Category Archives: National League

Tubthumping

The best game of hurling ever, and therefore the best game of anything ever, was the 2009 All-Ireland final. Tipperary were on the way up and had just about drawn level with a Kilkenny team coming down from the heights they had hit the previous year (sez he self-servingly). It took your breath away just to watch it on the telly. And yet, all the talk afterwards was about the referee.

Wind forward seven years and whaddya know, we’re talking about Diarmuid Kirwan again. Taken in isolation this decision was much worse. Not giving Jamie Barron the free was just wrong. I’ve suggested in the past that referees are willing to admit to ‘mistakes in general, but…never make mistakes in particular‘ (warning: link includes added Nazi references), but surely Kirwan would have to admit that this was a blunder, so blatant was the foul.

Nothing happens in isolation though, and we really need to park any sense of injustice. It was a mistake. Talk of Kirwan being out to get us is surely overblown. A popular search reaching this website is ‘results of waterford hurling games referred by diarmuid kirwan’ and a report by Giveitfong about our Under-21’s loss to Tipperary back in 2011. This will bring snorts of derision from Tipp fans still smarting over the 2009 final. Coming back to last Sunday, the free that would have followed the foul on Barron was hardly a gimme, and there would have been ample time for Clare to rescue the game. The subsequent free from which Clare equalised was a dubious one but came from the realm of I’ve-seen-them-given, and there was also time for Waterford to win it. Instead they did. Them’s the breaks.

It’s hard, but we have to take the positives. Over 160 minutes we took on the All-Ireland champions of three years ago, laden down with multiple Under-21 medals and fresh from having walloped Kilkenny out the gate, and came up one point short. It’s very reassuring to see that Derek McGrath is taking the defeat on the chin, as is Patrick Curran – there’s an old head on young shoulders if ever there was one. We got knocked down on Sunday. Time to get back up again and on to the next one. Gee, I wonder who that could be against?

Waterford 2-19 (25) Clare 1-23 (26) – media reports

Late late show sees Clare dethrone Waterford – RTÉ
Kelly’s late wonder finish floors Déise – Irish Independent
Tony Kelly’s late heroics ensure Clare escape to victory – Irish Times
Kelly the scoring hero as Clare claim dramatic league final win over Waterford – The42.ie
Super Kelly wins it for Clare – HoganStand.com
Battling Clare do late drama better than anyone else – Irish Examiner

Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22 (AET)

Maurice Shanahan pulls it out of fire to earn Déise replay – RTÉ
Deise and Banner must meet again (and again) – HoganStand.com
Clare and Waterford put on Championship-like show – Irish Times
Shanahan’s sweet strike saves Deise – Irish Independent
Maurice Shanahan shows nerves of steel to send hurling league final to a replay – the42.ie
Tactics order of the day as Clare and Weaterford [sic] managers play chess – Irish Examiner
Slow start, but episode one sets up intriguing Munster trilogy – Irish Examiner


You always look for a hook when writing anything – Enda Kenny’s Walter Mitty tendencies must be manna from heaven for political hacks – and so it was that Seán Stack’s surprisingly candid pre-match dismissal of Waterford was going to be my hook. If Clare won, credit would have to be given for actually saying something honest that might have been seen as ‘motivation’ for Waterford. If Waterford won, time to relish the reverse ferret as a county that once revelled in League success – me oul’ mucker Rachael English waxed lyrical recently about the arrival of the trophy at her school when they won it back in Seán Stack’s day – would dismiss it as not being the Championship. The potential for media-driven mischief was endless, and what is this blog if not one long repetitive riff on media mischief?

In the end, none of it mattered as Waterford and Clare served up as category-defying a game as you are ever likely to encounter. It was the best bad game of hurling ever.

Unofficial GAA on Twitter summed up the first half:

It was dull, and that was almost entirely down to Waterford. The question throughout the winter was whether Derek McGrath was going to pivot away from The System. If this game is anything go by, his response has been to double-down on it. You could almost understand that in the opening 15 minutes as Waterford struggled to cope with Clare’s forward power. But gradually Waterford began to make their dominance of the possession count and Clare on several occasions were happy to give away frees well out the field. Unfortunately Patrick Curran had a bad day at the office from the dead balls, our long-range shooting was dire, and there were repeated instances of the ball being lobbed in for Shane Bennett to beat the three men. If you are going to strip out all the forwards, surely you have to work the ball forward and put in runners? There was one excellent example of this with Waterford managing to get Colin Dunford free for what would be our only point from play in the half, and Stephen O’Keeffe deserves credit for his targeted puckouts towards halfway rather than just hitting aimless bombs or terrifying short grenades, but otherwise it was completely calamitous from Waterford. To have all that possession and be grateful to be only a point down at half-time . . . not good, not good at all.

