Category Archives: National League

Is there life on Mars?

Billy O'Sullivan, Tipperary, 1998

Derek McGrath knows what it is to be part of a squad that is brewing up a storm, and yet not be part of the team. The image above, originally from the Indo with a bit of Come on the Déise editorialising to conceal that, shows Billy O’Sullivan revelling in the win over Tipperary in the 1998 Championship. Derek would only make one substitute appearance in the blowout win over Galway later on that year to add to a substitute appearance in the blowout loss to Limerick the previous year. That was the sum total of his Waterford Senior summer career. More than almost all of us, but an awful lot of sitting around and an awful lot of tedious training sessions for so very little. It was after that Tipp win that I read/heard Stephen Frampton, last seen at the game last week against Dublin, saying that he never minded the hidings. It was training for the hidings that was exasperating.

So it is good to see McGrath give the rest of the squad a run-out tomorrow against Galway. Tipp won’t be too impressed as there is no point pretending that Waterford won’t be weakened by this. If the players were better than what currently have, surely they would have been playing before now. From Waterford’s perspective there is little downside though. We can’t guarantee finishing first in the division with a win – Dublin beat Kilkenny and they finish ahead of us on the head-to-head. And we can’t finish worse than third – Galway and Tipp can’t get more than five points. Wexford look the most likely opponents in the quarter-finals should we top the group, which is definitely an away game, while there would be a 50:50 chance of a home tie should Clare lose to Limerick. Sure, Clare are better than Wexford, but it would be a more interesting clash. Either way, there isn’t a crucial need to win. And who knows? Someone might brew up a storm and we’ll be wondering how we ever coped without them.

Waterford 0-14 Dublin 0-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***looks at previous post***


The Déise Roar

Nothing more needs to be said.

Oh okay, if you insist. We really did need to beat Cork, didn’t we? Having speculated recently that they were not up to much, this theory was emphasised in bold, underline, italics and a grim Gothic font as Cork were crushed on Saturday night by Dublin. I’d say I felt a sense of schadenfreude at the anguish of their supporters on Twitter, but there was nothing shameful about this joy. Only this week a Cork lad in work was asking us “when did ye last win the All-Ireland?”, as if he had a clutch of Celtic crosses himself but had lost them down the back of the sofa. They are on their knees, and it is compulsory to apply the boot with extreme prejudice. You wouldn’t want to gloat too hard though. Two years ago we had four points from the first two games only for the wheels to fly off in spectacular fashion and end up getting relegated. The possibility of ending up in a winner-takes-all-loser-takes-a-fall game against Cork still loomed large. All it would take then for disaster to strike would be one careless challenge leading to two yellow cards and, well, just ask Everton and Man Utd fans, aha-ha.

We have no such worries now. No, we don’t, despite Derek McGrath expressing concern on the radio that we might not end up in the quarters with six points. Cork cannot overtake us and if Galway get up to six points by beating Tipperary and Waterford, Tipp can get no more than four points. We will be in the quarter-finals. The question is who we will meet there or, more pertinently, who we would like to meet there. A home draw would be lovely and the only chance of that is to play a team from Division 1B who has also played three games at home. By my reckoning Clare and Offaly will have played three matches at home while Limerick and Wexford will have only played two matches at home. So the ideal opponents would be Offaly where we would have a 50:50 chance of a home draw. If you are from Offaly and take offence at the notion that I would rather play you than Clare, all I can say is: get a grip. I’m being generous by assuming that you will definitely finish ahead of Kerry.

I’m going to regret such presumptuousness . . . tripe! During the week Derek McGrath suggested that Tipperary were ‘four or five years ahead of Waterford‘. One should never take such pronouncements too seriously, but let’s assume he really believes that. Given where we are now, how would you feel if we were in the same position that Tipperary are now in five years time? I’d be thrilled – if we were talking about the footballers. The hurlers? Not so much. Why should Austin Gleeson, an All-Ireland medal winner and All-Star who has grown up without a speck of the kind of inferiority complex that has blighted our interactions with Tipp over the decades, view their current standing as the limit of his aspirations?

Okay, that probably is a bit presumptuous. You can be sure that Michael Ryan – the Tipp version, not our Scully – will have accused his team of defecating on the jersey of John and Jimmy Doyle with their craven capitulation to the non-entities south of the Suir. Where Derek McGrath is coming from is to warn the players not to get too carried away. League wins are ten-a-penny these days in Waterford. But that in itself represents a huge improvement on what went before. Keep it up, and the promised land isn’t just likely. It’s inevitable.

