Category Archives: Blues Programme

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

Waterford v Kilkenny 9 August 2015 Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember where you read that slogan first.

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

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

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

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

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Advertisements

Are We Better Off In The First?

(originally published in the Waterford United match day programme for the Athlone Town game on 26 July 2013)

In a previous episode I made separate references to Liverpool and Ipswich Town, or Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town as they were known at the time. If you were hoping for a page devoid of references to the game across the water, look away now because what follows is a twofer with references to both clubs, and Colchester and Braintree thrown in for good measure. It’s like Little Britain here!

Spoiler warnings out of the way, my story commences at Anfield for the clash of Liverpool and Ipswich Town in the Worthington Cup on 4th December 2002. Now there’s a bit of geekery that would put Brian Kennedy to shame. A work colleague, who hailed from Braintree in Essex, was there to support his team, i.e. Ipswich. If I saw him now I might give him stick for not supporting Braintree Town. But I digress . . . at half-time we met up in the Kop and he mentioned how he had forgotten how difficult it was to keep tabs on the progress of the Tractor Boys after they had spent the previous two years in the Premier League, the first improbably going toe-to-toe for the whole season with Liverpool and Leeds United in trying to qualify the Champions League, and the second seeing them plunge back down to the bottom and eventually through the trapdoor after a last day walloping at Anfield. Now they were back in what was then called the First Division, today’s Championship, and coverage was thinner than Wayne Rooney’s hair.

This surprised me, and not just because no-one would ever accuse the media of not covering Liverpool in enough details (with the recent shenanigans surrounding Luis Suarez, less coverage would have been nice). It had only been a few years earlier that I had read a magazine called 90 Minutes which, when you consider it had no public service remit like RTÉ or the BBC, covered lower leagues in admirable depth. When even a club with a distinguished pedigree like Ipswich found itself being sidelined because they were out of the big top, you know there was something wrong with the football circus.

It was an article in 90 Minutes that came to mind as I watched the recent game between the Blues and Salthill Devon. This article concerned Colchester United, Ipswich’s near-neighbours in bumpkindom (a ‘bumpkin’ is the English equivalent of a culchie) and the belief among Colchester fans that their relegation from the Football League in 1990 was a blessing in disguise. Having spent several years sliding ever closer to the Division Four basement, it was almost a relief to be relegated. They were completely overpowered for the teams they were now facing in the Vauxhall Conference – apologies to the marketing suits of Blue Square Bet, but I’m of an age where the Conference will forever be sponsored by Vauxhall – and their fans thrilled to the experience of going to games expecting to win rather than hoping or despairing.

As I waited for the Salthill game to kick off, the memories of the previous week against Sligo Rovers were still fresh, where the Blues gave it their best but were never looked like causing an upset. If Sligo had taken any of the string of chances they had in the first ten minutes it could well have been a massacre. It wasn’t going to be like that against Salthill, right? And in retrospect it was even better than I had hoped as the Blues emerged victorious after a game as ridiculously entertaining as the game against the Bit O’Red had been a damp squib. Great goals, goalkeeping clangers, defensive howlers, open goals missed, brilliant finishes, attempted lobs from the halfway line – it had it all, and was exciting right up to the final whistle. When you consider some of the dross at Anfield for which I’ve forked out the best part of €50 over the years, this had been a bargain at a multiple of the admission price.

And that brings us back, in a typically meandering fashion, to the fate of Colchester United. Their fans had thoroughly enjoyed their time in the lower leagues, dishing out hidings to the teams at the bottom of the table while having ding-dong battles with their rivals at the top. It’s not like that for the Blues – the struggle to put Salthill away would tell you that – but we’re certainly looking at the flip side of Colchester’s situation, i.e. would there be much pleasure to be had in being in the Premier Division, containing so many teams who are firmly entrenched? We could look forward to some fearsome beatings and victories would be as common as a British winner of Wimbledon. In the First Division we have a genuinely exciting league where three-quarters of the participants have serious hopes of promotion and we can expect to have better than a 50% rate of success. With all that in mind, are we not better off where we are?

Time for a short lesson in media studies. If a headline poses a particularly provocative question (“Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the universe?” “Will the oceans freeze over?” “Have the Kilkenny hurlers lost the plot?”) the answer is invariably NO. Yes, we would most likely get stuffed if we got promoted, but we want to be up there with the big boys. Everyone does. If Salthill Devon were given the chance to be parachuted into the Premier Division, they take it without a second thought and the prospect of even more carnage be damned. It is the nature of the sports fan to always want more. Should we get promoted it would be absolutely fantastic – and be forgotten come the start of the new season as we moan that such-and-such isn’t pulling his weight the referee must be blind oh come on you can’t miss from THERE . . . are we better off in the First Division? Back to the drawing board with that idea.