No doubt there were a few rockets fired in both dressing rooms, and the game threatened to spark into life when Derek McGrath’s delight at the award of a disputed sideline ball to Waterford was met in kind by Davy Fitz in full-on med-as-a-hetter mode. The adrenaline rush only seemed to make Waterford even more careless though as yet more shots drifted wide. One effort from Tom Devine where he curved the ball wide after it was cheered over by some of the Waterford crowd left one in despair. Never mind worrying about leaving this one behind at the finish, by the midway point of the second half it had already been left behind. Clare were hitting some poor efforts themselves but they had a better excuse as the Waterford backs, swollen with the extra numbers in general and marshalled by the magnificent de Búrca in particular, were playing brilliantly and making them work for every score. Moving three points clear as the game ticked into the final quarter looked like it could be decisive in such a low-scoring encounter.

Gradually though order began to emerge from the Déise chaos. Shane Bennett did not let his free-taking woes disrupt his general play with a couple of excellent scores to reduce the deficit to manageable proportions and when Austin Gleeson finally managed to land a long-range effort we were suddenly, miraculously, in front for the first time with only ten minutes left. The chess game of the first hour ended and a hurling match broke out. Clare edged back in front thanks to Conor McGrath’s superior free taking and once again it looked like curtains but it was the man Bennett who stop up tall, first with a free then a ridiculously casual catch-run-and-strike to put Waterford in front in injury time. Could close it out and win a game that had suddenly and undeservedly taken on the hue of a classic?

Alas, no. O’Keeffe got away with a poor clearance when the return shot went wide, a let-off he celebrated by smashing the post thus confusing those of us who put great stock in the keeper’s reaction as to whether it it has gone over the bar. His puckout was worked up the sideline by Clare and de Búrca went to push the Clare player over the whitewash . . . free-in! I know I’m biased (duh) but the decision was out of kilter with Brian Gavin’s previous laissez-faire attitude to that kind of challenge, and no less a neutral personage than Ollie Moran was in agreement. McGrath held his nerve with the free and the people who were preparing to scoff that this wasn’t the All-Ireland celebrated as if they had won the All-Ireland.

The GAA can’t make its mind up about extra-time and replays. They persist with replays in the summer when they mess up schedules yet decided to play extra-time here when there are weeks in hand before the Championship starts. They sensibly decided years ago that 30 minutes was too long but maddeningly have the most interminable pause between the end of the normal time and the start of extra-time. We mournfully speculated that the effort expended by the Waterford backs in keeping the forwards in the ball to which they were accustomed would prove fatal against a team managed by someone fond of training sessions involving running up dunes in Tramore/Lahinch.

Yet it was Waterford who sprang out of the blocks, a super over-the-shoulder effort from Brian O’Halloran giving Derek McGrath a taste of what he can bring to the team, and scores from subs Devine and Thomas Ryan left Waterford sitting pretty in such a low scoring affair. But as noted earlier, this was now more akin to an old school hurling match with the ebb and flow that comes with that. Clare struck back, one of their scores after a short puckout to Noel Connors went Pete Tong, and while Tom Devine had a chance to land a hammer blow when he got in behind the defence he didn’t get much behind his ground shot as he raced towards goal, and they levelled matters right on the stroke of the end of the first half. Is there any sport where ‘momentum’ is so useless?

Points were exchanged at the start of the half but a fortuitously intercepted clearance was pinged over the bar by Clare then a Hail Mary effort dropped short and gave Clare a rare clear sight of goal, only for O’Keeffe to get across brilliantly to bat it out. Waterford quickly levelled and it was now tit-for-tat. Amidst all the sound and fury Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, now on as subs, combined for yet another equalising score. Maurice was being his usual, shall we say, mercurial self. Twice he reacted to being stranded up front by giving away a cheap free and when Clare took the lead as the game ticked into the last minute, I bitterly opined that those careless moments at a juncture when there were only seconds on the clock were going to prove costly. A minute of added time was announced – where do they get these minutes from in a ten-minute half when they rarely get more than two from a 35-minute period? – and the ref predictably gave Waterford one last chance from a free inside our own half. I thought O’Keeffe would have been the man in those circumstances but back went Maurice, taking an eternity over it before striking it so perfectly that you could see it was over from the moment it left the bas.