Waterford 1-18 (21) Tipperary 1-17 (20) – media reports

Waterford strike late to maintain 100 per cent record – Irish Times
Austin Gleeson steps up to seal the deal for Waterford – Irish Examiner
Waterford show real resolve to wear down Tipperary in thrilling finish – Irish Independent
Na Deise sink Premier at the death in Thurles thriller –
Waterford edge out Tipperary to extend winning sequence – RTÉ
Waterford snatch a late winner in Thurles – WLR

Thin line between Heaven and here

I read somewhere once that the reason it is so hard for us to get objects into space is that you have to move really fast to beat the turning of the Earth. If you don’t get to escape velocity, the planet will catch up with you before you have gotten into orbit. Once you get to escape velocity though, you can happily expend no energy in staying up there as the planet will turn and you will, quite literally, miss it.

This came to mind when pondering Waterford’s win over Cork at the weekend. Every year is an attempt to get into orbit, and not only are we not getting there, we’re using up a hell of lot of energy just to prevent being pancaked back into terra firma. It’s horrible to think of the amount of planning and effort that has gone into the Waterford team that was moving through the gears midway through the second half. It’s not just the preparation of the team itself. It’s the years of diligent cultivation of young talent which has brought the likes of Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran, Shane Bennett and (lest we forget, not that we are likely to) Tadhg de Búrca to the fore. And it’s horrible because, despite doing that far better than Cork have done in recent times, we just barely got out of Dodge with the two points.

Let’s be frank (Murphy) about it. We needed to beat Cork. Last year we clobbered them in the League final by a record margin and the Under-21’s recorded our first ever win over them on Leeside. They ended their year by getting walloped by Galway and didn’t fare much better last week against the Tribesmen. All the while during the game in Páirc Uí Rinn I was checking out how Galway were getting on against Dublin, and the answer was: not very well. And despite all of that, this game was almost a carbon copy of our Munster championship game last season where, despite dominating for long periods, they could have stolen it right at the end. History weighs heavily on us, lightly on them.

To say we needed to beat Cork might seem a bit strong. It’s bandied around by pundits all the time, yet despite this need teams who fail to fulfil such a need have a pesky habit of coming out on top. I’m sure some people said we needed to beat Kilkenny to keep up momentum. No, we didn’t need to beat Kilkenny, no more than Tipperary will see their season as over for failing to do so. The perverse thing is that having beaten Kilkenny, the pressure was actually increased on getting the result against Cork. If we couldn’t escape the pull of something as weak as Cork, who are an utter mess, then we would have no hope of getting across that threshold and into orbit.

Let’s not go borrowing trouble though. They can have the post mortem safe in the knowledge that we did win. We may be trying to get into orbit, but it’s important to remember we were once in the Mariana Trench, and it looked in recent past like we were heading back there:

Waterford 0-14 Kilkenny 0-10

(Fógra: I’m dispensing with the old-school match report. You can get far better ones from the various sources below. This, and future editions, will be impressions gleaned from memory of the match day experience and therefore just as useless as before.)

Déise defiance too much for sloppy Kilkenny – Irish Independent
Wasteful Waterford still ease by subdued Kilkenny – Irish Times
Waterford’s defiant roar puts Kilkenny to the sword – De Paper
Waterford show greater appetite in win over Cats – RTÉ
Wasteful Waterford trump Cats –

I’m not a local so I don’t mind if people view this as an epiphany that no ‘real’ Liverpool supporter would experience. With that in mind . . . this incident was the first time that I was able to imagine a life without Liverpool FC. Not the incident itself, which just made me roll my eyes at how juvenile it all was. It was in the match that followed against Barcelona, when Bellamy celebrated his equaliser by imitating a golf swing. I should have been overjoyed but instead I was enraged by this colossal prick thinking the whole thing was a joke. What the fuck was I doing, putting so much of my mental well-being in the hands of these revolting men-children who didn’t give a shit if I lived or died? The moment passed, but the memory remained. I don’t know where my limit for the shitness of modern football lies – but I know I have a limit.

The above comment, which I originally posted on The Liverpool Way website, got a gratifyingly positive reaction. With the Premier League money speakers about to be turned up to 11 it was refreshing to immerse oneself in the acoustic surroundings of the National Hurling League. And it seemed a lot of people agreed with me as a large crowd turned up to the League champions take on the winner of some knockout cup competition.

I’m being facetious of course, and not just about the standings relative to each other of the respective teams. Had some organisational re-jigging – not unheard of in the GAA – saved Waterford from relegation at the end of the 2014 League and we were playing Kilkenny in the first game of the 2015 campaign, there would not have been this kind of attendance. This time last year I was entertaining the possibility that we might be passed out on the way down by Laois on the way up. Now we were going toe-to-toe with Darth Cody’s Stormtroopers and coming out on top while Laois were being caned at home by Kerry. What a difference a year makes.

