyone – except Tipperary and Kilkenny. And flogging the Murray metaphor a bit more, any attempt to speculate to accumulate could lead you to being exposed still further. Murray adopted a new type of tactic against Nadal at Wimbledon which worked up to the point when Nadal twigged what it was and then proceeded to kick his butt all over Centre Court. We tried something different against Tipperary this year and were taken to the cleaners. The lesson is that if we keep it simple against Kilkenny, we’ll lose, and if we do something spectacular against Kilkenny, we’ll lose.

Perhaps I’m just bitter that my Tour de Anglesey yesterday meant I was too exhausted to go to the game. It was a great win today,  one of the rare occasions when we battered a top order team. And things could be a lot worse as we face the prospect of another game against Kilkenny. We could be Galway who are looking increasingly like hurling’s Tim Henman.