Category Archives: All-Ireland

Waterford 0-21 Wexford 0-11

Waterford get back in the groove with Wexford dismissal – Irish Examiner
Waterford recover from Munster final misery to swat Wexford aside and set up Kilkenny clash – Irish Independent
Under-par Waterford get past Wexford to set up clash with Cats – Irish Times
Waterford cruise past Wexford to book All-Ireland SHC semi-final spot –
Wasteful Deise men advance –
Waterford cruise past Wexford at Semple Stadium – RTÉ

This seemed like one I was going to miss. With the Under-21 match looming and toddler-sitting duties coming thick and fast, it seemed like an indulgence too far. Yet Mrs d insisted that she would do the needful, which forced me to decide whether I wanted to go. Perversely my decision was swung by how awful Waterford had been a fortnight ago. There was a feeling of dread that no-one would turn up and we would be seriously outnumbered by the buoyant Wexicans, a group who have been pretty hardy trouts in my experience when it comes to turning up for a lost cause. Zipping into Thurles with the greatest of ease, it seemed my fears were being confirmed.

In the end, as so often before, I was wrong. I was planning to go up on the terrace anyway but to my immense surprise the stands were sold out, and to my immense relief there was no obvious difference between the crowds hailing from the south-eastern counties. One in the eye for those who suggest that Waterford fans are reluctant travellers, not that I care.

Okay, maybe I care a little bit.

It felt like a reward for my courage in coming to Thurles – no no, plaudits are quite unnecessary – that the people either side of me were Waterfordians, and fine company to boot. We all had a good old chuckle when the announcer in Thurles namechecked Austin Flynn playing at number six for Waterford, although the man to my left gently corrected my belief that Austin was no longer walking among us. “I saw him last week and he was hale and hearty”, he said. It was a rather sweet mistake by the announcer, and you wonder whether Austin Gleeson will ever be mentioned in the same company as the men of ’59 who, despite only winning one All-Ireland, are among the most revered in the game thanks to their swashbuckling style of play.

‘Swashbuckling’ is not a charge you are likely to ever level against Derek McGrath’s team though, and it was clear from the start there would be no cutting loose against a team that almost all recent evidence would suggest are not up to our level. Playing with a strong wind in the first half, one I notionally suggested would be worth eight points to us, Waterford got off to a steady but unspectacular start. Maurice Shanahan got the show on the road with a neat point from play when there was a slight sniff of a goal, Pauric Mahony knocked over a free and Michael Walsh scored his first point of the Championship a few minutes later. His first point in the last two Championships. Truly a red letter day. Lee Chin got one for Wexford, and it was evident that a) Wexford were going to deliver as much as possible into his lap, and b) Waterford were going to try and choke said delivery at all costs. This added an extra layer of tedium to the already stultifying tactics of both teams, and about the most excitement in the first quarter were a couple of Hawk Eye calls from Waterford, both denied, and when a Wexford free from close in was acrobatically blocked from going over the bar by Stephen O’Keeffe. The subsequent 65 drifted wide, and we gleefully wondered whether that might prove significant at the end.

Waterford had moved five points clear by that stage, another free from Mahony being sandwiched by another point from Walsh and one from Austin Gleeson. It shouldn’t have been too much to ask Waterford to move through the gears, but instead the second quarter wides started racking up in much the same manner as had happened against Tipperary. The scores that did come seemed almost accidental, with only a lovely effort from Jamie Barron going right over the black spot. It might be argued that Waterford’s strategy of stripping out the forward line obliged players to try from distance, but the ease with which the Waterford backs were winning the ball and the lack of challenge from their Wexford counterparts meant Waterford had plenty of time to pick out the right option. Instead we had a litany of Hail Marys, with Austin Gleeson (natch) indulging in the kind of efforts that will have Austin Flynn turning in his future grave. The scoreboard inched gradually forward and by half-time the lead was seven points. Slightly below par with what you might expect with that wind, but way below par on the basis of how much of the possession we had won. If Wexford were half as cocky as they were when we first met them in the Championship way back in 2003, there was going to be trouble ahead.

The key point about the whole game was made by the man to our left around the 30th minute after another frustrating wide. “No disrespect,” he said, priming us for a comment was going to be deeply disrespectful, “but they [Wexford] are crap”. This salient point, allied to the dire display of second quarter decision-making, helps to explain the vituperative reaction over on to Waterford’s performance. They are crap and it was dire. The reaction is over the top though, not least because the second half performance wasn’t too bad. Having set themselves up for a fall, Waterford duly avoided the trip hazard with three points from play without reply from Shanahan (right from the throw-in), Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony in the first five minutes, thus pushing themselves past the par point and leaving Wexford needing a glut of birdies. Gleeson’s point in particular was a treat after a half where he had landed six wides, scarcely believable for a player of his talent. The man to our right repeatedly lamented our lack of goals in the first half, something with which I didn’t agree. The onus was on us keeping them from scoring goals,  and while there was one hairy moment early on in the second half when O’Keeffe inexplicably decided to cut across his own goal and was dispossessed, leaving us to exhale deeply when a Wexford forward flashed the follow-up wide, it was going to be a Herculean effort from them to find their way through this Tadhg de Búrca-marshalled defence.