Dispensing with the fiction that you are reading this while oblivious to the result, what to make of the win? It reflects a surprisingly robust record against Kilkenny in Walsh Park, the eighth win in 24 games at the venue, and the fifth in the last ten. Perhaps all that time the pitch has been a quagmire which has played into the hands of our more agricultural hurlers versus their great artisans of the game. I didn’t think much of the pitch to begin with, reasoning that every ground is going to suffer from the same problem thanks to such a wet winter. But as Galway and Cork racked up a cricket score in their game, it does suggest a problem particular to Walsh Park.

For make no mistake, Kilkenny did not make the adjustment to the conditions as well as Waterford did. That will be taken as self-evident by those in the know, a snide smirk at Waterford folk getting notions from such a result. For this benefit, please be assured tgat we already discount the fact that Kilkenny will be operating to a different timescale to the rest of us. Still, it was mildly shocking to see the extent to which they were operating as if they were on a summer pitch, frequently misjudging the bounce of the ball, or at least doing it a lot more than Waterford were doing it.

The flip side of such a coin is that Waterford made the adjustment, and that can’t be a bad thing, right? Perhaps it can be. At half-time my brother wondered whether Waterford were a team of winter hurlers, perhaps the most grievous insult you can level against a team. It was something I was pondering myself in the first half as Waterford, bolstered by The System, swarmed all over Kilkenny. This business of playing a sweeper was a success this time last year, propelling Waterford to a historic eight-game winning run. It was clear by the high summer though that it could only bring you so far.

Or maybe it’s not clear. Derek McGrath has forgotten more about the game than I have ever known (not that that would be hard, sez you) and you have to have faith that he knows what he is doing. Does The System only need a tweak to catapult us to September glory? Is it more important to establish a winning habit in these months? Laois people could certainly vouch for the value of such a concept as they survey a season that looks wrecked before it has ever left the slipway. Either way, it’s clear you have to trust that he knows what he is doing.

Or maybe it’s not clear. For while it’s fair to dampen down expectations on the basis of Kilkenny’s level of preparedness for this game, it’s also fair to be excited by the quality of player we have to work with. There were some really fine performances from Waterford, and it was the best of them that demonstrated that we still have some slack with which to work. It’s not too strong to say that Austin Gleeson was unplayable. Watching him get the ball inside his own half after 63 minutes on an energy-sapping pitch and proceed to storm past half the Kilkenny team into their 45, it made me want to weep with joy that he is one of ours and is, injury and passion permitting (touch wood), going to be traumatising opponents with that kind of run for the next decade. Incredibly it was a performance that had room for improvement as he slashed the ball wide on six occasions with unnecessary Hail Mary efforts. Factor in a horrible free-taking performance from Maurice Shanahan, which can surely be put down to one of those days with the oul calibration – it’s not as if he hasn’t done it before in much more pressurised circumstances – and with Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran both looking like they belong in this kind of company, I can say with a straight face that we should have walloped Kilkenny out the gate. Indeed, I’m certain that if were to play Kilkenny again next week we’d do exactly that.

I can’t believe I just said that. That’s those stream-of-consciousness ramblings for you, leaving you all manner of hostages to fortune. I’m going to be cocky about it though. Yes, Kilkenny will be primed to peak at a different time to us, with all the experience they have doing that to rely upon. It’ll be a cold day in Hell though before Kilkenny send out a team to phone it in against Waterford. A wild shoulder charge right at the end from Colin Fennelly on Kevin Moran, which could have resulted in a straight red had the ref not had the soft option of giving him a second yellow, exemplified their frustration. We have a game next week against a team – Cork – who have to be up to speed, seeing as they can’t afford to be aiming to peak in the Championship lest they find themselves completely short and nowhere to go like they were last year. We’ll probably know better where we stand after that game, but let’s enjoy the Kilkenny-beating moment now rather than waiting for a time which might never come.

National Hurling League fixtures 2016

14/02/2016 Division 1A Walsh Park Waterford 0 14 14 Kilkenny 0 10 10
20/02/2016 Division 1A Páirc Uí Rinn Waterford 0 20 20 Cork 1 14 17
06/03/2016 Division 1A Semple Stadium Waterford 1 18 21 Tipperary 1 17 20
13/03/2016 Division 1A Walsh Park Waterford 0 14 14 Dublin 0 19 19
20/03/2016 Division 1A Walsh Park Waterford 0 24 24 Galway 1 21 24

Waterford 1-24 (27) Cork 0-17 (17)

Legend has it that on the Monday after Edmund Van Esbeck had retired from his post as rugby corr at The Irish TImes, what should the sub-editors of D’Olier Street hear first thing but the bould Ned roaring “COPY!” at them. What had moved him to get back in the saddle after a series of tributes so fulsome from the sheepskin coat and hip flask brigade they would have made Tony McCoy blush? It seems that Neil Francis had used his Sunday newspaper column to slag off the sheepskin coat and hip flask brigade, and that could never be let slide, retirement be damned.