Confessions of a Newbie Blue

(originally published in the Waterford United match day programme for the Salthill Devon game on 8th June 2013)

It started with abuse. Never thought that it would come to this. Not coming from a ‘soccer’ household didn’t stop me falling head-over-heels in love with Liverpool FC, and it was that love which saw me spend five years in the city in the mid-Noughties, picking up a season ticket-owning wife along the way. So it was that my in-laws were in town when I was offered tickets for the match against Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town. I was tickled by the idea of my father-in-law, a man who had stood on the Kop when Liverpool famously defeated St-Etienne in the 1977 European Cup, seeing what it was like at the coal face of the game.  I posted a rather dismissive article about the experience on my blog, and even though I brought my brother-in-law to see the Blues play a proper fixture against Limerick in the league a few weeks later – how would a veteran of those two Champions League semi-final triumphs over Chelsea view such an event? – this didn’t necessarily indicate a sudden yearning to worship at the cathedral that is the RSC.

Then I noticed a few comments on the Ipswich post. Very abusive comments. It seemed improbable that these people just happened upon the blog simultaneously, so I did some digging and found someone had posted a link on a fan forum where the comments about me made those posted on the blog look like the work of Ban Ki-moon. There was one chap who exhorted people to give me a break, that at least I had shown an interest in the Blues and had taken the time to express an opinion on the experience. But for everyone else . . . oh boy.  As far as they were concerned the ninth circle of Hell was reserved for barstoolers like me.

It is probably to the credit of my lone defender on the forum that my reaction was not to wash my hands of the whole affair, but instead to adopt a stubborn attitude that I’d show the rest of them what it was to be a Waterford man, godammit! I went along to see the Blues play UCD and lo! bumped into an old school friend who only too happy to show me the ropes with respect to the League of Ireland scene, something I hadn’t been clued into since the days of Tommy Lynch, and I’ve been a frequent (if not regular) visitor to the RSC ever since.

The reason I go through all this biographical detail is not out of a sense of narcissism. Okay, not entirely out of a sense of narcissism. It’s to show how tricky it is to get into the world of the League of Ireland supporter. Supporting Liverpool was a doddle, and that wasn’t because they were winning all round them at the time. And no, I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I’m sure most committed supporters of the domestic game also follow events cross-channel. I was once on a flight back from Liverpool and one of my fellow passengers could claim over 300 visits to Anfield. Clearly a good Red, but also a good Blue as demonstrated by his continued presence in the RSC. The reason I bring up how I came to be a proper supporter is that there were so many places where I could have said it’s not worth the bother. The Ipswich game was deathly dull. The Facebook app that allowed you to show what sports grounds you’d been to might not have existed (that’s the reason my brother-in-law was happy to accompany me to the Limerick game). The friendly forumite might not have been round to give me a vision of a welcoming RSC as opposed to unthinking keyboard warriors. I might not have even met that old school friend who was able to give me something familiar upon which to cling while I acclimatised myself to this slightly intimidating new world. In short, there are so many places that it could have gone wrong. One wonders how many people have set out on the journey only to fall into a similar pothole along the way.

It’s easy supporting a team in the English Premier League. There are millions of people around the world claiming undying love of Liverpool who have never even been to Europe, let alone Anfield. It’s hard to follow the local game. If someone were to ask me why they should go, I’d struggle to come up with a good sales pitch. I enjoy the live game, but you could just as easily go to a junior game for free if all you wanted was to see a good kick-around. €10 represents excellent value for an evening’s entertainment, but the moment it comes out of your mouth you feel like underselling it (“it’s only the price of a few pints”). The commitment of the players to winning even a dead rubber and their honest endeavour at all times is a sight to behold, but despite the abuse heaped on multi-millionaire footballers and their remoteness from the fans, there’s very few of them of whom it can’t be said they give their best too. Don’t ever ask me to be a salesman.

What keeps me coming back is a renewed sense of that which is the last refuge of the scoundrel – patriotism. Waterford city has suffered grievously in recent years, whether it be the depredations of unemployment or even the stripping of the very city status that has been at the heart of its identity for the best part of a millennium. I’m not going to win any converts to the cause in this programme. Something gives me an inkling that everyone reading it is onside already. Either that or looking for a cure for insomnia. In the end though, we have to hang together. The alternative doesn’t even bear thinking about.