I remember the day of my cousin’s wedding shindig last August because it was the day of the Mayo-Dublin football semi-final. Or was it the other way around? Either way, the particular set of cousins from which she hails have no interest in the GAA but between the jigs and the reels we ended up seated with my father’s cousins family who were very interested in the GAA, so the conversation was punctuated by periodic hammering of refresh buttons to see what was happening in the big game. And there was much rejoicing when the news came through that the Jackeens had gone down. It was good to see that even the much-garlanded Rebels were motivated by base pettiness like that rest of us.
The conversation eventually turned, as these kind of hearty, good-natured exchanges between like-minded Gaels always does, to Waterford. Or, or specifically, to Waterford’s failure in recent times to win the ultimate prize of the Liam McCarthy Cup. One of them said to me, without being either unkind or patronising, that it was a pity that Waterford had not won the All-Ireland. My response, and I’m proud to say I didn’t skip a beat in saying this, was to say that in the last 10-15 years we’ve experienced riches beyond our wildest dreams. I said it because it is true, but I’m pleased that I said it without any unconscious if-buts-or-maybes. They all nodded with the understanding of people who knew instinctively what I was talking about – for Waterford supporters, the last fifteen years have been a glorious time, and no-one from Cork is in a position to say otherwise.
All of this was said in the aftermath of another cruel defeat, coming up short against Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork when it looked like we had them over a barrel, and I felt our glory era was about to go the way of silent films and Marathon bars. Yet here we are seven months on and even if the improbable worst happens and Waterford end up being relegated, we have at least demonstrated that reports of the death of Waterford hurling have been greatly exaggerated, much to the delight of headline writers and Mark Twain-enthusiasts everywhere.
I know hope is a dangerous thing. Morgan Freeman and John Cleese have both said as much, so it must be true. But hope is usually born from events that inspire hope, and those events are good things in themselves. This year I saw Waterford draw with Cork and beat Tipperary, games that looked hopelessly lost with only a handful of minutes remaining, so it’s perfectly reasonable to feel energised by those events. I’m not going to be at Walsh Park today and it’s great to be able to say that I’m disappointed at not being able to go, because back when the League fixtures were announced I was expecting to view this game as a chore. All too often in our history that is what attending Waterford games has been like, and it’s important that we enjoy those moments when it is not. Go out and give them hell, Waterford.
Update 1710: so we survived, if not without a few hairy moments as we loitered on the wrong side of the three point handicap right up until the last minute and Kilkenny and Cork flirted with a draw for all of their game. It’s a disappointing end to the campaign, particularly when you review a second quarter shocker where we didn’t manage a single score with the wind. But we can at least look forward to doing it all again next year. Either Clare or Cork can look forward to playing, shall we say, less exciting opposition next year. Forgive me if that thought puts a warped smile on my face – if not one on the face of the Cork cousins.