Maybe it’s the Tramore man in me, a trait shared with the late Ned, but having decided before the game that I wasn’t going to write about the National League final and pondered whether I was going to bother in the future at all, the muse was brought back by not wanting to let insults slide, both real and virtual. The real ones were to be found at Semple Stadium. A couple of Cork fans behind us decided that sharing a county with Jimmy Barry-Murphy meant they were as good at hurling as Jimmy Barry-Murphy and spent their entire time sneering at everything Waterford. Austin Gleeson’s stunning point – the one where he gathered the clearance on his own 45 then ran down the wing and hit a glorious effort off the hurley, not the one where he struck a sideline ball over the bar from out past the Cork 45 – was naturally greeted with great whoops of delight from the Waterford faithful. This led one of the Cork boyos to opine that “you’d swear they’d won the All-Ireland”. When a third Cork man, who arrived twenty minutes late stinking of drink, expressed the opinion that Maurice Shanahan was a ‘cissy’, enough was enough. We moved our seats at half-time.

As for the virtual sort, I made the mistake in the aftermath of suggesting on that Waterford were “the real deal“. This was a bridge under which the Cork and Kilkenny trolls could not resist residing. Once again, people who have never won All-Ireland medals themselves felt the need to lecture other people who have never won All-Ireland medals on what it takes to win All-Ireland medals.

If you are thinking that I’m suggesting that such obnoxiousness is a characteristic of the supporters of other counties, then I would direct you to the rather shocking comments of Derek McGrath after the game:

McGrath never quite relaxed but the strangest sensation for him was feeling that warm afterglow of public delight.

“That was very difficult for me to overcome because I would have been naturally sceptical of fans having watched fans applaud decisions. One day I was sitting in the stand and Dan [Shanahan] was taken off and a fella beside me stood up and applauded and I would have been naturally sceptical or paranoid over how harsh it is for people with their families in the stands.

“I think we’ve got over that and we’ve just embraced the fans themselves and tried to get them on board. I think they’re returning. Obviously victories help and even personally, my own son is nine years of age. He left the Kilkenny game last year after 45 minutes, we were 17 or 18 points behind, such was the level of, not abuse, but the level of insensitivity. That goes with the territory, I’m acknowledging that, but he hasn’t been at a match yet this year. [But] I got to talk to him on the phone so he’s delighted at home.”

What is wrong with these people? This is all rather sour, but it’s a surely a civic duty to call out assholes wherever you encounter them and wherever they might be from.  And now all that is said let us rejoice, for there was much to rejoice about yesterday.

You don’t have to be an asshole to wonder whether an individual win truly represents progress, but I’d seen three Waterford games so far this year and each, in their own way, contained signs of life which, after the rolling calamity that was 2014, was good news in itself. A Tipperary troll on the GAA Discussion Board – there, that’s the Big Three hat-trick – had said after we were promoted that Waterford would “struggle to step up“, yet here were having taken down both Galway and Tipperary. The team has a settled look, right down to the silly dummy teams that the world and her husband could see through and, of course, the two man full-forward line. Given Cork’s much reported problems in at full-back, it was an interesting choice. Trust Shanahan and Stephen Bennett to advantage of those alleged weaknesses? Unwise not to ram home such an advantage with a conventional lineup? A case of not giving two hoots what the opposition get up to? Whatever it was, it led to a solid start with Waterford leaping into a three point lead. The tactic seems to be to pack so many bodies into the half-back/midfield area that we can win the ball and find a man in enough space to be able to pick out the one of the front two or put it over the bar. It worked a treat with one of those early scores, Shanahan letting the ball go over his head before using his strength to get into space and take the point when even a goal looked a possibility. Cork responded with a few scores of their own but against the wind this was encouraging stuff.

Amidst all this, it helps to have a bit of old school virtuosity. Gleeson’s sideline cut was one of those moments. A Waterford wag had exhorted him to put it over the bar. How we laughed. Over it went though, and I was reminded of a blog post from ‘crottys lake’ where he noted that when “trying to explain Waterford’s rise this year, lazy pundits have put it down to a new defensive system devised by Derek McGrath, which of course is rubbish, there are some seriously talented young players in this setup and it was only a matter of time before we began to see the results”.

