Why is 7pm in mid-April considered a good time to stage hurling matches? I have a theory that is, as usual, constructed on an edifice of anecdote and supposition. The late and much-lamented Dougie Partridge of Tramore was notorious for the vagueness of his timing for evening training sessions. An inquiry as to when training would start would be met with the Delphic utterance, “after tea”. To Dougie, a product of a time when dinner took place just after the first Angelus of the day and tea just after the second one, this was all the answer that was required. You’d head off to training after the last slurp of tea went down your gullet and not one second before. And I can’t help thinking that mentality persists. Throw the ball in at 6.30pm? How could one be expected to linger on mopping up the yolk of your fried egg with the heel of the loaf if you had to charge out the door just after the passion and cross were brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord? Better to be playing in pitch darkness than have that horror visited on Gaeldom.
So it was that Waterford and Tipperary’s Minor hurlers pitched up in Walsh Park with one eye firmly on the sky. While I may lament such things that the GAA does wrong, there was much to be pleased about with the team sheets as the Waterford team featured an astonishing thirteen different clubs. We must be doing something right to not be picking from a handful of city teams as you might instinctively expect, and it was one of the stars of Dungarvan Colleges’ All-Ireland colleges triumph who opened the scoring with an early free. The remainder of the full-forward line took up the next play when DJ Foran played in Michael Kearney but he hesitated when there seemed to be an opening to bear down on goal and by the time the chance was lost he was in a worse position than he had been to begin with ans his effort drifted wide. A cheap foul at the other end allowed Josh Keane to level matters from a free. He was out of position so a quick puckout was a good idea but the ref whistled it back. Never mind though, the puckout was expertly fielded by Adam Farrell and slotted over to restore Waterford’s lead.
For all of my bleating about the light, or potential lack of it, in every other respect these were perfect conditions for hurling – dry, no wind and no sun in your eyes (ahem) – and the forwards were clearly going to make hay. Waterford nearly made a whole bale in one go when Colm Roche intercepted a clearance and sent the ball back into Foran who managed to wriggle his way into a goal position. Unfortunately his shot his the post when perhaps it should have gone nowhere near it, although that was nowhere near as unfortunate as Curran’s failure to react quickly enough to it, slashing ineffectually at the ricochet with the goal at his mercy. Still, he showed commendable calm in the face of that disappointment when Brian Hogan in the Tipp goal ran the ball out of the play and Curran scored from the 65. It was a reasonably satisfying outcome, but if anyone felt that way about the interception that led to it all, it soon evaporated as Austin Gleeson at centre-back gifted two points to Tipp with two intercepted gaffes of his own, the first allowing Colm O’Riordan to score and the second rammed over the bar with a vengeance by Seán Ryan. With Curran knocking over a free in between after his run had been ened rather abruptly, we have seen seven scores in the first seven minutes. Clearly it wasn’t going to be a war of attrition.
The ridiculous openness of the game continued, Keane stroking over a long range point after a chop on one of his teammates to level matters, Curran responding immediately with a lovely catch-and-strike, then O’Riordan providing an indentikit score at the other end from the puckout. Quick as you like Waterford were back on the attack and Kearney drew a free to allow Curran to put Waterford back in front Sport is usually better when there are more scores, but this was like a basketball game and (dare I say it) was a little bloodless as a result.
Then again, you could live without the excitement generated when a Waterford player gets caught out in the manner goalie Seán Clancy was when Keane managed to nick the ball off him as he advanced from his goal to clear. There seemed nothing between the Tipp forwards and the Waterford goal but the backs did just enough to put the Tipp forwards off, or someone screwed up mightily. Either way the ball was went wide, most likely from a boot, and we could all breath again. Waterford made good use of that let-off as Tom Devine pounced on a loose clearance – can you spot a pattern emerging here? – to open up a two point lead, then Mark O’Brien benefited from some tidy forward play down the right to give us a three-point lead. When Curran drew yet another foul to get yet another free for yet another point to leave us four points up, it was looking very good.
