Category Archives: Football

Football not-so-crazy

The footballers. I had high hopes for them this year and, alas, they have not been fulfilled. Maybe if they had been in contention for promotion I would have written a match report or taken a lot of photos of their game against Antrim last Sunday. Instead, I contented myself with watching the game and a series of lazy bullet points about the experience.

  • A-ha! You expected me to say that “if they had been in contention for promotion I would have stayed and watched them”. But I did stay and watch, so there. A blizzard of retweets on the Waterford GAA feed followed those who dared to leave, and it’s possible that the players were a bit deflated to see that. I’m not convinced though. They regularly play in front of a man and a dog, so the few hundred who did stay behind probably represented a bigger crowd than they are used to for a similar fixture. The players are, by definition, proper GAA men and they should be under no illusions. The 1,500 souls who turned out for the hurling game was in itself a relatively poor turnout. Had it been Kilkenny, you could have expected two to three times as many people, so the people who paid money for the first game are the committed few even before the football was thrown in. So let’s go easy on those who left. The kind of person who will sit for three-and-a-half hours to watch sport is a bit of a saddo and could do with the life that the people who left had to get back to.
  • The game was very good. My brother and I joked about how it was going to be difficult to watch the leaden pace of a football match after the high-octane extravaganza we had just seen. How wrong we were. It’s not just because the football game was a genuine competition compared to the turkey shoot that was the hurling. The football game was played in a good spirit and the shooting was of a high standard – I’m always impressed that anyone can get one of those cannonballs more than a few yards, and there were several top-notch scores with few awful misses. It was well worth staying for, which might better explain the frustration of those complaining about those who left. It would certainly make me more inclined to watch a football match in the future.
  • Despite the larger object, working out if it’s a score is trickier than it is in hurling. In the small ball game, the ball flies over the bar. In football, the shot will take all manner of apologetic wobbles as it heads towards the posts. I’m guessing it’s something that gets easier with experience. Like an lbw decision in cricket, you see enough of them to know that this one matches that one you saw before.
  • Has the blanket defence and/or “puke football” (ugh) changed the way football has been played, or has it always been this chess-like? I saw that in a non-pejorative sense, at times it was quite absorbing watching the game unfold. The game was effectively won and lost midway through the second half as Antrim reacted to a looser, more aggressive Waterford that came out after the break with a formation change of their own. Banks of Antrim players would move slowly up the field, picking their way through the holes and picking off the points. The game seemed to consist of the application of several gambits, and it was Antrim’s gambits which proved decisive in the end.
  • Of course, maybe it’s c) neither of these things. This was just one game. Watch more football before commenting, you insufferable windbag!
  • Whither Waterford? They are not whipping boys at this level. Despite my intimations that Antrim won it in the middle of the second half, Waterford could still have pinched their pocket with a late penalty when there were only three points in it, but Paul Whyte rolled the ball wide. Even then they had another chance but the ball went over the bar. To have a points difference of -8 after five games yet have only won one match seems statistically improbable, but that’s where Waterford stand. A lack of ruthlessness? Bad luck? Not good enough? The sample size is too small to tell, and the killer is that it might be all over before we ever find out. It all shows how hard it is to make progress. In the aftermath of another underage beatdown, I don’t envy the good folk of Waterford football the task which has been set for them.

The Invincibles

If memory serves me correct, back in 2008 there was a minor kerfuffle over the timing of Waterford’s clash with Antrim in Dungarvan. Antrim, not unreasonably, hoped the game would have an earlier throw-in so they could get back home at a cilivised hour. The GAA were having none of it. All matches started at 2.30pm on Sunday with exceptions granted only in extraordinary circumstances.

Whatever became of that edict? I ask, not because of the 12.45pm throw-in today (which makes perfect sense given the double header, on which more of anon), or because of a demand for consistency (ad hocery strikes me as being more in keeping with the nature of the Association than giving into the hobgoblins of small minds), but because it can be tricky to keep track of what is going on around you. How many people were unaware that Waterford played Offaly last weekend at 3pm on a Saturday, a start time with an oddly Lutheran feel to it? I know I was unaware that Offaly were playing Limerick last night, which meant it was a minor, if pleasant, surprise to find the Biffs Faithful had lowered the colours of Stab the Broken Treaty City.

It only makes a small difference to Waterford’s promotion prospects. Rather than needing to win both games, three points will now be enough. While I doubt that anyone goes out with the intention of drawing a hurling match, a small difference is better than none at all. And while I’m hesitant to say that any team ever succumbs to complacency in advance of a match – it was surely losing a man after only a couple of minutes that proved to be Limerick’s undoing rather than a smug belief that they were going to roll Offaly over – it’s no harm to be reminded that this game still needs to be won. Our last (only) loss at home to Antrim in the League was in 1985. If none of the current Waterford team are likely to remember that game, they should remember the abyss into which it proved to be the signpost.