In case you are thinking I am drinking the Kool-Aid for suggesting that Waterford’s second half performance wasn’t awful – how’s that for damning with faint praise? – you have to remember that Waterford would win the second half against a strong wind and despite playing into Wexford’s hands for a horrible ten-minute period. Having gone ten points clear Waterford proceeded to persist with puckouts down their right where Wexford were in the ascendancy. A splendid point from Liam Ryan starting out deep in his own half gave them a gap into which they could hope to drive a wedge. They slowly did so, raising the decibel level from their fans, and were aided by a ‘point’ which looked like a wide to me but was inexplicably not referred to Hawk Eye. Does that only work for wides and not points? Anyway, the problem for them was that it was happening way too slowly. They were not aided by a long period, at least three minutes, which ended with Eoin Moore being taken off after a nasty collision. The gap had been trimmed to five but they couldn’t be sure how much of that lost time would be added on at the end and when Brian O’Halloran, on as a sub and stymieing their efforts down our right, scored a fantastic solo effort the need for them to get a green flag became increasingly plain. Jake Dillon also weighed in with a score and (whisper it) McGrath now felt confident enough to haul Shane Bennett ashore with the gap at a mere seven points. I was still fretting about the possibility of a goal, but it’s unlikely any neutral was anticipating a rollicking finish.

This would be where I normally say we squeezed the life out of the game, but that implies there was much life to begin with. Wexford had a couple of long-range efforts for goals from frees which were efficiently snuffed out, and a couple of Mahony frees and another point from play for O’Halloran stretched the lead out to a healthy 11. They managed to get the gap down to ten by the end but had it gone on longer, and the additional five minutes was the very least it should have been, Waterford would have stretched their lead further despite being against the wind. It’s entirely possible that the wind was a buffer against the more adrenaline-fuelled errors in the first half, although it didn’t work out that way against Tipp and it’s not a strategy for the long run. The game duly petered out and we had earned the right to have yet another crack at the Cats in the semi-final.

That last line is a deliberate attempt to be downbeat after my usual Panglossian meanderings. 5-31 and all that. This was not a good performance. We had the boot to their throat in that second quarter and failed to apply it. Still, what would have represented a good margin of victory? Ten points would been eagerly taken before the game, and the way the game panned out it was still only at the bottom of what should have happened rather than being a hatful of points short of respectability. The worry is whether any lessons have been learned from it. There will be at least one change for Kilkenny. It’s hard to see how Darragh Fives can go off inside the first 20 minutes and recover the necessary fitness, so Conor Gleeson is sure to start. Other than that though, is there any sign that Derek McGrath and his backroom team are willing to give new players the chance to make their mark? Brian O’Halloran would surely be entitled to go into meltdown if he misses out. Michael Walsh’s brace in this game only shows how little impact he makes on the scoreboard the rest of the time. Is his position truly bulletproof? We’ve been on the road of The System for two years now and it is reasonable to question whether it is a dead end. Eddie Brennan is surely wrong about everything. Sorry, Eddie Brennan is surely wrong that you will never win an All-Ireland playing it. No team has been less inclined to ‘play off instinct’ than Kilkenny and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. There has to be some flexibility though. If you are going to have a system, it has to acknowledge that one size is not going to fit all. The broadsword worked fine in this case. The rapier would be nice when the occasion demanded it.

As we look forward to the Under-21’s playing host to Tipperary in the Munster final on Wednesday, let’s end with a cheerful thought. If Wexford were bad, how must they be feeling right now down Leeside?

A long time in politics

Back in 2000 we all went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We were undefeated up that the point while Laois, If memory serves me correct, had not won a match themselves. This was reflected in the crowd as Waterford fans outnumbered the Laois fans by about ten-to-one. What was probably more impactful on the attendance was the Laois Under-21 footballers playing Meath the same day. They lost. It was not a good day for them, although it was as good as our year got as we lost the next day out against Tipp, flopped badly in the National League semi-final to Galway, then went out with a whimper in the Munster championship.

You could understand the eagerness to flock to the Under-21 banner, what with the All-Ireland Minor champions of 1996 and 1997 coming of age. Things are not quite as skewed in Waterford, but the result last weekend was an almighty wake-up call regarding our progress. I don’t feel silly for thinking we were heading towards the ultimate glory in the next few years, or even this year. If we carried on in the manner we were going, it was inevitable. Alas, the beating we took in Limerick is a huge setback. Even if one assumes that Waterford are a lot better than that, and we should still be favourites for the next game against Wexford, Kilkenny looks like a mountain we are still not equipped to climb. Then there is the small matter of Tipperary. I had assumed, and this is the part that makes me feel silly, that they had not made the progress we had made in the last 12 months. Talk about making an ass out of u and me. Okay, just me then. They’ve clearly bulked up a lot since Galway took them out in 2015 and they will be bracing themselves for a collision with Kilkenny on the first Sunday in September.

That was the reality into which we faced on Monday morning, but in 60 wonderful minutes on Wednesday the Under-21’s shaped a new reality. I’m sure there have been occasions on the past where I have cheered for Tipperary – all of them probably against Kilkenny – but never with such gusto as I did on Thursday. Limerick have a bit of a hex over us at underage, with four straight wins at Minor level, and we could do without talk of them getting vengeance for the controversial Hawk Eye incident that directly contributed to them missing out on having another go at us in the 2013 All-Ireland final. All of this pales into insignificance though at the prospect of an evening of hoopla up at the old Sports Field.

This has the potential to be the biggest Waterford game ever staged in Walsh Park. Dungarvan has a storied history with three All-Ireland hurling finals staged there in the early 20th century. (I think it’s telling that when coming up with a convenient neutral venue for Cork to play Kilkenny and London in those three finals, Waterford city seems not to have been taken into account. A garrison town thing? But I digress . . . ) No Senior Munster final has ever been played in the city, and while there have been eight All-Ireland Under-21 finals played there, it’s only natural that none of them have involved Waterford, and it wasn’t until the mid-00’s that all Under-21 matches were played on a home-and-away basis. The first Munster Under-21 final was played in Walsh Park and the 23-point trimming we took to Tipperary was evidence of how the apparatus that had kept Waterford a force to be reckoned with in the previous quarter-century was beginning to fall apart – beating Galway in the semi-final was practically a bye in those days. We played Cork in the final in 2007 and got beaten out the gate. 2009 gave a glimpse of what might have been in Fraher against Clare. They won a thriller and went on to dominate the grade ever since. Could this be our time? Scramble for tickets, traffic jams, packed venue, crowd dominated by Waterford fans, a team in their prime, a shot at a little vengeance of our own . . . it’s going to be epic.