There was little chance that Waterford were going to let rip. There weren’t going to be many goals given the tactics employed so a team wasn’t going to be broken by a flurry of them, and while there were some splendid long range scores you’re going to get a few frustrating wides. Even at this early stage though the pattern was Waterford taking three steps forward for every two Cork managed. Although speaking of goals, we were mightily relieved at our end when Séamus Harnedy managed to slip his marker and advance towards the danger area. Somehow though Stephen O’Keeffe kept it out and the defence were on hand to scramble it clear. I don’t mean to slag any of his predecessors in goal, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve never had a truly outstanding shot stopper so to see this was yet another encouraging sign, Had that gone in it would have been three steps forward for Cork in one movement, As it was, Jamie Barron drilled over a long range effort after he was found in acres of space by a super Shane Fives catch while Cork were held back by a couple of poor wides, one a free from Pat Horgan who had scored a million points (approx) from dead balls against Dublin. Mahony had been pretty much perfect with his frees and a score with the last puck of the half meant we had an unflattering four point lead to show for our efforts.

Mulling on it all at half-time, safely ensconced away from the Three Stooges, the feelings of ennui returned. It’s all very well managing expectations, but the expectations have a pesky habit of shifting. This was far in excess of what I could hoped for at the start of the campaign, yet if we blew it from this position it would be devastating. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the loss at the same stage to the same team in 1998 left scars. We had them over a barrel and somehow let them wriggle free. It probably is an exaggeration to say that it left a lingering feeling that we would never be able to show the killer instinct required, but the sense that we had missed what was literally (at the time) a once-in-a-generation opportunity was as solid as concrete. Sixteen years and fifty weeks on, here we had a change to exorcise that ghost. Could we take it?

Although the wind had been swirling it seemed to be mostly against us in the first half, so you’d hope we’ve be able to get right into them early in the second half. Instead those nightmarish half-time musings seemed to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy as several efforts fell apologetically short or drifted wide with no one in a white jersey within an asses roar of the ball. When Colin Dunford hit a wide on the run when he had time to steady himself and take an easy score, the dreaded word rose unbidden – panic. Stout hearts were called for here, and there were a couple of instances of Barry Coughlan doing what a good full-back should do by simply adopting a none-shall-pass philosophy, while Tadgh de Búrca continued to sashay the ball out of danger. A couple of cheap frees for fouls on Bennett and Jamie Barron respectively also helped to steady nerves, and when Mahony pointed both it meant that despite all that wastefulness we were still winning the second half. Three steps forward…

The 1998 moment had passed so surely it was time for a 2012 moment where Cork, facing defeat against dogged opponents, emptied their formidable bench and turned the tide. Yet it didn’t happen, which brought some heretical thoughts to mind, i.e. they didn’t have players of the calibre of John Gardiner or Cathal effin’ Naughton in reserve. Cork had started the game with Alan Cadogan whose flaying of the under 21’s last year was the point from which this year’s low expectations really start. He had to go off injured after only ten minutes which suggests either excruciating bad luck or he wasn’t fit to begin with and they had to take a chance with him. The players who had come on early in the second half were not having the desired impact and slowly but surely Waterford began to pull away.

The only comparison I can make is the 2002 Munster final, a time when a seemingly close game ended in a romp for Waterford. This was not the same thing though. That was an ever-mercurial team, as they would demonstrate time and time again throughout the Noughties. Had you asked them to go out and flatten Tipperary again the next day, it’s highly unlikely they would have done so. Here, Waterford had overcome those early second half wobbles and were in complete command in all areas of the field. A storming Kevin Moran point left us two scores clear as the game ticked into the final quarter and now Cork knew they were going to need goals. They nearly got one when Conor Lehane thundered a shot against the crossbar, but it spoke volumes that the follow-up ended in a terrible wide. A few minutes later a Gleeson sideline ball dropped in the danger area and was gathered by Michael Walsh. He got the ball away and somehow it ended up in the back of the net. It later transpired it was a bobble of a shot from Tom Devine that went past Anthony Nash via a Cork hurley. It was impossible to see from our vantage point – have I mentioned we moved away from a group of balubas? – although I’m not sure what my excuse was last time round against Tipp when I couldn’t see how Colin Dunford’s shot had gone in despite it happening right in front of me. Either way, wait until you see the green flag. Once that was up, the celebrations could begin in earnest.

