It’s been a while since I held forth on the subject of Waterford United. Supporting the Blues is still a work in progress, and only attending two matches last season (I saw the Reds as often in the 2010/11 season) tells you there’s a lot of progress to be made.
The main lesson from the League of Ireland season just passed was the impossible wicket that the Blues find themselves batting on. Limerick is a notorious problem for the LoI, the ‘franchise’ – Limerick United, Limerick City, Limerick 37, Limerick Foras Co-op (okay, the last one is completely silly) – lurching from one crisis and venue to the next. When playing Limerick in 2010, there was a piece in the match day programme from one Gary Spain. Quite apart from a name that is curiously close to the ‘Gspain’ who once stank out the GAA Discussion Board with his virulent brand of GAA-bashing, what struck me was his reference to both the Market Field and Rathbane as being “the spiritual home of Limerick football”. That’s enough spirit to get you drunk. During the 1980’s Rathbane was famously the grottiest venue in Irish sport – yea, even worse than Walsh Park! Yet here was a Limerick supporter being nostalgic about it, which makes you wonder just how bad Jackman Park is.
Yet despite this Limerick, managed by a LoI heavyweight in Pat Scully, played Waterford off the park. Speaking to my Blue Ultra friend about how this could be, I got a predictable response: JP McManus is in da house. Typical. He can’t win the All-Ireland with Limerick, so winning the League of Ireland will have to suffice. And given the state of domestic soccer, he’ll probably be able to do it on the cheap. How are the Blues meant to be able to compete with that?
No, really. That’s not a rhetorical question. How are the Blues meant to be able to compete with that? When I started out following the Blues in the 21st century, I promised myself that I would give them loyalty if they behaved themselves, i.e. didn’t try to buy success in the manner of someone like Drogheda United. But for a club with a long and illustrious history like Waterford, it’s galling to see teams like Monaghan United getting the chance to mix it with the big boys. Factor in the extra gall of always seeming to find equilibrium at the point just below where they can get into the Premier Division – had the promotion/relegation setup in 2011 applied in 2010, we would have been promoted – and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify pouring your hard-earned yoyos into the Blue money pit.
Yet it is precisely because no-one is willing to put their money down that the Blues are in the pit. As a peer of mine, you wouldn’t expect Mr Ultra to have any memories of happy times following Waterford. So imagine my shock when he said that a decade ago they were routinely getting crowds of 2,000 at games. Crowds like that won’t buy you the League, but they would ensure that the likes of Kevin Murray wouldn’t be lost to our fiercest rivals. You can’t seriously lose a player of his quality – or Graham Cummins or Alan Carey, both also lost to the Cawkies – and expect to keep pace with them. And what I said earlier about not going down the route of Drogheda United – or Shamrock Rovers or Shelbourne or Longford Town or Cork City or Bohemians, all clubs who suffered from Icarus syndrome – still applies. If the League of Ireland is to be taken seriously, it can’t have clubs going bankrupt on a regular basis. In the end, growth has to be organic or there should be no growth at all.
And that means it is down to the plain people of Waterford, the lost 1,500, to get off their arses. This isn’t about giving Paul O’Brien (or whoever) megabucks with which to sign players. It’s about giving him the wage power to be able to hold onto the players he’s got, to be able to establish an affinity with these players rather than seeing them sod off to Leeside at the first available opportunity – and, it has to be said, who can blame them? Ultimately the leap of faith must come collectively from muintir na nDéise. Nothing else will suffice.
Now, this may come across as being a wee bit smart from someone who only attended two matches last season. And that would be correct. In my defence, regular late shifts at my previous employers made it hard to get to the RSC on a regular basis, and when a chance did arise Friday nights at home seemed infinitely more precious. However, my new employers operate more civilised work patterns. And they are even based in Ballytruckle. So there’s no excuses for me. Come the new season I will be there. And if a GAA-head like myself can do it, then there’s no excuses for anyone else.