Waterford 0-18 (18) Kilkenny 1-21 (24)

Waterford v Kilkenny 9 August 2015 Cover

As the carnage that was Australia’s first innings in the recent Ashes Test at Trent Bridge came to its conclusion, a tweet from Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph – wait, come back! He calls that city on the banks of the Foyle by the proper name! – did the rounds:

Armed with such knowledge, I decided it might be an idea to wait until after the second All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway before posting my thought on our game against Kilkenny.

That’s my story as to why it’s so late and I’m sticking by it.

The first thing to note about the respective games is the wisdom of crowds. I waited until Saturday evening before buying my tickets in SuperValu and the chap there was all apologetic about the quality of the tickets. I was not all bothered – where are these awful seats in Croke Park? – and I was quite pleased at the thought that this might be approaching a sell-out. Arriving in Dublin, it was even more encouraging to encounter traffic jams just past Kilcullen and see signs advising us to avoid the Red Cow park-and-ride. This was going to be a blockbuster! So a crowd of 41,122 was rather disappointing and the contrast with the 58,495 punters at the second semi-final was stark. We did outnumber the Kilkenny attendance but that only went to show how they were confidently keeping their powder dry for a bigger battle. The supporters of Tipperary and Galway obviously felt their game was a toss-up and when even the notoriously travel-shy Tribesmen (for hurling anyway, the big ball game being the pursuit of choice on Corribside) are turning out in such numbers in the aftermath of the trashing they handed out to Cork, you knew something big was in the offing.

And what of The System? Everything was building up to this, and if the measure of its effectiveness was the ability to end a run of seven straight defeats against Kilkenny then – spoiler alert! – it was found wanting. That was certainly how I felt after our game, but after watching Séamus Callanan make hay against Galway, I’m not so sure. The sweeper meant there was no such cutting loose from him against us, and while in practical terms that only amounted to four points (3-16 v 0-21) a more potent attack such as Galway possess could have run away from Tipperary had the sweeper been deployed. If that sounds a little dismissive of Galway again, rest assured that it is not. It took some cojones to recover from the sledgehammer blows of those goals, and it is a compliment to their performance that they were able to overcome the tactical deficit and come out on top.

At the end of the first half of our game it looked like the system was doing just fine. Our first score, a point from Maurice Shanahan, contained an ever-so-slight hint of a goal chance and while we were ridiculously lucky not to concede a goal shortly afterwards when a few ricochets avoided trickling over the line by hitting the unaware Shane Fives on the heel, there were bodies back there and the harassment of forwards that has characterised so much of our play this year was much in evidence. On the flip side, all that space that Shanahan enjoyed for that first score demonstrated how much space there was in the Kilkenny 45 because, well, only a couple of our players were there. One mazy run by Michael Walsh ran out of steam because there was no one to whom to pass the ball. Austin Gleeson weighed in with his seemingly obligatory score from a sideline, and we were going to need more like that if we were to prosper.

It was telling that by the 15th minute there had been only three scores apiece. There was never any danger of anyone cutting loose in the style of Callanan so the first goal was always going to be a proper statement and when a double turn by a Kilkenny player – I really thought those were the kind of thing referees frowned upon in their hopeless quest to spot overcarrying – ended with a ball in to TJ Reid to score a simple goal, you worried it would be a game-changer. With what looked like a one man full-forward line, we were not going to trouble the Kilkenny goal with much. A long-range point from play by Shanahan and a free from him from way out after a stirring catch from Gleeson showed that we had set out a plan to win from the half-back line. When you get in the trenches like that though you are as likely to give away frees as win them and Reid kept things ticking over for them from the place balls. Keep it tight, take your chances. That’s all we could hope for and when Jake Dillon won a cheap free to trim the lead to two and Glesson followed upto make it a one-point game with only three minutes left in the half, you could see the spirits lift around the Waterford crowd. The half ended with flurry of points, Shane Bennett’s point after benefitting from yet more devil-may-care surging from defence from Gleeson being sandwiched by two frees for Kilkenny, one a careless trip from behind and the other a blatant professional foul right on the stroke of half-time to keep the gap at two.

The hope was there, it really was. Keep it tight, take your chances. If we were two points adrift with a minute to go, who knows? There was moment for some levity for a Tramore man like myself as the announcer mention the presence on the children’s half-time game of someone from “Fenor NS, Tramore”. Them’s fighting words in the Big Apple Pip. But we’d all be in it together come the first Sunday in September, right?

Alas, no. Midway through the first half Jamie Barron (I think it was) was penalised as he cut across a Kilkenny player as they chased a loose ball. I was instantly annoyed by this and the man beside me, who I got the feeling was not from Waterford but cheering for them in the company of his Déise wife, gave me a gentle smile and opined that it was indeed a free. I sheepishly admitted that he was right but I explained that a season of seeing Waterford players consistently emerge with the ball in those kind of situations had made me feel like they would always win them and some manner of skulduggery must have been afoot. It’s all very well saying we needed to keep it tight, but it’s hard to do when the opposition are so much more robust than you are. A combination of physical conditions and the elixir that is Brian Cody means some of these Kilkenny lads are hewn from granite and as the metres covered and hits taken piled up, it began to tell.

Even taking all that after-the-fact comment into account, the game was nearly up moments in to the second half as Walter Walsh found himself in acres of space but fired his shot across the bows of Stephen O’Keeffe’s goal. Kilkenny tacked on two scores practically from the next two puckouts, and while a cheap free for Shanahan and a well-worked score down the line from Tadhg de Búrca to Kevin Moran kept the gap at two the cracks were beginning to appear. Barry Coughlan had time to clear after de Búrca engaged in his normal mopping-up operation only to hit it straight to a Kilkenny forward who lashed it over, and when even de Búrca couldn’t engage in his normal moping-up operation, finding himself stranded with no support and giving up the free, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing.