Speaking of good records, an unbeaten one goes on the line at 2.30pm – mine watching the footballers in the League. Yes, I have never seen Waterford lose an NFL match. The proud record reads W0 D1 L0, a draw with Limerick in the late 90’s in Stradbally. Or was it the early 00’s? I was expecting better things from the Waterford footballers this year. The least they can do is give a dig out to such a stalwart follower today.

Seeking order amidst the peil-mell

When writing the last proper post for the proper website, I expressed a sickened frustration at the prospect of a lifetime – I’ve always got three-score-and-ten ahead of me, no matter how old I am – of being subjected to the trauma of constant updates on the fate of Waterford teams the length and breadth of the land. In retrospect this was a rather maudlin way of looking at it, unworthy of Modeligo and Cappoquin asterling performances in their respective Munster championships. The truth of the matter is that interest in a particular competition will ebb and flow according to the prospect of Waterford success. It’s a logarithmic progression, so when (for example) the Waterford ladies football team are a hot prospect at Senior level, interest in them rockets. Let their standards slip, even a little, and interest drops right back down again. This isn’t something that is peculiar to myself or Waterford folk. Stephanie Roche will be able to tell you all about the phenomenon as she hangs up her fancy frock and pulls back on a self-laundered shirt.

With that in mind, could interest in the Waterford footballers be about to rocket? While forlornly keeping tabs on Modeligo and Cappoquin’s ultimately unsuccessful tilt at All-ireland glory, what should happen but the footballers only go and beat Cork then win the McGrath Cup. I can hear the scoffing at the notion that winning the McGrath Cup or beating Cork on the way to it means anything in the wider scheme of things, and it’s fair to say it won’t mean much if it doesn’t translate into success at bigger dances. Still, we’ve met Cork many times since the last win over them in 1960. On many of those occasions it would have been a small-time fixture with Cork at one of their habitual low ebbs – the Rebels only seem to have two modes: steely-eyed assassins or in-fighting riddled rabble, with no points to be found in-between. Yet despite that, Cork won every one of those fixtures. So for Waterford to beat them then close out the competition with a win over the Sigerson Cup winners does indeed count for something.

Waterford football has always been an enigma. It’s not unfair to say that, in the course of my lifetime, we have been the worst county in the land. Yes, I know Kilkenny have been worse, but given their notorious scorched earth policy towards the big ball game, that’s not setting the bar very high. It’s not as if the raw materials for some manner of competitiveness are not present. Large swathes of the county are dominated by football, and it’s strange to contemplate that those people who are so committed to the game can’t get their act together to the point where they can give Clare, Limerick and Tipperary a goon a frequent basis. This is particularly true now the back door is in place. The prospect of being whaled upon by Kerry and Cork, even when the latter would be in-fighting riddled rabble, would have justifiably put off many a generation of Waterford football talent from making the necessary investment to compete at the highest level. Once the back door was introduced though, you would have expected a better showing. Even if progress through Munster only ever ended one way, you could then draw a fresh new challenge from up the country and have a reasonable expectation of beating any of the counties that tend to move between Divisions Three and Four of the National Football League. That’s not how it has worked out though. They gave Galway an awful fright a few years back in Salthill, and the high-profile scalping of London was noteworthy, giving us all a good chuckle at seeing it on Sky Sports News. Other than that though, the back door has proven to be just as barren as the provincial championship, and losing last year to Carlow, the Carlow beaten by 28 points in the Leinster championship , the Carlow undergoing much internal angst over the rise of hurling at the expense of football, suggested that Waterford football was going nowhere fast.

Could Tom McGlinchey be about to change all that? No, of course not. The infrastructure impediments that see underage teams thrown together at the last minute and the sense of inadequacy that plagues Waterford teams at all levels in all codes are not going to removed overnight. It doesn’t all have to change though to get better. Any improvement is better than none at all, and they might well have taken that first step in such a journey.

