It’s been a while since I visited the topic of Waterford United (it’s a recurring theme), and while I can say with an utterly straight face that I’ve been following their efforts as they have roared up the table, it doesn’t excuse not going to the games. Summer soccer was meant to make going to matches more attractive, and at the time of writing an evening in the RSC looks like a pleasant prospect, but whoever came up with the idea didn’t twig that punters have a lot more going on in the summer months. What with weddings (one of which put the kibosh on me going to the Munster final), jaunts abroad and guests from abroad, there always seems to be something going on.
Excuses, excuses. When the decision was made to switch to summer soccer, the powers-that-be were probably only too well aware that those who didn’t want to go would swap one set of excuses (see above) for another (bad weather, dark evenings, kids in school, Liverpool on the telly, Pisces not aligned with Capricorn). So tonight I’m heading along with a feeling of dread that I’m about to put the mockers on their splendid run of late.
And what a run it has been. Their win over Longford Town last weekend was their seventh on the bounce and has a potential long-term significance which we’ll get back to in a moment. After the debacle against Wexford Youths on the opening day of the season I opined that “there was nothing in the second half of last season to suggest Paul O’Brien is a huge improvement on Stephen Henderson”. Oh me of little faith. Speaking to an RSC regular after the bounce-back win over Limerick the following week, his considered opinion was that while doubts existed over O’Brien’s ability to manage a squad of unruly yahoos, there was no question over his tactical nous and his faith in the latter looks to have been justified.
After Ireland’s limp exit from Euro 2012, Eamon Dunphy pieced together a montage supporting his thesis that Giovanni Trappatoni’s excuses about the necessity of deploying tactics to maximise the potential of a squad with minimum talent were wearing thin. He showed the journeymen of Swansea City inflicting death by a thousand passes on Liverpool in their match at Anfield last November. It was impressive watching the Swans knock the ball around with elegant precision compared to Ireland’s club-footed efforts, and it had the triple whammy of:
- giving me a little encouragement about Brendan Rodgers’ appointment to Liverpool (not too much though; 237 times bitten, 238th time shy);
- making Mrs d a very happy camper as Dunphy, whom she has always disliked, said “Swansea were applauded off the field that day by the Liverpool crowd, the most knowledgable in football”. She enjoyed that. And;
- realising that managers can make a difference, especially on tight budgets.
And it has come to pass that Paul O’Brien has made a huge difference.
Unfortunately there’s only so much you can do and while my prediction about the likelihood of him making a go of it as Blues manager may have been hopelessly wrong, my prediction about the idiocy of the eight-team First Division looks like it is coming to pass. With only eight teams in the division, the chances of overhauling runaway leaders like Limerick are practically impossible as they keep on out-muscling the minnows. Limerick have only lost four games all season and incredibly three of them have been against the Blues. We could win all our remaining games, including the fourth game against Limerick at Jackman Park, and it is likely we’ll still end up finishing behind them. It’s not Limerick’s fault, they can only play what’s put in front of them and we weren’t able to do the same to those teams on a regular basis, nor is it the fault of diddy teams (© Scottish soccer pundits) who are doing the FAI a favour by holding it together, which is more than can be said for Monaghan United. But such a lopsided league is not fit for purpose. You wonder whether the remainder of the League season is a phony war as the FAI prepare to address the current situation which only leaves a seven team-First Division for next season . . .
So Waterford find themselves facing up to the prospect of another play-off. In the 1960’s Waterford’s great enemy was Shamrock Rovers. Now it’s play-offs. The thought of a play-off against Longford, surely the most likely outcome at this stage of the season, will be bringing Blues fans out in a cold sweat. There is one reason to be cheerful, and that goes back to that win over Longford last week. When the Blues lost to Monaghan two seasons ago, it was on the back of six straight defeats to them. Longford were approaching similar Jonah-like proportions, but hopefully that particular boil has now been lanced. Then we’ll have another play-off, most likely against UCD who made mincemeat of the Blues the last time I saw them play.
Ugh. They sure don’t make life easy for you, do they? We’ll probably be none the wiser about Waterford’s ultimate fate this season, but it’ll beat the Olympics opening ceremony hands down.