What a roller-coaster of a game. If ever there was a proof of concept of the self-congratulatory notion that a bad hurling match is better than the best of most other things, this was it. It was awful for large periods but it was, as Brian Flannery noted, absorbing, and played in a tremendous spirit – how lovely to see Davy Fitz offering his appreciation to Maurice at the final whistle. We went toe-to-toe against the team who being built up into Kilkenny slayers. We proven we can be obdurate with the best of them. Whether we can display the flexibility that is surely necessary to make the final leap remains to be seen.

Waterford 3-23 (32) Limerick 1-18 (21) – media reports

Na Deise power past Treaty – HoganStand.com
Waterford spring to life in second-half – Irish Examiner
Waterford suck Limerick in and then pull away to reach final – Irish Times
Waterford book place in league decider with impressive win over Limerick – The42.ie
Second-half goal rush keeps Waterford on course to retain title – Irish Independent
Impressive Waterford slay Limerick to stay on track to retain title – RTÉ
Deise power surge blows Limerick away in Thurles – WLR

The pupil (almost) becomes the master

Remember when Division 1B teams were at “a huge disadvantage” (John Allen, in case you are afraid of being Rickrolled) compared to those playing in Division 1A? A clean sweep of 1A wins in the 2014 quarter-finals followed by Waterford’s sole win over Galway in 2015, a result so awful for the Tribesman that it effectively left Anthony Cunningham needing to win the All-Ireland to survive it, confirmed the trend.

A trend we can now confirm to be nonsense. I’m no statistician, but I know enough to see a sample of eight doesn’t tell us much. A year on and the record is now 9-3, with Clare and Limerick toppling their respective opponents from Division 1A, the latter doing it away from home. Oh, and Waterford went perilously close to crashing out at the hands of a team who needed a couple of injury time scores to squeak past Laois and whose manager is the subject of the usual whispering campaign. I have no doubt that everyone took inspiration from our Triple Crown of wins last season.

‘If Waterford can do it, so can we’ is not a compliment. The Wexford People had an article during the week laden with all manner of sneaking-suspicion stuff that they were about to pull the rug from under us. I have a sneaking suspicion of my own that they would not have dared publish such an article had it been any of the other top-order teams they had been playing. And we should be concerned that they were almost right. What is a compliment to the team and the management is that the overwhelming feeling from yesterday’s result was relief rather than delight. Winning a League quarter-final is no longer like winning the All-Ireland (© every snide hurler-on-the-ditch) but a matter of routine. Let’s hope that two iffy performances in a row by the A-Team is not a matter of routine as well.

Waterford 0-17 (17) Wexford 1-13 (16) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

This was a very lethargic and error-ridden performance by Waterford. Maybe they had another one of their heavy training sessions during the week. There may also have been a bit of taking Wexford for granted. In Waterford’s first attack, Colin Dunford had an easy tap-over point from in front of the goal but decided to take on the full back line looking for a goal and got hooked. There was a bit of arrogance in this, plus another example of Dunford’s poor decision making.

That set the scene for a Waterford display full of sloppy ball control, bad passes, waiting for the ball to come to them, aimless balls sent to unmarked Wexford players. Wexford were more alert, were working much harder, were winning the rucks (usually a key area of Waterford dominance) and showing much better ball control. There were 0-7 to 0-1 up after 15 minutes and 0-8 to 0-2 after 20. Waterford started Austin Gleeson at full forward but no ball came in as Wexford were on top outfield.

Waterford did steady the ship and got the score back to 0-8 all before Wexford took the lead again just before half time. Waterford were a bit unlucky not to score a goal when the Wexford goalie dropped the ball but it ended up going out for a 65. Wexford sent a lot of high ball into Conor McDonald at full forward but he had a stinker of a game and was well marshalled by Barry Coughlan. Wexford never threatened the Waterford goal with Tadhg de Búrca covering very well, although he was as guilty as anyone else of dropping balls and giving poor passes and clearances.

Waterford equalised two or three times after the restart but Wexford kept coming back to go ahead, and got some really good scores. However, once Waterford got their nose in front they stretched their lead out to four points, mainly because of some really terrible wides by Wexford. Then coming up to the end, Wexford got a goal out of nothing when McDonald managed to get his hand to a long free in to finish to the net. From the puckout Wexford engineered a lovely equalising point, and at that stage I was hoping we would get into extra time.