The game wound down with a few consolation scores for Cork as tried to thread the eye of the needle while Waterford added a few more points of a more swashbuckling nature. Okay, maybe not, but we’re entitled to a little hyperbole and stretching the lead out to ten at the final whistle was not without consequence, as this represented Waterford’s biggest ever win over Cork in the National League. You read that right – not once in sixty-one previous League matches against Cork have we managed to do them by a double digit margin. By way of contrast, they’ve managed to do it to us on ten occasions. On a personal level, I had missed the 2007 final so this was a first for me, a case of getting the monkey of 1998 off my back. Two of the inter-county Senior titles out of the way, only one more to go.

Which brings us to the All-Ireland series to come. Amidst all the mentions of certain pivotal moments in this era for Waterford hurling, another one comes to mind – the 1999 moment when Cork, reeling from a thrashing at Clare’s hands in Munster after winning the previous year’s League (see: the 1998 moment) and an unremarkable defence of the League, took a gamble with six Championship debutants for the Munster semi-final against Waterford. Mickey O’Connell would have the game of his life with a staggering six points from the midfield. Cork would go on to win the All-Ireland that year while Waterford would endure a few more fallow years under Gerald McCarthy. It might have all been so different, but that’s the way it is with Cork. They may not be like mushrooms, but thanks to their effectively limitless (from a Waterford viewpoint) resources they could conjure up a ghastly revenge for us.

For now though, to the victor the spoils. Now where are the Cork assholes so I can grab my Déise badge and noisily kiss it inches from their faces? That should get the creative juices flowing.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1 s/l; Martin O’Neill), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Kevin Moran (0-3), Colin Dunford (Brian O’Halloran, 0-1), Pauric Mahony (0-11, 0-8f, 0-1 65), Michael Walsh (0-2), Jake Dillon (Shane O’Sullivan), Maurice Shanahan (0-2), Stephen Bennett (0-1; Tom Devine, 1-1).

Cork: Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Aidan Ryan (Damien Cahalane), Stephen McDonnell; Lorcan McLoughlin, Mark Ellis, Cormac Murphy, Daniel Kearney, Aidan Walsh (0-1; Brian Lawton), Bill Cooper (0-1), Séamus Harnedy (0-2; Jamie Coughlan), Rob O’Shea (0-1), Alan Cadogan (Paudie O’Sullivan), Conor Lehane (0-5), Patrick Horgan (0-7f).

HT: Waterford 0-11 Cork 0-7

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Waterford 1-19 (22) Tipperary 2-15 (21)

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (1)

Joe Brolly was making the point recently that the GAA can’t expect a captive audience forever in the face of the relentless march of soccer or an Ireland rugby team duking it out with the best Europe has to offer, and he has a point that you can’t expect people to stay endlessly loyal despite repeated slaps in the face. Then again, sometimes people stay endlessly loyal despite repeated slaps in the face. It speaks volumes that the decision to stage the League semi-finals in Nowlan Park rather than dragging us all to sit miles away from each other in Thurles felt like a stroke of genius rather than something blatantly obvious.

And it helps keeping them loyal when the product is this good.

We rolled up to Nowlan Park just as the Dubs were rolling out after an implosion for the ages, reeled in by Cork after being given a 12-point head start. All of the pre-match optimism in Waterford would have been founded on the idea that we had nothing to lose, but that kind of result, or a merciless beating would soon disabuse a team of that notion, and there’s no one better than applying the timber to a team when they’re down than Tipperary. It seemed early on that they had a plan to unpick Waterford’s blanket with their first few puckouts targeted at wherever Jason Ford happened to be and he was trying to pull Waterford all over the place by popping up in different places each time. It felt precise enough not be random – be out on the 45 on the left-wing for the first one, come up to the halfway line for the second one puckout, and so on – and yielded a quick return as, after a couple of frees from Pauric Mahony, he gathered the ball in the midfield and hit a shot into the mix where Séamus Callanan broke the ball into the path of Patrick Maher. He had all the time in the world to collect the ball and fire past Stephen O’Keeffe.

This was how it was going to be. Having got our hopes up that we had devised a strategy that would make us contenders against the dross of Division 1B and the ever-so-obliging opponents that are Galway, it wouldn’t survive contact with a team that were, you know, good. We were already being reduced to impossibly difficult long range efforts from the likes of Austin Gleeson to compensate for the fact that there was no one in the danger zone. At the other end every Tipp attack reeked of danger, Barry Coughlan looking like a rabbit in the headlights of Séamus Callanan’s onslaught. The first encounter ended with him having to haul Callanan down with a tackle that would have gotten him a black card in football. The second encounter went better as he managed to hustle him out wide although the ref may have taken sympathy on him so soon after the yellow. Either way we were under a hideous amount of pressure and it was the outlet of Jason Ford that proved crucial again as, after Tipperary had to re-take a puckout for the crime of not waiting for the whistle, Ford won the puckout and released Brendan Maher who in turn put John O’Dywer in space to bat the ball past O’Keeffe.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (9)

Eamon O’Shea would say after the game that he felt Tipperary never got going, but I think he was confusing a lull you get in the crowd at the start of the second part of a double header with a lack of intensity because Tipp were all over us here. Callanan was certainly up for it, sending over a great score from way out right and drawing yet another foul to allow him to stretch the lead to seven after only 15 minutes. Seeing Colin Dunford back on his own 45 clearing the ball emphasised how under the cosh we were and when a storming Kevin Moran run ended in a free out as he was completely left without support, the feeling of dread about how this would be treated on was building to a crescendo. Yes, that’s the way I think during a game.

