Merciful seventy minutes. The next time that a discussion about the future of the League and someone advocates introducing the group format to the Championship, abolishing the League in the process, I’ll be quick to refer to this game. The conditions were pure evil – it began snowing near the end! – and to the business end of the season, either at club or inter-county level, would be folly. As I said a few weeks back, if you abolished the League you’d just have to replace it with something else, so why not leave it as it is?
And today’s game was not without its rewards, even if it was so cold that I only took a few photos and couldn’t take any notes, rammed as my hands were into my trouser pockets for all but the first few minutes. I’ve heard it said that in conditions like this you’re as well off running around on the pitch as you are watching the game. I’m dubious. No one in the stand or on the terraces was clad only in a couple of pieces of polyester and a pair of socks rolled down around their ankles. Still, there might be something in it as the teams gave us a keen contest, well refereed by Alan Kelly. Yes, you read that right. Some people were giving out stink about him in the second half, but he was consistent throughout the game in playing advantage and his signalling that he wouldn’t be awarding frees was a novel innovation that meant you knew exactly where you stood at all times. Well, most of the time.
In conditions like today, what do hurling teams do when they win the toss? Something is tickling at the back of my mind that says the convention is that you play against the wind, but I have a firmer recollection of a Q&A with Ian Rush many years ago where he said that a captain should choose to play with it as is likely to change. Waterford had the wind in the first half and after a slow start began to make the wind count. It was difficult to tell who was who from where I stood but there were some good scores and you didn’t need to see the individuals to pick out an overall strategy. The players were clearly given instructions to a) make space for a pass, and b) be aware of the position of your team-mates around you. I’m a firm believer in letting the ball in at the first opportunity, but today was not the day for giving it a lash. One farcical moment in the first half saw everyone retreat about thirty metres for a Cork free in only to have to then slog their way forward by a similar distance when the ball dropped well short of its normal distance. With Waterford keeping it tight and steadily tacking on points, the last score of the half when a free from Stephen O’Keeffe dropped over the bar, it was looking good for us.
Such optimism was predicated on the conditions gumming up even more thus helping to keep the game low scoring. And while the pitch got progressively worse the wind also whipped up in speed to an alarming degree. What does that Ian Rush clown know? The idea of keeping it low scoring wasn’t helped early on either when a sideline ball broke kindly to Stephen Moylan and he drilled the ball to the net. Cork had taken one second to do what Waterford had averaged about every twelve minutes in the first half. Damn you, green flags! While Waterford stuck doggedly to their game plan it was now Cork who were tacking on points with Pa Cronin in the middle of the field regularly popping up like an extra man to ram the ball back down our throat.
When Paidi Mahony pushed a simple free wide leaving a sustained period of pressure without any reward, and then Cork scored a free to cut the gap to one moment later, it was hard to see Waterford hanging on. A goal bound shot was deflected out for a 65 which was as good as a 45 in the conditions and was duly knocked over to level matters. They only took the lead with four minutes to go and when they stretched the lead to two, that looked like that.
Cork though failed to put the boot in. Maurice Shanahan had come on at some stage, looking resplendent in his Daz whites amidst all the mud-splattered bodies, and he nearly conjured up a winning goal right at the death. Putting the head down he strode through the defence (in so far as one could ever do that on this pitch) and popped the ball into Brian O’Sullivan who had to pivot and could only blaze it over the bar. That looked like that. Except it wasn’t as Waterford came again and had not one, not two, but THREE shots at Anthony Nash to win the game. Neither of those chances was probably a gimme or as brilliant a save as it looked at the time, but in the context of a tight, low-scoring game it created a feeling of paranoid hysteria that we weren’t going to get any luck. Thankfully Jamie Barron didn’t give up on the third effort and his cross ball found Seamus Prendergast to fire the ball over the bar and save the point.
I’m sorry for the scattergun nature of all of the above. It was so bitterly cold that I decided it would be better to leave it to the pros. I don’t want to be stealing their thunder, they have enough woes as it is. If you want to take one thing from the game, let it be this: it was very encouraging from Waterford. They kept their cool and maintained their shape throughout seventy punishing minutes. With Clare winning today, the result last time out looks even better. We’re already three points better off than I was expecting from the whole League campaign. What’s there not to like?
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe (0-1) Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor, Stephen Daniels, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran (capt), Shane O’Sullivan (0-1), Darragh Fives (Paudie Prendergast), Brian O’Halloran (0-3, Maurice Shanahan), Seamus Prendergast (0-3), Jake Dillon, Brian O’Sullivan (0-2; Ray Barry), Shane Walsh (Jamie Barron), Paidi Mahony (0-6f).
Cork: Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Stephen McDonnell (William Egan), Conor O’Sullivan, Stephen White, Lorcan McLoughlin (Tom Kenny), Christopher Joyce, Pa Cronin, Daniel Kearney (Michael Walsh), Cian McCarthy (0-1), Paudie O’Sullivan (Luke O’Farrell), Seamus Harnedy (Conor Lehane, 0-1), Stephen Moylan (1-1), Peter O’Brien (0-1), Patrick Horgan (0-8, 5f, 1’65).
HT: Waterford 0-10 Cork 0-2
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)