The big chill

I had decided a few days ago that I wasn’t going to produce a report for the relegation playoff against Dublin. This was entirely because I wasn’t confident that I could maintain focus on events on the pitch in Walsh Park while events were unfolding hundreds of miles to the north-west in Anfield. I needn’t have worried myself on that score. Checking my phone at a couple of minutes past four, around the time things were beginning to unravel for Waterford,  I chuckled to myself that Liverpool had better be 1-0 up. Imagine my delight to see that they were, and things were to only get better. Alas, the same could not be said for the game going on in front of me.

While there were no other reasons for not taking notes other than that, there would be additional factors which made it a wise decision. The last time I didn’t keep track was against Cork in Fraher Field last year . Like then, it was absolutely perishing and gloves were definitely the order of the day. Anyone who wants to re-jig the season so that weightier Championship matters are played at this time of year needs shipping off to Antarctica. Then there was the programme. It’s been a long-running scandal that the Waterford County Board have the chutzpah to charge €2 for what is effectively a team sheet. The programme for the previous game against Dublin doubled up for both that match and the football game out in Carriganore against London. It was terrible value, containing an article for each game – both were perfectly fine, but you can get as good online for free, literally in the case of Tomás McCarthy – and the team sheets. The programme yesterday though couldn’t even claim either of those things, with no articles and lineups that were so inaccurate as to be worse than useless. Both sides had different starting 15s, which is to be expected at this stage. To add further, entirely original insult, Dublin started with players who were not even in the programme while Waterford had Tadhg Bourke and Noel Connors in the wrong jerseys. Trying to keep track of who did what would have been a pain, so it’s just as well I didn’t bother.

What of the game itself?  It’s fair to say that the optimism created by the first three games, containing a close away defeat and two fine wins, has completely evaporated after three soul-destroying defeats. Waterford had started well, rattling over five points in the first seven minutes and looking entirely like they had Dublin’s measure. A goal from a 21-metre free, correctly awarded, kept Dublin in touch but the lead had stretched back to a handy four points thanks to a goal from Darragh Fives, well set up by Seamus Prendergast. With Dublin having hit a string of horror wides while we had been a model of economy with our efforts, it was looking good.

Then came the red card for Shane O’Sullivan. It looked harsh from where I was on the terrace at the Keane’s Road end. He didn’t strike Michael Carton, but caught him as the opponent came at him quickly, so everyone in the ground was surprised when he flashed the red card. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that I was an awful long way from the action. I have no reason to suspect skullduggery on the referee’s part, and presumably he saw O’Sullivan raised hurley catching Carton way too high, in the neck-face area. Fine margins and all that, but if the action was dangerous then he had to go, however benign his intentions might have been.

Could we get lightning to strike twice and win with 14 men again? No, we could not. They kept in touch for the remainder of the half, and a late goal put an undeserved gloss on the scoreline to give Dublin a half-time lead, but it was clear early in the third quarter that Waterford were not going to salvage this. Dublin were amazingly over-elaborate as handpasses and short balls to find men in space were flung about to tantalise their Waterford opposite numbers, but it had the feeling of a team determined to try something experimental in a game they knew they had won. Maybe I’m seeing a plan that wasn’t there, but whatever it was worked out pretty well as two goals in the space of as many minutes gave them the breathing space they needed. Having watched Waterford implode so badly in the second half against Kilkenny last week, it is a small source of relief that this didn’t happen in this game. Dublin would probably have had an extra gear if it were requiredthough, and brains were well and truly scrambled in the Waterford team, something exemplified by the decision of Pauric Mahony to take a point when awarded a free close in with eight minutes left that had goal chance written all over it. All well and good if the intention was to keep the bare look off the scoreline, and there would have been a certain logic to that. But why did they then try to engineer goals in the remaining minutes from much less promising positions? A lack of joined-up thinking from someone in the Waterford panel.

The high-octane nature of each game in the National League these days means we know a lot more than we traditionally expect to know at this stage, and it isn’t good. Three tough defeats means we are behind where we started, and there are no more chances to try and resolve it before the game against Cork at the end of May. Derek McGrath and co are going to have to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Get your rosary beads out.

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