We knew that to win this everything had to go right, but how can you get it right when they are in your face so often and showing they had so much more water in the well from which to draw? There was a sniff of a goal chance for Colin Dunford as he cut across the face of the Kilkenny full-back line, and you might wonder whether recent travails in the shooting department made him reluctant to take it on as he took his point. The neutral-ish chap to my left certainly thought this was a chance spurned. Given the iron will so repeatedly demonstrated by Kilkenny under Cody, the game was curiously ragged and when Richie Hogan hit a wide from out near the 45 that he would literally, in the truest sense of the term, have expected him to put over with his eyes closed, you could see a little vulnerability there, if only we could take it. Galway will certainly be hoping they saw exactly that.

We were out on our feet already though. It was painful watching Jake Dillon to wring some more out of his linen, and a push on the back from Austin Gleeson showed tired minds as well as limbs. Most of Waterford’s efforts were hit-and-hope balls into the mix. You wanted to scream at them to move the ball in the manner in which they had being doing in previous games, but the flesh was weak. Another half-chance for a goal from Dunford led to a point and kept the gap at three and is probably the point at which ingénues like my wife and her family/friends would be able to tell me afterwards that we had gone soooo close, but from where I was sitting it would need a red card or a fluky goal to keep us in touch. Instead we got a couple of nervous/exhausted flails from Jamie Barron on which Kilkenny pounced to swiftly stretch the lead back to five.

I’m not saying Waterford gave up. They tried, Lord did they try. Austin Gleeson sent off over a tremendous solo effort from way out and they were still capable of putting up one of those splendid phalanxes across the goal which has served them so well this year. It all felt like it was from memory though, and the gaps appeared again to the extent that Ger Aylward only had to round Stephen O’Keeffe to put the game to bed. He went around him and incredibly somehow put it wide at the near post. It was an appalling miss, followed by two more desperate wides from play for them. One of them was from Richie Hogan and it’s hard to believe he has hit two as bad as as he hit in this game in an entire year in his career before now. Dunford, so effervescent in the third quarter, was now back into the business of wides and Kilkenny were content to play scrappy, burning through a couple of minutes with throw balls and relying on Hogan not being completely off his game with a couple of points from play, both far more difficult than those he had missed. The second saw him leave two Waterford players in his wake. A depressing sight.

As the team who served so much classic fare in the Noughties with our freewheeling style of hurling, I’ll say that I don’t miss it that much, even after watching the thrill-a-minute stuff of the second semi-final a week later. Those games where the lead see-saws constantly and the spoils go to those who happen to be leading when the ref blows the final whistle are wonderful for the neutral but ghastly for those involved, even when you win. Then again, this was pretty ghastly fare at the other end of the spectrum, the only consolation being that it could have been much worse as Kilkenny failed to get our jugular. A few more bodies went into the forwards to try and get those goals but they never looked like coming. About as much satisfaction as we got was seeing sub John Power stick his arse into Stephen O’Keeffe as he came to clear a ball. Hey, at least we didn’t resort to that kind of nonsense in defeat, right?

After the game, everyone I spoke to seemed profoundly depressed. My father thought it was the worst effort at getting over the semi-final hump he had seen from Waterford. On the Luas I encountered a former work colleague, the type who works diligently for his club and attends loadsa games, so for as robust and knowledgable a supporter as him to be so maudlin was a sign that this had not been a good day at the office. Looking back on it, it wasn’t great. The incoherence of my writing above about the second half mostly reflects the incoherence of my writing, but it was a disjointed display from Waterford. Shorn of so many of the members of the hurling pantheon who have graced their team over the last 15 years, Kilkenny are not the force of old. Galway will have seen the sloppiness of their overall display and will be confident they can take on the lessons of the Tipperary game and apply them in the final. Would we be able to do the same if we got a second bite of the cherry? I don’t think we would. They horsed us out of it in the end, and no amount of systemising would have been won that game.

Remember where you read that slogan first.

I refuse to be downbeat though. At the end of last year I was worried we might be overtaken by Laois. Now, we’re meant to be despondent because we couldn’t overtake Kilkenny? The gap between where we were and where we are is gargantuan, and we even have some silverware  to prove it. We weren’t close to the ultimate prize, but I still think it was a year worthy of a cigar.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-3, 0-1 s/l), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Darragh Fives, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane Bennett (0-1; Stephen Bennett), Jake Dillon (Patrick Curran), Maurice Shanahan (0-9, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Michael Walsh, Colin Dunford (0-4)

Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast, Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley (0-1), Michael Fennelly (0-1), Conor Fogarty, Walter Walsh (John Power), Richie Hogan (0-5), TJ Reid (1-9, 0-7f), Ger Aylward (0-4), Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin (0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-10 (10) Kilkenny 1-9 (12)

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Waterford 2-21 (27) Dublin 1-19 (22)

Dublin 2015 cover

A number of years ago, when blogging was young and I threw every thought regarding Waterford GAA online, I worked out that Waterford always have to move terraces in Thurles. Cork and Tipperary always get the Town End and Killinan End respectively whoever they play. Limerick get the Town End when they play Clare or Waterford. Clare get the Killinan End when they play Limerick or Waterford. This means Waterford have to move for everyone else. Have I got a chip on my shoulder over this? You bet I do, and it got some extra vinegar when I went to get tickets from SuperValu and was told at the checkout that Waterford had been ‘allocated’ the Town End. Seriously? Share a terrace with a load of Langers who would be just waiting to put the boot in were we to fail? It was especially galling given the odds were always going to be that the combined Cork terrace attendance, Confederate flags and all, would outnumber the attendance of the other three terrace goers combined. I pompously puffed out my chest and explained that I did not want to share a terrace with Cork people. I expected the woman, hailing as she does from Eastern Europe, to greet this with indifference. Instead she looked at me like I was mad. But when we arrived, my suspicions proved to be correct as the Town End looked well populated with red and white while the Killinan End had oodles of space. In your face, Polack! Or whatever you are.