What we could do with here was some stirring play and a soft free, and both arrived in the shape of a run from Dunford which ended with him hitting a low ball into the middle where there were finally some Waterford players, and the ref awarded a free for not very much. Mahony took the point – things were so grim that I did briefly wonder whether he should go for a goal – and with the next Waterford attack Maurice Shanahan managed our first point from play, with a lovely turn and strike. Some clumsy defence from Waterford gave Tipp a 65 which Callanan duly scored but there was more stirring play to come as Austin Gleeson raced from his own half past the entire Tipp back division. His shot at goal was weak and easily saved but goodness, he had earned the right to have a go.

Upon reflection, this may have been the period where Eamon O’Shea felt his team failed to keep up the intensity levels. The wind was strange with no impact in the corner we were sitting between the old stand side and the City End terrace – it’s a crying shame that I don’t feel able to put ‘City’ in sneer quotes any more – but was stiff enough on the other corners of the ground. The wind would certainly prove crucial in the second half. Then again, Waterford were now beginning to show some of the form that had gotten them this far. They were now putting ‘em under pressure, forcing them out to the midfield where James Woodlock lobbed over a fine score to restore the seven point lead. A good advantage from Barry Kelly saw him call it back when no advantage accrued to allow Mahony to score from the free, then a cracking point from Dunford on his weak side lifted the spirits a bit more. Two further frees from Mahony followed, the second moved in from a narrow angle after some dissent which cheered us up no end, and suddenly the gap was down to three. Tipp managed a couple of good scores before half time, but that was the thing – they had to be good scores as Waterford were now well in their face, and it was Waterford who ended the half on the up, Mahony scoring after another storming run by Moran, showing that the support was now there for such a run, and another from a free for a high tackle on Dunford which showed the increased strain Tipp were now under.

Only three points in it at half-time. It seemed scarcely believable after the free-wheeling manner in which Tipperary had leapt out in front. The second half began with Tipp getting into an awful flap in trying to clear immediately beneath us and while they eventually did they were showing none of the tiki-taki stuff of the opening quarter. Mahony and Callanan exchanged points from frees before Michael Walsh batted the ball down to Jake Dillon to lash the ball over. A long-range effort from Callanan looked to be about to drift wide of the left-and post but just squeezed in, although it was noteworthy that the wind was catching such efforts at that end of the pitch. Everything Tipp were doing was under pressure while Waterford were bursting away from any challenge with incredible vigour. One move saw de Búrca and Philip Mahony power out of defence and release Jamie Barron to fire a point over on the run. Forget about blanket defence, this was classic direct hurling. Leave your man for dead, drive it forward in the direction of a team-mate and trust him to win the ball. In contrast, Tipp were having to shake off the hounds for every score, a fine Jason Ford point coming after what seemed like the entire Tipp forward line were pursued back and forth across the field like a bitch in heat. The Tipp subs were coming on in waves to try and hold back the tide as Walsh again knocked the ball down, this time into Shanahan’s path, to cut the lead to one.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (19)

I’m going to reach for the hyperbole bomb now. The intensity Waterford were bringing was like a certain team more frequently seen around these parts. Both the spirit and the flesh were willing and able to reduce opposition hurleys to matchsticks if that was required. What was missing was the wizardry up front, so it was almost too much to take when we saw some of that. Tipperary were dispossessed while on the attack for the umpteenth time, Kevin Moran thundered out of defence and played it up to Colin Dunford. He controlled the ball brilliantly, turned his man and raced off towards goal with a Mullane-like flourish. His strike was not so Mullane-like but it somehow squirmed past Darren Gleeson in the Tipp goal. A huge free from Mahony stretched the lead to three, and even when Tipperary manage to breach the Waterford wall, Stephen O’Keeffe was on hand to block the shot. Tipp were racking up the wides in the face of this onslaught, two shots drifting out to the left suggesting they were not calibrating for the wind, which was hardly surprising given the frenzy that faced them every time they got the ball. Another Mahony free after Shanahan had been fouled meant a four point lead, and Waterford had outscored their shell-shocked opponents 1-15 to 0-7 in the second and third quarters.

