Waterford 0-14 Dublin 0-19

Dublin halt Déise’s unbeaten run – RTÉ
Resurgent Dublin see off Waterford to reach League quarters – Irish Times
Devastating Dubs stun Waterford to grab quarter-final place – HoganStand.com
Dublin beat Waterford at own game – Irish Examiner
Dublin stun Waterford – Irish Independent

Eek. I left a major hostage to fortune in the previous post, something that didn’t dawn on me until I noticed a like/favourite on Twitter from Rachael English. Comments as intemperate as  ‘Keep it up, and the promised land isn’t just likely. It’s inevitable’ are just the kind of thing to go viral when you get the runaround at home from Dublin. I could probably put up a weasely defence that I was merely prognosticating on a scenario where we kept on winning and just because we are no longer winning doesn’t mean it was wrong to speculate on the keep-winning scenario.  But the bottom line is that when you are trounced in this manner, you have to take stock.

And having taken stock, it wasn’t entirely apocalyptic. For starters, Dublin looked very tasty indeed. I say ‘trounced’ because the five-point margin probably flattered Waterford. Dublin’s short passing game was all at sea in the first five minutes as they gifted Waterford a three-point head start. It was blissfully reassuring. They’d soon stop acting the jennet and we’d still be too good for them. Except neither of those things happened. They kept it up and Waterford never got to grips with it. When you are as fit and well-drilled as Dublin looked, it is surely a recipe for success when you add some real talent, and Dublin had the star of the show in Eamon Dillon. I can’t recall noticing him before and I was alarmed to see the Dublin GAA website has him winning League and Leinster titles. Was I really so dense as to miss someone so good? Don’t answer that. Some quick Googling brought some relief as he played in neither of those wins and only came on as a sub in their loss to us in last year’s Championship. Either way, he was unplayable in this game. One score saw him catch a high ball coming over his shoulder near the sideline and, without breaking stride, turn and send the ball over the bar. It was typical of much of Dublin’s play in the opening 20 minutes, and with Waterford benefitting from a modest wind, it was looking grim.

Tom Devine was finding the task of being the lone forward to be utterly thankless. The manner in which Derek McGrath persisted with this plan in the face of its failure does make you wonder whether he was conducting some manner of experiment. In less wishful-thinking mode, it was likely that Waterford had several players have a bad day at the office all on the same day. Yes, Dublin were neat and tidy, but none of the in-your-face play that was so much in evidence against Kilkenny was on display here. Tadhg de Búrca, surprisingly restored to the side after injury, looked rustier than that crane off the Ardmore coast. More surprising was the occasionally flailing efforts of Kevin Moran. Watching this man-mountain with the hands of Roger Federer being beaten to the ball by players you would expect him to sweep aside was jarring. All over the field Waterford players were chasing shadows and you really felt something had to change as Dublin eased into a three-point lead having been three points down.

Nothing did change in the tactics or personnel, but Waterford managed to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Almost all the good stuff we did came via Jamie Barron who was making himself a proper nuisance in the middle of the park, and a brace apiece from Ausitn Gleeson and Patrick Curran meant that Waterford somehow went in ahead at half-time. Nothing spectacular had happened, just a little bit more oomph in defence, although the rampaging clearances that have been so typical of Waterford in the last year and a bit were conspicuous by their absence. Could they push on in the second half?

No, they could not. A couple of points were exchanged in the first few minutes but once Dublin hit the front at 0-11 to 0-10 they didn’t look back. Points came in all shapes and sizes and it was clear the heart wasn’t there to close the gap. There was no flame-out, no madcap chase for goals that might have turned the tide. The closest we came was right at the end, an effort by Gleeson from out near the 45 zipping over the bar rather than causing the chaos he was hoping for under it.

It was that lack of fight that gives me a perverse sense of comfort. You often hear that League games were played at Championship intensity. This is invariably nonsense, not least in the match the night before in Páirc Uí Rinn. I had accidentally ended up watching that game and while it was very entertaining fare it was most definitely not up to Championship intensity, except for the late burst of goals when Kilkenny bulldozed their way through the Cork backs (five points down with five minutes left, Anthony Daly ventured, upon hearing that there have never been a draw in the League between the teams, that Brian Cody would have taken that. No way is Brian Cody ‘settling’ for anything, ever). It was still a lot more thunder-and-lightning than this game though. This might be a sign that the players are getting a little blasé. With the return of Darragh Fives and the integration of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, the squad is stronger than it was last year. There should be more willing to use it rather than sticking with the same 18 or so players for every game.

In the short term, we’re still heading in the right direction. Thoughts that we might be a flash in the pan from last year can be dismissed, and we can look forward to the quarter-finals where we might end up second and still get a home draw against Offaly after their surprise win over Wexford. We must, of course, treat them with the utmost respect and leave no hostages to fortune.

***looks at previous post***