Enough of the unreasoned bitterness – there’ll be plenty of the reasoned bitterness to go around. Dublin opened the scoring with the wind at their backs, but Waterford responded quickly with Shane Bennett drawing a free from which Maurice Shanahan scored. Shanahan got our first from play then Colin Dunford put it over after Waterford had harrassed the Dublin defence into coughing up possession. This was what we had come to see, although the lack of a sweeper was curious. On the way up we had discussed whether this would be a good game to go 15 v 15, and it looked like Derek McGrath and co had overheard us. This made the game ridiculously open, and Dublin nearly capitalised when a ball over the top allowed them in for a goal chance, and it ended with a score for them anyway. After a solid start it looked as if Waterford were almost overwhelmed by the luxury of the ‘extra’ man up front, and an overcomplicated move saw a few opportunities for a point spurned and Shanahan shoot lamely at Gary Maguire in the Dublin goal. A hospital ball from Dunford led to Shanahan giving away a free and Dublin were able to use the wind to send it over from a long way out.

A point from a 65, an award that looked well dodge from where I was standing having looked to have come off Bennett, kept the scoreboard ticking over for Waterford, but Dublin reacted quickly with excellent points from distance Niall McMorrow and Ryan O’Dwyer. Shanahan managed another free while Dublin looked more efficient from play, David O’Callaghan getting a good score at one end while Bennett tried a Hail Mary effort in the corner from the other end. Austin Gleeson, who had been relatively anonymous further up the field thus far, showed him how it was done by bursting onto a loose ball and popping it over while a Dublin wide at the other end reassured us that we didn’t have a monopoly on poor efforts. Dunford also managed to reassure us with a fine effort after a pinpoint pass from Philip Mahony from inside his own half, showing the sense to make space for the point rather than trying to shoot at the first sniff of the posts. Another Shanahan free was followed by another Dublin wide, although the puckout was well gathered on the run by Danny Sutcliffe and fired back over the bar. Disappointing, but it was good play and these things are bound to happen when you are playing it as loose as both teams were doing.

A free for overcarrying, which again looked well dodge, stopped Liam Rushe in his tracks – his day wasn’t about to get any better – to give Shanahan another simple free, and it was Shanahan again who gathered a puckout and dropped a ball in which was cleared by Dublin under pressure from, um, Austin Gleeson. Him popping up there really showed how confused Waterford’s strategy was, while Dublin’s play was far more clean and focused. A free from distance and an excellent point from a narrow angle drew Dublin level again while even someone as reliable as Kevin Moran was spurning scoreable chances, this time after Jamie Barron had once again wriggled his way out of seemingly impossibly tight spot. The frustration mounted for Waterford as a series of attempts to get through the Dublin half-back line, any of which might have ended in a free, instead culminated in a free out for Dublin when it looked like the whistle had only been blown to allow treatment for Sutcliffe. The free did allow de Búrca to strut his stuff though with a salmon-like catch and a cat-like clearance and from the attack Bennett had a half-chance which was cleared but only as far as Dunford to tee up Moran and get Waterford back in front.

This was all a bit of throwback, the Stravinksy of the Nineties and Noughties rather than the (occasionally) Bach of recent years. You need some impressive performers to pull off such a show though, and watching Gleeson run the ball out over the sideline and engage in the kind of tantrum that gets players sent off, you appreciated he is no Fergal Hartley. Ryan O’Dwyer levelled matters again after gathering the resulting sideline, and their slow and steady policy looked at that stage like it might be the right one. Another fortunate 65, this time after Bennett had hit another tame strike on goal and the umpire erroneously concluded the ball had gone out over the endline from Maguire’s looping save, put us back in front. He wasn’t having much luck and nor was Liam Rushe as he was penalised for clinging on to Michael Walsh’s hurley. It was the correct decision but you can understand a player getting exasperated by being penalished in such a hurly-burly moment. When Dunford did one of those trademark gallops down the wing a three-point lead looked possible. Alas, a trademark wide followed. It wasn’t the worst wide of the day but it looked costly as Dublin suddenly went nap. Clever play from Mark Schutte drew a foul for an easy free, then Sutcliffe drew Dublin level with a great score from distance. Waterford could feel aggrieved once again as the half ticked towards the end of injury time when another whistle for what looked like treatment, this time to Jake Dillon after a collision, resulted in a free to Dublin and they worked the ball to Sutcliffe who once again struck it cleanly between the posts to give Dublin the lead at the break.

What was going on? This had been as flat a half as we had produced all year. The performance reeked of burnout, and I couldn’t help but ponder sourly, in so far as I could ponder at all given the racket pounding out of the PA system during the break, on the assurances given to me that the aim for the panel had been to peak in September.

Oh me of little faith. A storming run from Moran led to a point in the opening thirty seconds, then a moment of such exquisiteness followed that you almost wished you were watching the telly to appreciate it properly as Shanahan worked space on the wing before lobbing it into Bennett in acres of space near the goal. It looked in real time like he mis-hit the ball which accounted for the manner in which the ball scythed off the bas of the hurley, but in truth it was only a minor loss of control, more than made up for by a half-volley that tore past Maguire into the back of the net.

Note to self: next time, just look at the big screen.

The feeling of elation at this flying start to the second half events was tempered by a foolish piece of play from Darragh Fives, hitting a sideline ball back towards the goalie and only succeeding in knocking it out for a Dublin sideline closer to our goal. Thankfully they failed to take advantage with a sloppy effort from McMorrow and when Gleeson hammered over a fantastic point straight from the puckout you knew we were completely in the driving seat. Mark Schutte got one back but he was made work bloody hard for it in complete contrast to the first half funk.