Alas, that was as good as it got for Waterford up until (literally) the last puck of the half. For all of the points we had scored we looked more open to breaks behind the full-back line and were relieved when Conor Lanigan was hustled out wide when a more direct route to goal was available. Brian Hogan’s puckout is clearly a weapon available in this regard and there was snow on a effort from the 45 that was cleared by Waterford but in trying to emerge from the back line Cian Leamy stumbled and touched the ground with the ball in his hand. We knew this because a Tipp know-it-all behind us said so. In fact, he said it at least five times to the assembled Déisigh whose vocal groans of exasperation demonstrated that they clearly didn’t know the rules of the game. Thank heavens he was on hand to educate us all. Keane slotted the ball over the bar, then did the same for a much longer effort after Kevin Daly had swung around the neck of O’Riordan in a foul so blatant that even us townie ignoramii didn’t need to be told.
It might look at this stage like Josh Keane was just taking frees, but he was popping up everywhere in much the manner Seamus Callinan did a few weeks back. The Waterford full-back line were living on their wits and Keane almost got in around the back again only to hesitate – can you spot a pattern emerging here? – and be crowded out. Moments later he was the ball again under the stand, tied his marker in knots, and was unlukcy to see his effort drift wide. He then put Ryan in the clear where he was fouled and Keane knocked it over. More carelessness in the Waterford back line followed and there was a sniff of a goal in the chance before Shane Hennessy drilled it over to level matters.
And it was about to get a whole lot worse. A wild pull by Shane Bennett on a ball that was dropping nowhere near him typified how rattled Waterford seemed to be, and what seemed inevitable – Keane getting behind the full-back – happened as inevitable things do, Tipperary sweeping up the field after some loose play by Curran. Leamy did what he had to do, dragging Keane down as far out as he could. It looked to me to be outside the area, but the ref indicated a penalty and you couldn’t complain given the blatant nature of the foul. He duly dispatched the penalty to the net with the minimum fuss and almost immediately followed it up with a magnificent effort from way out right to stretch the lead to four. We were listing alarmingly, so it was just as well that there was time for one more attack. Austin Gleeson drove a long ball into the corner which was expertly gathered by Foran. He popped the ball to Kearney who eschewed previous hesitancy by driving a superb shot over the crowd of players between him and the goal into the top of the far corner of the net. It was a cracking score, just the tonic for Waterford right on the stroke of half-time.
I noted earlier how bloodless it had been, something I put down to the Munster championship setup which effectively sees the loser barely worse off than the winner, so it was surprising to see multiple digs being put in as they went off. It’ll be a poor day when matches between Tipperary and, well, anyone don’t matter. So it was great to see the Waterford County board introducing the low farce into the occasion that makes us cringe about the GAA but is what we love all the same. On came a deputation from Kilcohan Park with what the gentleman with the microphone referred to as “a fine baysht”. Echoes of the late Mick Lally’s gloriously batty turn in Oliver Stone’s Alexander where he referred to “a baysht fit for Philip of Macedon!” No disrespect to greyhounds, but this ‘baysht’ was no Bucephalas. Still, the dog night is in a good cause (the training fund). And it’s certainly a lot more worthwhile than Alexander.
A soft free for a foul on O’Riordan allowed Keane to pick up where he had left off in the first half, while Waterford seemed not to have shaken off the funk that had enveloped them like the dusky gloom over Walsh Park. A player I couldn’t identify was fortunate to get away with a tackle around the neck on Tipp midfield Willie Connors and while Keane showed feet of clay when dropping the ball short Waterford were fortunate again to get a free out when Kevin Daly could just as easily have been done for steps as he emerged with the ball. Given the conditions, the game was not that hard to referee which made the odd decisions Jer O’Connell made look even odder. On two occasions he had to throw the ball in and proceeded to fling the ball past everyone near him like he was road bowling. Maybe we’ll see him in Fenor in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile the cracks in the back line were being barely patched up by Waterford, with Conor Lanigan getting the freedom of the park to open his account. We were still carrying some sting at the other end though, Foran winning the puckout and teeing up Farrell who got a garroting of his own and allowing Curran to get one back. Lanigan had a chance to strike back but it was almost as if he had too much time and his shot drifted languidly into Clancy’s lap. His clever quick pass to his corner-back set Waterford right back on the offensive which ended with substitute Conor Gleeson scoring on the run and when Hogan directed one of his monster puckouts out for a sideline, you began to hope that the spell that had seen Waterford go from four points to four points down was behind us. When the ref inexplicably ignored a Waterford player scything the legs from under a Tipperary player who was about to catch the dropping ball, you began to feel this might be our say, a feeling reinforced when Waterford nimbly cleared a ball out of defence with some close passing and a ‘foul’ on Farrell gave Waterford a free that gave the Tipp fans collective heart attacks and Curran the chance to level matters.
