A little piece of me died on Saturday. When Didier Drogba stroked home the decisive penalty in the Champions League final, it was disappointing enough that such an odious cast of characters had landed the choicest prize in club soccer. And yes, I realise there’s hypocrisy in feeling that way when I support a club that contains Luis Suarez. And no, Fernando Torres is not someone I count among the ranks of the odious.
The feeling brought on by this attitude faded quickly enough. Much was made of how Barcelona won every trophy they competed for in 2009 – League, Cup, European Cup, Spanish & European Super Cups and World Club Cup – which ignored how perilously close they were to being beaten by Chelsea in the semi-final, requiring a wonder goal in the last minute and a string of contentious penalty decisions to go in their favour before they could overcome the chavs. A year earlier they had been the width of a post away from winning the competition on penalties. Fortune has not been kind to Chelsea, so in that context it was not difficult to feel some admiration for the manner in which they ground out the victory. Now they could claim to be half as good as Nottingham Forest.
A feeling that persists though is dismay that Chelsea were able to overcome their history and spirit away the Grand Prix. It had been an article of faith for me that the European Cup was a trophy that could only be won by inadequate teams if they possessed a granite-solid back story. Liverpool may have only been good enough to finish fifth in 2005, but even Djimi Traore could be lifted up to Olympian heights when playing for a club that had won the competition on four previous occasions. And Chelsea’s near-misses in recent years seemed to confirm such this prejudice. Now they’ve made a nonsense of this idea. It wasn’t ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ that allowed Liverpool to win the Champions League. It just happened, and teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought.
Of course, the upside to that is that teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought. There’s lots of teams who could take inspiration from being able to cast off the shackles of precedent. Alas, one of them found out within 24 hours that reality is a cruel mistress. When Mark Ferncombe did an Arjen Robben and missed a penalty to take the lead against Limerick you just knew the Waterford footballers were toast, and so it proved in grisly fashion as they failed to score at all in the second half. Unfortunately this was a case where history proved to be a reliable indicator of what was going to happen next.
I’m at a loss to explain the inability of Waterford football to make an impact beyond our borders. It’s not as if football is a new thing in the county. Having first been staged in 1885 there can’t be an older title in the country and to this day the football championship is more competitive than its hurling equivalent. Some years back a clever chap on An Fear Rua’s website presented an image displaying the geographical split between hurling and football within the county, which clearly showed how large swathes of the county are football territory. Despite this, our biggest claim to fame at senior level since the shock victory over Kerry in 1957 was putting a stop to London’s gallop last year and getting on to Sky Sports News. We haven’t been to the Munster final since 1960 and while much of that could be down to a
rigged seeded competition for much of that time ensuring Kerry always met Cork in the final it hasn’t been that way for a couple of decades now and not once have we managed to put two wins together against our fellow minnows.
I don’t like being critical of those who run the sport in the county, and I’m certainly not going to be associated with those trolls who litter the Waterford thread on boards.ie with their jeremiads about how the time invested in football is not only futile but actively limits our success in hurling. Still, something is wrong with football organisation in the county. In 2003 we were able to win the Munster Under-21 title, with some character called Michael Walsh playing in midfield. This year the team (if ‘Easterly Gael’ in the late-and-much-lamented Tramore Hinterland was to be believed) was cobbled together at the last minute because of confusion over whose responsibility it was to select the manager. No surprise that they went down in flames. We may not have Chelsea’s option of being able to lob out millions to improve things, but you don’t need a Russian oligarch to threaten you with Siberia to know how to pick a manager. With the back door ensuring that a panel can look forward to more than one match in the championship, the only ones we can blame for not being able to give it a proper lash are ourselves. The ghosts of history can ram it.