Waterford kept the hammer down right through the opening ten minutes as Gleeson won a free straight from the puckout to allow Shanahan to score then Walsh pounced on a loose Dublin puckout and picked out Shahanan to stretch the lead to five. Liam Rushe was a little unlucky to concede a free for overcarrying when it could have gone the other way which led to an eye-bulging roar into his face from Shanahan, and while he couldn’t take advantage from the free, a wide from Paul Ryan after Dublin had been harried all along the Waterford 45 typified the new dispensation. Yep, The System was back. You told me The System was immortal! O green-life-conquering System!

Everything was going our way now, with Shane Bennett pulling a delightful pirouette to draw a foul for an easy free while a mis-hit sideline ball fell to Gleeson to move the lead out to seven with the game moving towards the final quarter. You felt one sharp push from Waterford and we’d run away from them and it was telling that Dublin were already looking for goals. The thing about looking for goals though is that you only get them when you do that and an excellent ball from Joey Boland into the corner allowed Dublin to unlock the previously watertight defence as Mark Schutte fired it home from close range off Stephen O’Keeffe’s hurley.

It was equally telling that this didn’t fill me with despair. I could probably casually invoke The System again, but I was also plain confident that Waterford would hold their nerve. A few balls into the danger zone were confidently dealt with by Darragh Fives and Tadgh de Búrca respectively and when a siege-lifting run from Barron ended in a sideline ball, there was Gleeson to fire it over the bar. An O’Callaghan point kept Dublin in touch but Waterford were the ones being cute now with Curran putting the head down to draw an easy free.

One last push, that’s what was needed, and Bennett nearly got it when he ghosted in behind the defence but couldn’t kick the ball to the net. A professional foul kept Dublin to a point from a free but they were spending very little time down our end of the field and the sand was fizzing into the bottom of the timer. They were having to commit more men forward and the last push came courtesy of a marvellous soccer-style counter attack, the ball moved through hands quickly from the back line to Shanahan to drill the ball low into the net.

There was no way Dublin were going to get seven points in the last three or four minutes, a bit of time wasting on Shanahan’s part as he got in Liam Rushe’s face again helping matters, as did the ref by putting a throw ball on our 21 into space rather than into any players who could do something with it. O’Callaghan did show some ability to thread himself tbrougj the eye of the needle and the subsequent free was obviously a source of concern but it was going to be some effort to get past half the Waterford team on the line and it was deflected out for a 65. This duly went over the bar but the futlity of it all was shown by the announcement of “at least one minute” of added time when the one minute had already elapsed.

You may have noted that I’ve made note of the instances of Maurice Shanahan engaging in a set-to with Liam Rushe up to now. I’ve broken with my normal habit of trying to write reports from my contemporaneous notes, riddled as they would be with errors, and watched the game through on Sky+ to see just how often he was acting the maggot. This is because it has been a recurring theme on the internet that he had stepped over a line that somehow justified What Happened Next. I think the reason for this wave of comment is a tweet from Eddie Brennan which is a masterclass in weasely GAA speak where a pundit attributes a characteristic in general to an incident (#sportsmanship) then denies black is white when people ask him to substantiate the particulars of the incident (“don’t twist my words”). I’ve counted two instances of Shanahan getting in Rushe’s personal space before What Happened Next, which was an off-the-ball coming together that culminated in Rushe slapping Shanahan across the head with his hurley. Straight red card, no question, although it was deeply alarming that a Waterford player might do something stupid and get a ban for their troubles. Thankfully that was as bad as it got, and the final whistle came immediately afterwards.

The manner in which Waterford hit the afterburners once the second half started and the sweeper system was back in place is a source of optimism as we prepare to head back to Croke Park for the first time in fourteen Championship matches. Back in 2008, I had wondered whether Davy Fitz had used the games against Offaly and Wexford, games where we clearly overmatched them both, to experiment with their setup, e.g. Ken McGrath playing at full-back. I’m doubtful whether Derek McGrath was engaging in such a rope-a-dope strategy here against Dublin, a team much closer to our level than Offaly and Wexford were to the 2008 team. Still, he must have been wondering whether reverting to a more orthodox strategy would have yielded dividends against Tipperary. I think he has his answer. There can be few doubts now that going 15 v 15 against Kilkenny is going to be a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Kilkenny will be red-hot favourites, but at least we are going in with a wild card ready to be played rather than just hoping we will be dealt four aces. And whatever happens, we have the comfort of knowing that, for the first time since the mid Noughties, we are not a team raging against the dying of the light.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors (Stephen Daniels), Darragh Fives, Tadgh de Búrca, Philip Mahony, Austin Gleeson (0-4, 0-1 s/l; Eddie Barrett), Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran (0-2), Shane Bennett (1-0; Stephen Bennett), Michael Walsh, Maurice Shanahan (1-12, 0-8f, 0-2 65), Jake Dillon (0-1; Tom Devine), Colin Dunford (0-2; Patrick Curran)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Shane Barrett (Peter Kelly), Cian O’Callaghan, Paul Schutte; Chris Crummey (0-1), Liam Rushe, Joey Boland, John McCaffrey, Niall McMorrow (0-1; Cian Boland), Paul Ryan (0-5f ; David Treacy, 0-2, 0-1 65), Danny Sutcliffe (0-3; Oisín O’Rourke), Ryan O’Dwyer (0-2), David O’Callaghan (0-3), Conal Keaney (Eamon Dillon), Mark Schutte (1-2)

HT: Waterford 0-12 Dublin 0-13

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

St Mary’s New Ross, All-Ireland Champions 2008

Yesterday I got to see a camogie match for the first time ever as my wife’s school, St Mary’s (or ‘the Mercy’ as they universally refer to it) took on St MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, from Antrim in the All-Ireland Junior Colleges C final at Naomh Peregrines in Blanchardstown. The Mercy emerged victorious on a scoreline of 3-4 (13) to 2-2 (8). No photos of this event are available on this site for fear of being accused of being a paediatrician. Well done to all concerned.