So many, many ways to feel miserable

It’s been a good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA, what with Modeligo and The Nire reaching their respective provincial finals, and Cappoquin winning theirs. It might not seem like much in the grander scheme of things but if the tweet I referenced last year was correct, i.e. that Ballysaggart’s three wins in the Munster championship were more than all previous entrants managed in the Junior competition’s entire history, then it’s definitely been a good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA. It’s an article of faith that the Intermediate and Junior competitions are far less competitive in Waterford than they would be in the larger counties, so any evidence of broadening the base of talent in the county is to be welcomed. As for the footballers, it’s always been a curious anomaly that a county with a robust infrastructure for the big ball game cannot even take on the best that Clare, Limerick and Tipperary have to offer with any confidence, let alone those hailing from Cork and Kerry. Add in a savage, if shameful, delight at The Nire taking the wind out of the sails of the supposed Invincibles of Cratloe, thus gaining a measure of revenge for their hurling win over Ballygunner, and it has been a very good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA.

I hope the fundamentals have changed. When Waterford teams of the past were going down like dominoes as soon as they crossed the Suir/Blackwater, it didn’t really matter because the first I’d know about it was reading a headline in the local papers or, if I was feeling particularly energetic, a single line in tiny font in the results section of the Monday national paper. In the days since Twitter went supernova (see top of post), it’s incredibly easy to keep tabs on the adventures of Waterford teams against mysterious rivals like Bruff, Ballylanders, Feohanagh-Castlemahon or Castlemartyr. Okay, not all rivals are that mysterious. Hammering away at the refresh button on my Twitter feed to see how The Nire were getting on against Cratloe was a surprisingly tense affair. It’s not The Nire I care about, it’s the Waterford team, and there are going to be six of the them at the various levels in each code to concern myself with. If this becomes habit-forming, and the fundamentals have not changed – the anomaly is the current run of competitiveness and we will soon see a reversion to the mean with frequent 20-point beatings for each of the respective county champions – then there’s going to be many a cold winter on Twitter ahead.

Here it comes, ready or not!

One of my enduring benign memories of Croke Park, benign because most of the memories from Jones’s Road are anything but, was of going to see Ireland play Australia in what I still think of as the Compromise Rules series in 2000. While Australia won handily enough it was an enjoyable day out, and a real treat to be in a crowd of 57,289 (says Wikipedia) who were all rooting for the same team. Before the game we had the equivalent fixture between Ireland and Scotland in hurling/shinty and when that finished the Jocks, replete with names like Fraser Colqouhoun and Alastair Campbell-McDonald that would have flagged what school they went to, took a lap of honour around the embryonic cathedral. It was impossible not to have a wry chuckle at the contrast with what the equivalent venue in Scotland must be like. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

Impossible, but how wrong-headed was such smugness. Quite apart from being a little bit rude, this weekend we’ll see what has built Croke Park and it has very little to do with hurling. Ian O’Riordan wrote an article in the 2009 Munster hurling final programme on the occasion of the 125th edition of the match where he noted that the GAA had two objectives when it was established: to revive 1) the Irish language, and 2) the ancient game of hurling. In those terms, the GAA has been a failure as both the teanga and the iománaíocht languish in ghettos. So it’s just as well that a lesser objective, that of tearing people away from the pernicious British sports of association football and rugby football that were beginning to put down roots, was so successful.

While researching the results archive, it struck me how the GAA once scrupulously maintained its calendar at inter-county level in such a way as to give everyone the chance to play both sports. Football and hurling never clashed during the League season. That’s no longer the case, and in truth it probably wasn’t ever that big a deal in a practical sense as proper dual stars were a rare beast. Still, the principle was there and an outsider might wonder why such respect was being accorded by the majority sport to that of the minority pursuit. This is especially true considering the scoffing that hurling supporters frequently come out with about the self-evident superiority of hurling in every sense – skill, excitement, drama, history, even skills with foot to ball after Nicky English’s goal in the drawn 1987 Munster final. Much as with the Irish language, it’s probably a reflection of the reluctance to abandon those early aspirations of the GAA that the football 80% (approx) of the association hasn’t told hurling to paddle yer own bloody canoe, you’ve got the equipment with which to do it.

We’ll see it large this weekend. The tsunami that is going to sweep out of the west upon Dublin is going to be epic. You might argue that mere numbers don’t matter, that the excitement will be a question of never mind the quality, feel the width. But this is going to be a truly national experience. Only the most arch of anti-GAA bigots could fail to be intrigued by what is going on, two teams who have cleared multiple difficult hurdles to find themselves 70 minutes away from fulfilling the dreams of generations of their fellow county men and women – or alternately crushing them once again. It’s going to be great, and despite being a hurling man first and foremost, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

Also sprach Zarathustra

There are two me’s when it comes to the GAA. The online me, the one that fancies himself as the descendant of Déiseach and who has been carrying the online Waterford GAA flame since 1999. At the very least I’d like to think of this blog as being part of an embryonic 32-county community of Gaeldom with me ploughing a lonely furrow for Waterford now that Up the Déise is a shadow of its former glory. And there’s no doubt who owns the house that is known by the trees in this notional community – ‘Willie Joe’ (not his real name) of the Mayo GAA Blog. It’s a smashing resource for supporters of Mayo football, and it almost made me weep to see a recent post on Twitter where he said he’d had over 6,000 hits in one day. Speaking of weeping, it’s been a tough ride over the years for Mayo supporters – their loss to Meath in the curtain-raiser to our match against Kilkenny in 2009 is still fresh in my mind – so it would be marvellous for them in general and Willie Joe in particular were Mayo to finally land the Big One 61 years after they last won it. Hey, that’s how long Ireland went without the Grand Slam! It’s meant to be, isn’t it?