Then Waterford got a free on the right sideline about 35 metres out. It was an awkward enough angle, but Maurice once again split the posts. He had one more chance from a long range free which was signalled wide although it looked good to me. However, he was our saviour on the day with 12 points in all – nine frees, one 65 and two from play (one a real beauty). He missed his first free from distance and also the last one. Wexford missed at least five handy frees.

It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Austin Gleeson hit four sidelines badly wide and also missed two long-distance frees, although he did hit two beauties from play. Philip Mahony, Brick Walsh and Patrick Curran were our other scorers. I thought Philip Mahony was our most consistent player throughout, while the full back line generally coped well and Kevin Moran also worked hard. Tom Devine replaced Patrick Curran midway through the second half and made an impact. Brian O’Halloran and Mikey Kearney came on up front for Jake Dillon and Shane Bennett while Shane McNulty got a few minutes near the end in place of Noel Connors.

Waterford 0-17 (17) Wexford 1-13 (16) – media reports

Waterford made to work hard for semi-final spot by Wexford – RTÉ
Wexford allow Waterford off the hook – Irish Examiner
Wexford just pipped by league champions after valiant fight – Irish Times
Champs manage to ride out wild Wexford storm – Irish Independent
Maurice Shanahan hits 12 points to seal semi final berth for Déise – The42.ie
Holders survive Wexford scare – HoganStand.com

Mo money mo problems

There are four certainties in life: death, taxes, overuse of the ‘certainties in life’ gag, and people complaining about the format of the National Hurling League. Davy Fitz and Ciarán Carey both had a pop from their respective ends of Division 1B, the former seeing an expanded top division as a ‘no-brainer’ while the latter was fuming that a team on zero points (Laois) were not automatically relegated.

It’s possible to have sympathy with their respective positions and still think they are both wrong. As I have long argued – okay, argued for just over a year – the system ensures that every game is a battle. An eight-team top division would have multiple dead rubbers while two six-team divisions of equal strength like we had through the turn of the millennium would lead to newly-promoted and upcoming teams like, I don’t know, Kerry getting blown away and end the year newly-relegated and downcoming.

It’s a pain for Limerick that they are stuck in the lower divisions for another year, especially when they ‘won’ Division 1B in 2013 only to lose a playoff against Dublin, and it must have been galling for Kerry to have taken such a scalp only to find out how little it meant in the wider scheme of things thanks to Laois stumbling against Wexford, a stumble that means they get to play Kerry rather than Wexford in the relegation playoff. But there isn’t any format that is going to address all objections. A two-up two-down format, which I would advocate, would help Limerick but would make Kerry worse off as they would be relegated without even a playoff. The inequities in the National League are a symptom of the inequities in the GAA, not the cause.

Those inequities were brought to mind by a stat I saw yesterday from Walsh Park – a crowd of 5,029. Added to the 6,362 at the Dublin game and the 7,000-odd at the Kilkenny game and, quite apart from ticket sales, you have a lot of people buying programmes and junk at the shop (a work colleague who was roped in to helping out at the Dublin game can testify to this being a lot of junk). Compare this to the 1,558 who saw us play Antrim and 1,200 against Laois in 2015 and you can see the value of being in with the heavyweights, The Waterford County Board did get a top-up game against Galway that saw 3,550 extra punters pass through the Walsh Park turnstiles, but they couldn’t have anticipated that game when they approached sponsors, a problem noted by the Limerick secretary three years ago. His numbers seem a bit over-the-top – the host county doesn’t get all of the €10 spent in SuperValu and filling the gap with revenue in the ground to bring it up to a round €150,000 would be a lot of junk – and they have the added problem of a white elephant ground, something that needs to be rammed home the next time anyone feels a sense of inadequacy over our puny venues. The overall point remains though. Waterford have gone from budgeting for around 3,000 bums on seats one year to around 18,000 the next. You can’t plan adequately for any enterprise, even a non-profit one, with variables like that,

The madness of the economics of the modern GAA was archly summarised by the secretary of the Connacht Council when he noted that “county team administration costs in Connacht [are] almost five times the gate receipts for the championship (€747,554)”. Like the poor, moaning about the League format will always be with us. More radical solutions to the GAA’s funding gaps are needed if the impoverished county is not going to become the norm.

Waterford 0-24 (24) Galway 1-21 (24) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

I still disagree with Derek McGrath’s decision to, in essence, clear the bench before the start of today’s game against Galway. However, fair play to the guys who were thrown in at the deep end – not only did they not sink, but in most cases they played brilliantly. Particular plaudits to the fullback line of Conor Gleeson, Shane McNulty and Shane Roche none of whom, to my knowledge, has played even a minute of competitive senior hurling for Waterford before. They were up against a Galway attack which tore much more experienced full back lines to shreds last year but every one of them turned in an outstanding performance.

