Before we get too despondent about yesterday’s near miss against Kilkenny, here’s a curious fact to ponder – victory would not have guaranteed Waterford avoiding the relegation playoff. Let’s assume we lost our remaining two games to Tipperary and Galway. This would have left us on five points and Tipperary would be certain of finishing ahead of us.
- Clare would guarantee themselves six points by beating Kilkenny.
- Galway would guarantee themselves six points by beating Cork (in this scenario, they’ve already beaten us).
- Cork would guarantee themselves five points, and finishing level with us, by beating Kilkenny.
This would mean it coming down to points difference with Cork. It’s an unlikely scenario but not impossible, so it shows that we didn’t have to win yesterday to ensure League survival and we still have a lot to play for. Still, it would have been nice for all manner of reasons to have beaten the Cats in their own back yard, and you have to worry that certain frailties are becoming apparent.
The most obvious one is what I would be least concerned about, i.e. the performance of Stephen O’Keeffe. The first goal was the inevitable consequence of any use of the dreaded short puckout strategy. Yes, O’Keeffe has to take responsibility for a woeful piece of distribution, but the longer you use this strategy the probability of such a clanger approaches 1. Cut it out, Waterford. Just cut it out. As for the second goal, that was clearly a goalkeeping error and one with spooky echoes of his mistake in the corresponding fixture two years ago. I can’t get too irate about it though. He’s still young and, at the risk of damning him with faint praise, he’s unquestionably our best hope in the position. Let’s give the lad a chance before we heap more blame on his shoulders than he can carry.
Of more immediate concern is the lack of goals at the other end. Eight green flags in eleven League and Championship matches under Michael Ryan has to be significant, especially when you consider we’ve drawn a blank on six of those occasions. It’s a never-ending debate. Do goals win games, or do you look after the points and let the goals take care of themselves? There’s obviously no definite answer, but you are hamstringing yourself if you are taking to the field without any firepower in that department. Watching the Wales-England rugby match on Saturday, I was struck by how valuable Leigh Halfpenny’s metronomic goalkicking was. The Taffs were clearly lifted by the thought that if they kept hurling themselves at the wall of white in front of them that England would eventually give away a penalty and Halfpenny would administer suitable punishment. Now, you could argue that a reliable freetaker is the correct analogy in hurling terms, but seeing as you can’t really draw a foul in hurling it’s more correct to say that it’s important for a set of backs to think that if they can get the ball into the mix that forwards will score and have the potential to extract the maximum from each foray forward. As things stand we don’t have that and when the opposition gets a goal shoulders will droop when the players feel we don’t have the capacity to respond in kind. It’s easy for a hurler on the ditch to say it needs sorting out, but if the coaching team are not worried about this then they should be.
There’s also a seed of doubt that we’re not finishing games with any wind in our sails. The Cork game was a complete crap shoot and they managed to stay with Clare right to the death (something Cork couldn’t manage at the weekend), so perhaps I’m borrowing trouble. But being trounced by 1-6 to 0-1 in the final quarter is very bad news if it is part of a pattern, and when you recall a similar implosion against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year it’s just about possible to discern such a pattern. Given how people used crib that Davy Fitz’s teams were all grunt and no finesse, it would be ironic if Michael Ryan were to be accused of the opposite flaw. You can only devote so many hours to a training session and perhaps it’s impossible for Waterford to get the balance right give n the resources at our disposal.
I’m being unduly grouchy. Having all the teams you care about lose over the weekend (the hurlers, the footballers, the Blues, the Reds, and the Irish rugby team – full spectrum of white light there) will do that to you and St Patrick’s Day blarney be damned. All you can ever ask of a team is that they give it their best, and all you can ever hope of a team is that they are competitive. I saw them give their best against Cork and they’ve clearly been competitive in the other two games. It’s all good, and we can take on this weekend’s game in Walsh Park against Tipperary with a spring in our step. I hear those green flags are super lightweight to lift.