Ah, don’t ever get yer hopes up, because then you have further to fall. Another poor effort by Lanigan seemed to be bouncing harmelessly wide, or at least that seemed to be what Clancy thought i nthew Waterford goal. But instead it stayed in and William Hahessey had to go and collect it. It’s hard to tell whether he fell over or was pushed by Josh Keane. The ref clearly thought the former and that’s how it looked to me. Either way, Keane was suddenly in acres of room and made no mistake with the goal from point blank range. Even the Tipperary supporters seemed too shocked to celebrate, so abrupt was this turn of events.
Not that Tipp rested on their laurels, with Connors scoring a point of almost impudent ease from the puckout. Curran managed to pull one back from a free after, as is his wont, drawing the foul but Tipp wer eclearly on the front foot. When Seán Ryan had a shot charged down Willie Connors steamed straight onto it and smacked it over the bar. Austin Gleeson was lucky to get away with some extremely loose play when Lanigan picked the ball off the ground when it seemed easier to use his hurley.
It was probably fortunate for Waterford at this stage that the game settled into a messy period when the ref could have whistled up for fouls on numerous occasions but instead opted to ‘let the game flow’. It’s a man’s game, doncha know. This had the effect taking a little of the wind out of Tipp’s sails and when he did decide to whistle up it was for a foul on Mícheal Harney from which Curran did the needful to keep the gap at a manageable three. Another Keane free soon took the gap back to four but we were still in this and when a long-range free dropped into the mixer there was a moment when Tipp were finding to so hard to clear that you thought it had to end up with a goal. More and more players were sucked into the maelstrom and there was the bizarre sight of the best part of 20 players hacking away in the Tipp square before they finally cleared the ball and, in a game of few goal-scoring chances, Waterford’s hopes went with it.
Jer O’Connell then got walloped by a passing sliothar leading to treatment, some cruel chuckles in the stand, and a throw-in which this time he got right. From the resultant play Waterford got a free and Curran once again took the point. It was a fantastic display of deadball play, and given the woes we’ve experienced over years with freetakers is very encouraging for the future. In the here and now it brought the gap back to three but there was never a feeling that we were going to get on top of them and so it proved. The Tipp know-it-all said from that they “need one more to win” so it was a great surprise that when Keane scored that “one more” he didn’t get up and head for the exit. Chance would have been a fine thing. Still, it felt like an insurance score and with news coming through Cork’s win over Clare thoughts began to turn to lowering the Banner next week. Tipperary were now cocky enough for Keane to knock a free short to Lanigan to score and he rounded off the day with a score on the run when he might have taken it on for goal had he been so inclined. In between those scores Waterford had a free from Stephen Bennett saved, and it’s a bit chasteningto think we were relying on some miracle effort from him when he’s not meant to be fully fit. Our very own Lionel Messi, eh?
If the game had ended at half-time due to bad light, this would have been a vintage Waterford performance. In the cold light of day (ho ho) though, we need to question why Waterford barely turned up in the second half. They relied almost entirely on Patrick Curran for scores, which isn’t a bad tactic in itself but you’re going to need more variety from the forwards if you’re going to win matches. In a game of many mistakes and much cavalier play, it’s to be hoped that Waterford will learn a lot from this. They’ve only got six days though, and Clare’s underage record is more formidable than ours in recent times. They’d better learn fast, before the lights get turned out on the Minors for another year.
Waterford: Seán Clancy, William Hahessey, Sam O’Neill, Cian Leamy, Kevin Daly (capt; Cormac Curran), Austin Gleeson, Mícheal Harney, Mark O’Brien (0-1; Conor Gleeson, 0-1), Tom Devine (0-1), Shane Bennett, Colm Roche, Adam Farrell (0-1; Stephen Bennett), Patrick Curran (0-11, 0-9f, 0-1 65), DJ Foran, Michael Kearney (1-0)
Tipperary: Brian Hogan, Austin Tierney, Jason Ryan, Darragh Peters, Barry Heffernan, Ronan Maher, Tom Kirwan, Tom Fox (capt), Willie Connors (0-2), Seán Ryan (0-1; Fionan O’Sullivan), Colm O’Riordan (0-2), Shane Hennessy (0-2), Conor Lanigan (0-3), Josh Keane (2-8, 1-6f), Mark McCarthy (James Mackey)
HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Tipperary 1-10 (13)
Referee: Jer O’Connell (Cork)