Galway played a two-man interchanging full forward line (with Canning going in an out). Gleeson and Roche held the fort at the back while McNulty followed Cathal Mannion out the field and really kept him quiet until he notched two points late in the game when the less match-fit Waterford team began to tire a bit. I have been a great fan of McNulty since his minor days and believe he should be on the first team as a wing back with Kevin Moran moving to midfield.

Waterford had two other players (Ian O’Regan and Gavin O’Brien) who only made their first appearances of the year today and four others (Shane O’Sullivan, Brian O’Halloran, Colm Roche and Tommy Ryan) who have made only very brief appearances as substitutes. I was fearful of them taking a heavy beating from a Galway team requiring a big win to enable them to evade a relegation playoff. However, they really stood up to the plate.

Waterford were the better team in the first half but ended up behind by a point at half time (1-10 to 0-12) due to conceding a poor goal just before half time and messing up some good scoring chances. I thought that once Galway moved ahead they might pull away in the second half, but again it was Waterford who took the game to the opposition, building up a three point lead with Shane Bennett tearing the right side of their defence to pieces. However, they never managed to take the lead to four points and as the game entered the last ten minutes Galway greatly upped their game, bringing their greater match fitness to bear and finally moving into the lead with just a couple of minutes left.

However, Waterford never panicked, with Tadhg de Búrca providing great leadership at the back, and continued to play the ball around looking for the spare man. Gavin O’Brien saved the day with a massive point from his own half of the field and Waterford nearly snatched a deserved win when Shane Bennett’s long range shot (again after an excellent bout of passing) went inches on the wrong side of the post.

Austin Gleeson caught a lot of ball, but seemed determined to take on the entire Galway defence with solo runs and several times ran into cul-de-sacs. Tadhg de Búrca improved as the game went on and finished very strongly. Gavin O’Brien at left half back hit some poor clearances and made some mistakes but still put in a solid shift. Kevin Moran was much more effective than he was against Dublin, but I thought Shane O’Sullivan had little impact and should have been substituted long before he was eventually taken off.

Maurice Shanahan played at right half forward and worked hard but only managed one point from play. However, after missing his first free (there was an awkward wind blowing across the field) he was unerring thereafter with eight conversions for a total contribution of nine points. Shane Bennett was absolutely devastating at centre forward, scoring six great points, bringing a superb save from the Galway keeper (although he should still have beaten him), and unfortunately having two narrow misses late in the game.

Tom Devine started at left half forward and was much more effective than he was as a lone full forward last week. Waterford were having a lot of success early on targetting him from puckouts, but Galway then put extra bodies under the incoming ball and began to mop up. Devine moved to full forward in the second half but again made a useful contribution when brought out late in the game.

Brian O’Halloran had his best game in a Waterford jersey since the league game in Ennis two years ago, using his speed to good effect, hitting three points and earning at least two converted frees. Things have not gone well for him in recent times, so it was a delight to see him show what he can do today. Colm Roche made a fantastic catch to score a great point in the first minute, but the game passed him by thereafter and he was eventually replaced by Mikey Kearney in the second half. Kearney made his presence felt with two good points and was a little unlucky when his shot for goal virtually from the end line narrowly missed the target.

Starting at full forward, Tommy Ryan had little impact, apart from one good point, and was replaced by Jake Dillon towards the end. Another unexpected but very welcome substitute for Waterford was Pauric Mahony who replaced Shane O’Sullivan near the end. It was he who supplied the pass from which Gavin O’Brien shot the late equalising point.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable and high-quality game of hurling. While the result didn’t matter a whole lot to Waterford, the quality and commitment of the Waterford fringe players was exhilarating and, indeed, some of them may not remain fringe players for long. It is reassuring to see that such high-quality backup to the first team is available, and hopefully the team management will make better use of these resources in future games.

Waterford 0-24 (24) Galway 1-21 (24) – media reports

Off-colour Galway facing relegation showdown – RTÉ
Deise and Tribe share the spoils – HoganStand.com
Waterford and Galway play out a thrilling draw – Irish Times
Draw against Waterford leaves Galway facing a relegation play-off against Cork – Irish Examiner
Galway in relegation play-off after Déise draw – GAA
‘Nuggets of hope’ for Deise as Galway draw comfort – Irish Independent