The running theme in the 2015 Cricket World Cup has been the run chase, or more specifically how difficult it is becoming. For almost every team, and even the seeming exception of Ireland is based on not very much evidence, the strategy has been to win the toss (yes, that’s a flaw in the ‘strategy’ right there) and accumulate a huge total batting first that the team batting second finds ruinously difficult to chase. The psychology behind accumulating such a first innings total is fascinating. England thought they had done enough when racking up 309 against Sri Lanka, but even a neophyte like me got the sense that it wasn’t enough and the feeling was confirmed as Sri Lanka cruised past the target with a whopping nine wickets in hand and could have rattled off another fistful of runs in the last 22 balls had it been required. It sounds bizarre that you could say this about a supposedly well-prepared outfit, and if you count preparation in terms of man hours spent planning then England are well-prepared, but part of England’s problem at the moment is that they simply don’t know what works in one day cricket. The mindset that you need to be getting to 350 in the first innings is not there, and what chance of winning have you got if you don’t know what is a winning score?
All these thoughts came to mind early in the second half against Galway. Having accumulated a nine-point advantage with the benefit of a gale-force wind, the question was: is that enough? Had the matches between Tipperary v Offaly and Cork v Wexford been played earlier in the day, the evidence would have been uncertain. Tipp had roared into a 13-point half-time lead which would eventually be trimmed to six (red cards for Tipp would have muddied the number-crunching waters), while Wexford’s six-point advantage at the interval would prove to be insufficient as they only managed one second-half point. Seven minutes into the second half in Walsh Park, it was clear nine points was not enough in those conditions as Galway had swiftly cut the lead to four. Disaster loomed.
Looking back at the first half from that juncture, was it fair to label it lack-lustre? (NB not having a go at anyone here, just sharing different Déise perspectives.) Unlike the England cricketers, the Waterford hurlers had simply no way of knowing what was a par score, and nine points felt okay at the time. Had they known how much they needed in the manner of England chasing a 27-point win against France in the final fixture of this year’s Six Nation, it might have been different. Having said that though, I get the feeling Waterford’s tactics lend themselves to the idea of being lack-lustre, at least in the forward line. The task facing the two-man full-forward line of Stephen Bennett and Brian O’Halloran was positively Herculean. I dread to think how many metres they covered pursuing lost causes, and it was slightly mystifying why Waterford persisted in lobbing balls in with little reward. I’d probably need to review the game again, and will leave that to the likes of Giveitfong, but the likelihood is that these bombs were not the only tactic but the seeming high amount of them a function of how much possession Waterford had.
The other side of the loadsa possession coin is the shooting from distance, and in that respect Waterford were raking it in. The early exchanges saw Brian O’Halloran and Pauric Mahony scoring from the 45 while Kevin Moran and Austin Gleeson both managed to raise the white flag from the halfway line. The team facing into the wind were always going to rely heavily on frees and Joe Canning must have wanted to have a ‘word’ with those on the Keanes Road terrace when one of his frees, awarded after Moran had taken too much out of a targeted puckout from O’Regan, drifted wide to hoots of derision from the sliothar-chasing young fellas. He also missed a routine chance from well inside the 45 and would later hit the outside of the post from close in and fail to exert much pressure on Noel Connors from the rebound. Not one of his better days, and Pauric Mahony was showing him how it was done at the other end with his free-taking. When Moran struck another worldy from out past the halfway line Waterford were seven points up.
One of the big problems in recent years has been fitness. Too often we’ve been blown out of it then blown up at the end. There was little sign of it here with players hunting in packs and generally showing a willingness to get to the ball first, whatever the cost. On two occasions late in the half Galway nearly got away down their left wing and would have done had they evaded the last man but Tadgh de Búrca and Shane Fives respectively flung their bodies in the way of the ball to make sure that none shall pass, with the former even getting the bonus of the ball pinging out for a Waterford sideline, much to the chagrin of the Galway players. And speaking of sideline balls, Gleeson used the wind to curve a delightful cut over the bar. A long range effort from Mahony that drifted wide represented about the worst effort of the half, and despite a late free from Canning the nine point lead looked pretty good, right?