You couldn’t keep this up for the whole game so it was a pity that the clock down at the other end of the ground that ticked over to 70 minutes in the 60th minute was wrong. Tom Devine, who I am told by someone from up that part of the world would be pronounced Di-VINE, not De-VEEN, had a chance to finish it when he pounced on a loose ball after a strong Shanahan run, but his shot towards goal was blocked by one of the three or so defenders who managed to get in his way. In truth, justice was done as he clearly placed the bas of the hurley on the ball then picked it clean off the ground. Tipp finally ended a barren scoring run with a long-range free then a cheap free allowed Callanan to trim the lead to two and with at least eight minutes left. Shane Fives tried to get things firing again with a huge effort from the halfway line but it dropped short and Tipp were able to clear. The players were clearly flagging and while this didn’t lead to any shortage of effort – one incredible play saw Kevin Moran fling himself full length to block the ball and somehow emerge with it from the ground – another Tipp free left the gap at one. Brian O’Halloran, on as a sub and with fresher legs, perhaps should have done better soon after as he and Dunford combined to make the space for the shot. A couple of Tipp efforts fell short, with one leading to a crescendo of anticipation which showed that, contrary to any suggestions you might see from them, they really wanted this one. Thankfully they did fall short and they showed O’Keeffe comfortable under the high ball in a goal where he dropped a horrible clanger a few years ago.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (20)

Tipp did finally manage to get one right to level matters, and the dreaded extra time loomed. The next few minutes were utterly frantic (read: I put away the notebook, this was too much to deal with) and when Shanahan was fouled, a rather soft award in my opinion, you felt there weren’t going to be many chances after this one. It wasn’t a gimme from way out on the right but Mahony held his nerve to get our noses in front. I doubt if I have ever seen a Waterford free-taker land every chance, yet that was what he had done. Another thing to be optimistic about for the future. There was time for one more moment of madness in the game as yet another long ball drooped short in the Waterford square. Shane Fives found himself with the ball but facing the goalie at point-blank range. He did the sensible thing and lashed it out towards the corner flag where . . . . I couldn’t tell what had happened. It looked like it had gone out for a sideline, but the umpire signalled for a 65. It transpired later that the ball had hit the flag and the ref had correctly awarded a sideline ball. The whole discussion about it ate up more time and when the sideline ball came in he quickly awarded a free out to an explosion of relief all round.

At the risk of sounding hyper-critical, it was alarming how Waterford played those last few moments, twice lashing the ball out of play for a sideline as if it were rugby and that would be the end of the game. Never trust a ref not to act the maggot and play more than the ‘at least’ injury time announced. As it was, the second clearance did indeed bring the final whistle and a spectacular result for Waterford. The lone Tipp lad in our section who lustily roared for tap-over frees was given a rousing send-off as he made his escape, and when the Waterford players approached us it looked like they were coming to take our acclaim. It felt immediately strange – wait, we’ve won League semi-finals in recent years, nothing to get too excited about – but as it happened they were merely doing their warm-down. Ah feck it, we all thought, they’ve been magnificent as we applauded them heartily. What a turnaround from the last visit to Nowlan Park when Colin Dunford’s two goals into the same end were the lonely counterpoint to a dispiriting defeat. At the start of the year I would have not expected promotion, and if we got it then we’d surely get pounded by the Division 1A team we’d face, and if we somehow overcame them we’d get pounded by whatever team finished higher up that division, and if we somehow overcame them . . . I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Now that I can think ahead, I dare to think even further ahead. I’m going to get healthy, look after myself, cut out the junk food and get more exercise. Because I want to be there for when those further thoughts become reality.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (18)

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson, Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron (0-1), Stephen Bennett (Brian O’Halloran), Kevin Moran (Eddie Barrett), Pauric Mahony (0-13, 0-11f, 0-1 65), Jake Dillon (0-1), Maurice Shanahan (0-3), Michael Walsh (Shane O’Sullivan), Colin Dunford (1-1).

Tipperary: Darren Gleeson, Paddy Stapleton (James Barry), Conor O’Mahony, Paul Curran (John Meagher), Michael Breen, Padraic Maher (0-1), Ronan Maher, James Woodlock (0-1), Shane McGrath (Gearóid Ryan), John O’Dwyer (Shane Bourke), Brendan Maher (capt), Jason Forde (0-1; Conor Kenny, 0-1), Séamus Callanan (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Patrick Maher (1-0), Niall O’Meara (0-2).

HT: Waterford 0-11 (11) Tipperary 2-8 (14)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)