Waterford 3-16 (25) Cork 3-16 (25)

The first thing that should be said is that we can’t blame the system. All the rules were agree before the start, all the counties agreed to be bound by those rules, and just because Waterford – long-suffering, always entertaining Waterford – were knocked out after only losing once while the People’s Republic of Cork (to rhyme with People’s Republic of China or the People’s Republic of Korea) sailed blissfully on having lost twice, doesn’t mean we have anything to complain about. After all, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same . . .

(Record needle slips)

Oh. Right. That was the start to this report that I was contemplating two minutes before the end of normal time as Waterford lay four points adrift of Cork and the Langers were collectively dancing a jig around Croke Park, making mental notes to book Barry’s Hotel for the first Sunday in September.

I, for one, had given up the ghost. When my father pointed out in that infuriatingly reasonable manner of his that there was still time to save it, I dismissed it on the basis that white and blue heads were dropping all over the pitch. After all, they sure as hell were dropping in the stands. As one fella put it on the train after the game, “the glasses had gone into the case”. And the worst part of it was that it had briefly looked like this was going to be the day that Waterford cut loose and tore a top team a new arsehole. We would have to settle for seeing the team show the courage of lions on the Croke Park turf.

“Settle” for that. Yep, times have changed.

Arrival at Croke Park always brings to mind the same contrasting thoughts.

Croke Park, Cork, July 2007

As the colossus rose into the north Dublin sky, the great Kevin Cashman was quite unequivocal, labelling it “Corporate Park “, a ground that could keep out “neither the rain nor the shysters”. And while his preferred solution – a 250,000 capacity ground in Thurles built by meitheal – shows his particular location on the lunatic fringe, it isn’t as great as some people would have it. The Hill remains a strange anomaly, like a supermodel appearing in public missing her two front teeth. Since I was last here at Croker, I have read the thoughts of one contributor to the Northern Ireland soccer website, Our Wee Country, where he / she noted the strangely exposed nature of the structure. Step out for a hotdog at half-time and you’ll wonder when they’ll get around to finishing the rest of the ground.

These negative waves are more than swamped by two positive thoughts about Croke Park, one objective, one subjective. The objective plus point for the ground its stupendous size, a point acknowledged by the aforementioned OWC contributor. It just goes on and on, and personal experience of the Millennium Stadium and the Nou Camp has been coloured by the fact that it seems you could drop either  of them into Croke Park and not scrape the hoardings. The subjective reason for admiring Croke Park is that it belongs to everyone in the GAA – sez he cheekily, as if merely going to matches makes you part of the GAA – and its very existence is a towering tribute to the centrality of the GAA in Irish life, especially now that the FAI and the IRFU have had to sully themselves by genuflecting at the altar of all things culchie. It gives one a warm glow, just thinking about it.

Speaking of warm glows, watching the Banner slink out of the championship was quite pleasing. Bitter and small minded? Yes, but you’ll use anything against the denizens of a county who still wind Waterford up over the shortage of All-Ireland’s despite having won nothing, not even a Munster intermediate title, for the best part of a decade. You need to hoard even the puniest of nuts against the hard hibernation of another Waterford quarter-final exit.

Lineup, Cork, July 2007

Team, Cork, July 2007

Parade, Cork, July 2007

Not that that seemed likely in the early exchanges of the Cork match, as Waterford didn’t so much hit the ground running as just grazing it before taking flight. Stephen Molumphy, in the first of three noteworthy cameos, set the ball rolling with a modest effort at the posts that somehow apologetically squirmed over – ah, no attempts to prevent the point from Donal Óg this time. Points were swapped to leave Waterford 0-4 to 0-3 ahead when Big Dan decided that Cork had been flattered by those opening exchanges. Racing onto the high ball, he shrugged off the attentions of the defenders and smacked a pinpoint shot off the far post. From my vantage point high up in the Cusack it looked like to have gone wide as it nestled in the side of the net rather than pinging back off the rigging. But the green flag went up and that was all that mattered. A trademark improbable over-the-shoulder point from John Mullane left Waterford five points up midway through the first half and I don’t mind admitting that I was harbouring thoughts of Waterford running away from Cork, so swaggering was this opening quarter.

Even at the time, you had to admire the manner in which Cork steadied the ship. It was as if their half back line decided they’d fannied around for long enough and stomped all over their opposite Waterford numbers, with Tom Kenny and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín scoring heroic solo points, and John Gardiner and Ronan Curran weighed in to provide oceans of possession for the forwards to nibble away at the lead. By half time we were relieved to be level, our only score coming courtesy of a dodgy looking 65 from Ken McGrath.

Was this the real Cork, we pondered at half time, fingernails being chewed past the cuticle down to the knuckle? Ó hAilpín in particular had been magnificent, and there was plenty to suggest that Cusack and The Pebble had strengthened the spine of the Rebels. Yet it took barely thirty seconds of the second half for the last part of that equation to be disproven. Molumphy, in the second of his hat-trick of noteworthy cameos, found himself in space on the 45. Some goon in the stand (ahem) yelled “take yer point!” but the young man making his Croke Park debut spotted Paul Flynn loitering with intent and The Pebble not to be seen. The handpass found Flynn who pulled back the arms that, I’m reliably informed, play off a two handicap, and scorched the sliothar past Cusack in the goal with the glacial presence of O’Sullivan nowhere to be seen. So after twenty minutes of having had a hurling lesson, Waterford incredibly found themselves three points to the good.

Waterford had stretched the lead to four points before the game settled into a sickeningly familiar pattern, one of two steps forward followed by three steps back, a.k.a. a goal, all the time interspersed with wides that would quail the stoutest of hearts – to put things into context, Waterford would hit fourteen wides this day; in Thurles, they hit four.