Wrong, or so it looked after ten minutes as Galway put over five unanswered points and could/should have had a few more but for some wayward shooting. It’s all very well having only two men in the mix when you have all that ball, but when you’re living off scraps you can’t afford to be wasting it and that’s how it was proving at the start of the third quarter. A rather undignified brawl, as opposed to the dignified type, under the stand gave Waterford a chance to pause for breath and make the straightforward swap of Maurice Shanahan for Stephen Bennett. The contrast between the giant who strode around players for the Minors and the much more man-sized player on display here was striking, and while there is no shame in not being up to the particular Sisyphean task assigned to him here, you fret about fitting such a talent into Derek McGrath’s gameplan.
One fringe benefit of bringing on a cult hero-type like Shanahan is that it gets the crowd going, not that much was needed as the attendance sensed that something horrible was about to happen if we didn’t turn this around pretty sharpish. Unjustified rage at a free not awarded to O’Halloran may have swayed Brian Gavin just a small bit when Waterford managed to disrupt Galway’s attempt to clear and earn a soft free. Mahony popped it over and the ship had been steadied a little. Now the gameplan was about to come into its own. Did I say hunting in packs? More like buzzing in swarms as every Galway attack was now pounced upon with stinging intensity. Somehow de Búrca seemed to pop up as the extra man every time, and at the other end the old soccer cliché about the forward line being the first line of defence rang true here as a limp Galway clearance was sent back in with pinpoint accuracy by Philip Mahony to Shanahan to send over our first point from play of the half.
Suddenly the game was moving into the final quarter and, having access to Twitter, I was able to compare how we were keeping Galway at arms length with the efforts of Wexford who were slowly being reeled in by Cork. It was now moving into territory where Galway were going to need a goal to make the comeback stick and that simply wasn’t going to come against this suffocating Waterford defence. I’m writing all this with the benefit of hindsight, but rest assured that such heretical thoughts – a Waterford full-back line coping with the strain! – were in my mind even at the time. A brilliant piece of control by O’Halloran allowed him to draw a simple free and stretch the lead to seven to send the crowd into ever greater levels of delighted yahooing. Yet another Galway attack withered on the vine, yet again a Waterford forward drew the foul, the yellow card and the score from Mahony. Amidst all the intensity Waterford managed to keep a high level of discipline. Having established such a lead, Waterford had the luxury of knowing that time was running out for their opponents. Win the ball or turn it into a throw ball. Either way, slow it down at all costs. Easier said than done obviously and there was one fracas as O’Halloran was perhaps lucky to stay on as he jabbed his Galway marker in the stomach, causing him to fall like he had been shot. It would have been a harsh red, although I’ve seen less get more. Either way, fully ten minutes passed without a score and a couple of late Canning frees were too little too late. Indeed, they seemed to only serve to irritate Tom Devine as the sub provided a splendid late cameo, first popping over a point from a narrow angle after some great support play from Shanahan then drawing three Galway backs to play a perfect pass to Michael Walsh in space and stretch the lead back to eight. The last few minutes were the domain of Ian O’Regan as he pulled off one good save/clearance, and generally showed sound judgement to keep the gap out where it deserved to be. For make no mistake: Waterford were not flattered by this win. Apart from that seven minute blip at the start of the second half, Waterford were on the front foot for the whole game.
It is a negative game we play, no point in pretending otherwise. We’ve been spoiled over the years by champagne hurling, and we’ll be lamenting its passing should Tipperary smear us all over Nowlan Park on Sunday two weeks. No better people to expose any frailties that may have not been shown up yet and they’ll be filled with the Hell’s Kitchen spirit of Tony Reddin. But we’ve tried the champagne and we remain unfulfilled. Time to give good hearty (Mc)Guinness a chance.
Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadgh de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1 sideline ball), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Stephen Bennett (Maurice Shanahan, 0-1), Kevin Moran (0-2), Jake Dillon (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Pauric Mahony (0-10, 0-9f; Martin O’Neill), Michael Walsh (0-1), Brian O’Halloran (0-2; Tom Devine, 0-1), Colin Dunford (Shane O’Sullivan)
Galway: Colm Callanan, Johnny Coen, Paul Killeen (Greg Lally), John Hanbury, David Collins, Padraig Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Andrew Smith (0-2), Iarla Tannian, Joseph Cooney, Joe Canning (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Jonathan Glynn, James Regan (Niall Healy), Cathal Mannion (0-1), Jason Flynn (Aidan Harte)
HT: Waterford 0-14 Galway 0-5
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)