Well, no. For facing them in the opposite corner is the featherweight that has beefed itself up into a heavyweight. Watching Donegal sweep Cork aside in the All-Ireland semi-final was a gobsmacking experience. Jim McGuinness got a lot of stick last year for the destructive manner of their style of play, but that was just a prelude to the well-oiled machine that Donegal have become. While they’re clearly a fit team – I enjoyed the comment of one wag on the GAA Discussion Board that “Chuck Norris was first to puke when he trained with Donegal” – that alone does not explain the bewildering array of angles that each of the Donegal players takes when not on the ball. Any time a Donegal player was in possession he could be confident that there would be two or three team-mates in the vicinity, usually making a beeline for the opposition goal. All the talk on the Mayo GAA Blog and on Twitter about how Donegal are over-confident does not mean that Donegal have nothing to be over-confident about. Everything has to go right for Mayo for them to end that 61-year wait, and luck is not something you associate with Mayo.

Not that feeling Donegal are going to take some stopping is a reason to hope they win. No, it is because of the other me that a victory for Dún na nGall would be a great thing. Note that it is ‘Dún na nGall’, not ‘Tír Chonaill’, because Tír Chonaill does not include the Inishowen peninsula. I know this because it was explained to me by my best friend Pól, the best man at my wedding. Were Donegal to win the All-Ireland it would mean so much to him and it probably mean even more to his father, a man whose wool is so GAA-dyed that he saw fit to invite me to see the Donegal Minor footballers take on Derry in a friendly match in Celtic Park on the one occasion I was at the family homestead in Letterkenny – a vote of confidence in me if ever there was one. I know (of) many Mayo people online thanks to Willie Joe. I know one Donegal family in real life thanks to Pól. Will I be rooting for the needs of the virtual many or the substantive few? I’ll find out on September 22nd.

What was that? Who will I be cheering for this Sunday? Don’t be daft. Come on the Tribesmen.

Waterford by the grace of God – or by choice

Dressing room, Tipperary, 2002

The cup was now paraded around the pitch. Brian Flannery set the ball rolling, charging toward the Uncovered Stand with the trophy held aloft. I doubt if it were planned, but he was an oddly appropriate choice, the outsider gone native. A newspaper article from earlier in the day had traced his development from Tipperary underage teams to the Waterford seniors. His statement that “every time I pull on a Waterford jersey, I give thanks for my second chance” was a lovely sentiment, especially when you think he might have ended up back at Tipperary a few years ago.

Waterford 2-23 (29) Tipperary 3-12 (21) – Part IV: The Aftermath, 30 June 2002

Listening to updates from the fourteen men of Waterford’s valiant effort to extend their stay in this year’s football championship – is it me or do we rarely seem to end big games with the full complement? – was a surreal experience as there was far more fuss made of the “thirty-to-fifty second” appearance of Seanie Johnston for the hurlers of Coill Dubh in the Kildare county championship.

I’m not going to get het up over the wider significance of Johnston’s switch to Kildare. There does seem to be something fishy about his eligibility to switch clubs but given the hoops he had to jump through to secure the switch it seems unlikely that his is a path that others will follow. There are plenty of ways of switching that honour both the letter and the spirit of the law so don’t expect a flood of Seanie-style refuseniks clogging up the in-trays of county secretaries any time soon.

And it was one of those who did it the ‘right’ way who came to mind while listening to Seanie trying to work out which end of the hurley was the bas. Walking through the L&N SuperValu in Tramore earlier on in the day, who should I spy but Brian Flannery. Cue a  farcical  scene as I tried to surreptitiously point him out to my wife and she assumed I meant the old man behind him because all the heroes in the GAA either have grey beards or are dead. Hold fast to the past.