The first knockdown came from the penalty spot. Kieran Murphy charged through the defence and was pulled down. It looked soft, and with the recent Langer habit of diving Waterford were entitled to grumble, but it still looked like a foul and that makes it a penalty. Neil Ronan succeeded where Ben O’Connor had failed all those weeks ago in the Munster championship, driving the ball high past Clinton Hennessy, and Cork were level. Waterford regained the lead, with one spectacular point from way out under the Cusack Stand being a real highlight from Dan Shanahan, but the second knockdown gave Cork the lead, Murphy getting clean through on goal an cleverly eliminating the possibility of a hook by keeping the hurley between him and the goal and batting the ball, Federer-style, past the advancing goalie. Cork now led for the first time since early in the Munster semi-final.

There was blood in the water. The game was still even, and Waterford still played like they believed it could not not be their day, especially Ken McGrath. But Ó hAilpín continued to inspire, and it was perhaps that second quarter of the match that spoke loudest when Kevin Hartnett got into position and sent a shot towards goal. Hennessy saved well but could only fling himself in true Hollywood no-oo-oo-oooo style towards the rebound as Neil Ronan pounced and buried the loose ball to the net. Perhaps if Clinton had attempted to deliberately lie on the ball . . . With sub Hartnett adding the insurance score, the glasses were in the case and Cork were mentally booking hotels in de fake capital for the first Sunday in September.

Time for Molumphy’s third and most important noteworthy cameo. Ghosting into the edge of the small square as Paul Flynn locked-and-loaded about thirty metres out, he watched as the howitzer was brilliantly saved by Cusack, then brilliantly batted the airborne projectile to the gaping net. A noteworthy cameo, if ever there was one.

Great, I thought. The feckers are toying with me, offering me another one point heartbreaker and a winter of sneers from our betters in Langerland, a venomous sentiment confirmed as Ken drifted a long range free wide just as Brian Galvin signalled a puny one minute injury time.

But wait. McGrath the younger powered towards goal, getting his marker in such a tizzy that he was able to get around him and simultaneously lurch dramatically into the danger area. The debate would rage as to whether he should have taken the percentage point or go for broke, and it is not 20:20 hindsight on my part to say I roared for him to put it all on one roll of the die. As that great philosopher Eminem said:

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted – One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

To his eternal credit, Eoin McGrath went for it.

On his weak side, the shot only required a decent save from Cusack, which it got. Luckily for Cork, the ball somehow eluded Dan Shanahan who was standing mere metres away. Unluckily for Cork, it fell to Paul Flynn who had no choice but to pull first time for goal. Luckily for Cork, Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s fat arse (© Dan Shanahan) was in the way and provided a sizeable barrier to bypass. The ball deflected onto Cusack’s stick and seventy thousand-odd people gasped as everyone piled in on the line. Over to you, Mr Galvin

Free-in to Waterford. Having taken two chances for goal – not that Paul Flynn had a choice, he was just too close to too any Cork players to contemplate lifting the ball – Waterford spurned a presentable opportunity for Flynn to win it for good. However, let’s not poke the capricious hurling Gods too hard. Eoin Kelly knocked over the free, the ref called time and boos rained down from the Cork faithful on his head.

I’m not kidding when I say I was a bit bemused by this reaction. The first thing that should be said is that the decision was, on reflection, absolutely correct. Watch the footage. Donal Óg Cusack has clearly turned through 180º by the time Paul Flynn has arrived on the scene, all the while protecting the ball with his body. A textbook example of sitting on the ball. The consistency of the ref’s decision making is a red herring. They can complain about those he got wrong, but they can’t seriously think he should deserve praise for giving a wrong decision because he always gives ‘em wrong.

Even at the time, the decision reeked of correctness. Gerald McCarthy said in the immediate aftermath that “I couldn’t see it was free in”. What, it couldn’t possibly be a free in, not under any circumstances? Perhaps he based this on the unimpeachable reputation of Cusack for the integrity of the ball. Yeah, right. This is the man who can’t resist taking an extra six inches out of every puckout, a policy that cost them a point against Tipperary and ultimately left them playing the better of the south-eastern ‘ford’s. And, in the final analysis, the ref was right to allow context to dictate his decision. As he ran up to the schemozzle developing on the line, he can’t have known for certain what had transpired. It must have entered his head that if he gave a throw-in and that was the wrong decision – which it would have been – the uproar from Waterford would have been apocalyptic. Can you imagine Cork would be uttering the same platitudes had the roles been reversed and the decision had gone against them?

And so to the replay, scheduled to be the main feature on the day of an All-Ireland semi-final. The best message for Waterford is that there is room for improvement, while I think that that’s as good as it gets for Cork. I hope that, at least.

Draw, Cork, July 2007

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, James Murray (Brian Phelan, Tony Browne, Ken McGrath (0-2, 0-1f, 0-1 65), Aidan Kearney, Michael Walsh (capt), Eoin Kelly (0-4, 0-3f), Jack Kennedy (Eoin McGrath), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Stephen Molumphy (1-2), John Mullane (0-2), Dan Shanahan (1-3), Paul Flynn (1-2)

Cork: Donal Óg Cusack, Shane O’Neill, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Brian Murphy, John Gardiner (0-1), Ronan Curran, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín (0-2), Tom Kenny (0-1), Jerry O’Connor (0-1; Kevin Hartnett, 0-1), Ben O’Connor (0-3, 0-1f), Timmy McCarthy (Niall McCarthy; Conor Naughton), Pat Cronin, Neil Ronan (2-2, 1-0p), Joe Deane (capt, 0-5, 0-4f)

HT: Waterford 1-7 (10) Cork 0-10 (10)

Referee: Brian Galvin (Offaly)