When I got home and listened to the farcical scene in Clane, it struck me that Brian Flannery’s heritage didn’t bother me at all. Looking back through the blog via the search function in the top right, I was relieved to see that I haven’t left myself any hostages to fortune about Flannery. I remember a comment made by a Waterford supporter in the vicinity at a match when he was a little bit loose with the hurley where said supporter noted how Flannery brought “the Tipp stuff” to Waterford. As if no-one in Waterford ever lowered the blades, but Tipperary didn’t spawn Hell’s Kitchen for nothing. In short, Brian Flannery is now one of us. He didn’t have to go through a charade like Johnston did on Saturday to play for Waterford, he did his thing in the trenches of Mount Sion first, to the extent that when they had the choice of captain for the senior captain in 1999, they chose Flannery.

You could argue that Seanie Johnston has the chance to rise to that level. All it will take would be a cup or two for the Lilywhites to eradicate any misgivings about the manner of his arrival on the Kildare. But Flannery earned his spurs long before that glorious day in Cork in 2002 (see above). Playing for a county team is a splendid thing, but there’s no point in playing for any old county team. You have to play for your own, and Brian Flannery did. I wonder whether we’ll ever be able to say the same for Seanie.

History is bunk

A little piece of me died on Saturday. When Didier Drogba stroked home the decisive penalty in the Champions League final, it was disappointing enough that such an odious cast of characters had landed the choicest prize in club soccer. And yes, I realise there’s hypocrisy in feeling that way when I support a club that contains Luis Suarez. And no, Fernando Torres is not someone I count among the ranks of the odious.

The feeling brought on by this attitude faded quickly enough. Much was made of how Barcelona won every trophy they competed for in 2009 – League, Cup, European Cup, Spanish & European Super Cups and World Club Cup – which ignored how perilously close they were to being beaten by Chelsea in the semi-final, requiring a wonder goal in the last minute and a string of contentious penalty decisions to go in their favour before they could overcome the chavs. A year earlier they had been the width of a post away from winning the competition on penalties. Fortune has not been kind to Chelsea, so in that context it was not difficult to feel some admiration for the manner in which they ground out the victory. Now they could claim to be half as good as Nottingham Forest.

A feeling that persists though is dismay that Chelsea were able to overcome their history and spirit away the Grand Prix. It had been an article of faith for me that the European Cup was a trophy that could only be won by inadequate teams if they possessed a granite-solid back story. Liverpool may have only been good enough to finish fifth in 2005, but even Djimi Traore could be lifted up to Olympian heights when playing for a club that had won the competition on four previous occasions. And Chelsea’s near-misses in recent years seemed to confirm such this prejudice. Now they’ve made a nonsense of this idea. It wasn’t ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ that allowed Liverpool to win the Champions League. It just happened, and teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought.

Of course, the upside to that is that teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought. There’s lots of teams who could take inspiration from being able to cast off the shackles of precedent. Alas, one of them found out within 24 hours that reality is a cruel mistress. When Mark Ferncombe did an Arjen Robben and missed a penalty to take the lead against Limerick you just knew the Waterford footballers were toast, and so it proved in grisly fashion as they failed to score at all in the second half. Unfortunately this was a case where history proved to be a reliable indicator of what was going to happen next.

I’m at a loss to explain the inability of Waterford football to make an impact beyond our borders. It’s not as if football is a new thing in the county. Having first been staged in 1885 there can’t be an older title in the country and to this day the football championship is more competitive than its hurling equivalent. Some years back a clever chap on An Fear Rua’s website presented an image displaying the geographical split between hurling and football within the county, which clearly showed how large swathes of the county are football territory. Despite this, our biggest claim to fame at senior level since the shock victory over Kerry in 1957 was putting a stop to London’s gallop last year and getting on to Sky Sports News. We haven’t been to the Munster final since 1960 and while much of that could be down to a rigged seeded competition for much of that time ensuring Kerry always met Cork in the final it hasn’t been that way for a couple of decades now and not once have we managed to put two wins together against our fellow minnows.

I don’t like being critical of those who run the sport in the county, and I’m certainly not going to be associated with those trolls who litter the Waterford thread on with their jeremiads about how the time invested in football is not only futile but actively limits our success in hurling. Still, something is wrong with football organisation in the county. In 2003 we were able to win the Munster Under-21 title, with some character called Michael Walsh playing in midfield. This year the team (if ‘Easterly Gael’ in the late-and-much-lamented Tramore Hinterland was to be believed) was cobbled together at the last minute because of confusion over whose responsibility it was to select the manager. No surprise that they went down in flames. We may not have Chelsea’s option of being able to lob out millions to improve things, but you don’t need a Russian oligarch to threaten you with Siberia to know how to pick a manager. With the back door ensuring that a panel can look forward to more than one match in the championship, the only ones we can blame for not being able to give it a proper lash are ourselves. The ghosts of history can ram it.