There are simpler ways of telling how Liverpool are faring in any particular match than looking at the number of pages on the appropriate match thread on The Liverpool Way website. Yet there is something soothing as you try to work out how well/badly things are going while not enduring the potential blow that is, well, the simpler way of looking up the score, in looking at the page count. If it is low, Liverpool are winning. If it is high, they are not. If it is very high . . . it was very high against Man Utd last weekend.
The process that sees supporters revel in going online to bathe in the acid of failure while giving a casual shrug to victory was also reflected on the boards.ie Waterford GAA thread. There was almost complete silence during the game and even in its immediate aftermath. It was only through the week as the game today against Galway came into view that the debate was fired up again, and whaddyaknow the heart of the discussion was about how you couldn’t play like that against Galway and the negative tactics were a shame and Wexford weren’t up to much and Division 1B was no preparation for what was coming down the tracks…
Enough about all that. Having achieved the target for the year’s League campaign today’s game is the equivalent of a free ball, so let’s relax and look at a statistical quirk that has come together:
Yes, today is Waterford’s 500th National Hurling League match! And how delicately poised is that overall record? P499 W233 D33 L233. This isn’t the whole story – you can find that here. This summary includes two walkovers, a concession to Offaly in 1925 (our very first scheduled game in the NHL) and the infamous strike postponement in 2008. It does not include three games from the 1920’s that were scheduled but I haven’t been able to find any record they were ever played or walkovers given. But enough with the negative waves! Let us instead enjoy the improbable symmetry of today’s game. And who knows? We might even win! Expect tumbleweed on boards.ie if we do.
What a helter-skelter weekend that was. Everyone seems to be talking about hurling what with Waterford’s white-knuckle ride win over Offaly, Dublin going close to causing the biggest upset of the century against Kilkenny, Cork softening Clare’s cough, and wailing lamentations about the nature of the Championship system. All grist to any blogger’s mill, but real life events mean I don’t have much time at the moment, and the looming Westmeath game means hurling events might overtake anything I write. So I’ll limit myself to confirming the truth of an observation made by the redoubtable Giveitfong, who noted in advance of the Minor game tomorrow that we have never won an underage game against Cork in Cork. Here’s the tale of woe at Minor . . .
. . . and Under-21 level.
Still, we drew the last game at Minor level in Cork so we’re heading in the right direction.
“It’s not just about the numbers” is the catch-cry of those trying to explain why the ten people their side has regrettably killed in the conflict should not be compared with the one The Other has most cruelly murdered. Ahem. Before we get too political, let’s just leave John Mullane’s career Championship scores – the last three columns – for posterity. NB I’ve cross-referenced the figures with those on hurlingstats.com and there is only one point of disagreement so we both must be doing something right. Have fun finding the discrepancy!
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Update: I’ve noticed that Waterford scored 1,102 points during John Mullane’s Championship career, of which he scored 177. So he scored 16% of our points in that time without ever taking a single free. Is it me or has it suddenly gotten cold in here?
Hot on the heels of the club results comes an updated list of National Hurling League results. It only (!) dates back to the 1938/9 season, but after a lot of angst about the accuracy of the information I’m sufficiently confident about its veracity to unleash it on the wider public. One of the reasons for this has been from reading David Smith’s biography of John Keane, The Unconquerable Keane – review in the pipeline. Quite apart from containing a list of all the matches the great man ever played in, in so far as any such list can ever hope to be comprehensive, his work has made me realise why the NHL is the GAA’s red-headed stepchild. Back in Keane’s time tournaments matches were much more important than they are today, offering participating teams the opportunity to win a set of hurleys, precious commodity that they were or, even better, you might get ‘a length of suit’ for participating. That’s a gent’s suit, in case you’re wondering what that means, and my father hooted with delight at being reminded of such a long-gone social phenomenon. The NHL must have seemed a nuisance by comparison, and the GAA has never found a way to shake off that stigma.
Illustrative of the lack of joined-up thinking regarding the competition can be seen in the 1946/7 season. Waterford only played three matches in ‘Group A’ spread between November 1946 and March 1947. They finished level with Kilkenny at the top of the group so there had to be a playoff. This didn’t happen until October, after the 1947 All-Ireland final and just three weeks before the start of the 1947/8 season! It makes the current rumblings about the structure of the League look rather tame.
Still, from the point of view of the hobbyist the NHL does have the virtue of happening around the same time each year while the Emperor’s New Clothes events were mostly ad hoc. Until someone pays me to do this, that’ll have to suffice.
With Ballygunner getting ready to have another tilt at the Munster club title, it seems like a good time to roll out the complete list of results for Waterford clubs since the competition started in such a half-assed fashion back in 1964. Complete, that is, except for Lismore’s result against Ballyduff of Kerry in 1992. The Irish Times didn’t think it was worth noting, Feel free to comment on the Old Lady of D’Olier Street (yes, I know it’s not there any more) and its derisory attitude to the GAA below (Update: got it. Unsurprisingly the Indo is a bit more thorough).
Our record isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. It’s certainly a lot better than our record at Under-21 level, a competition that started around the same time. We’ve a winning record against Limerick teams and a surprisingly good one against Tipperary teams. Tipp’s county championship is ferociously competitive with nine different winners over the last 20 years compared to only five in Waterford, so their teams are probably not as robust as the likes of Ballygunner and Mount Sion.
Aha, you may say, how does that explain our crappy records against teams from Cork and Clare? Our recent efforts against Cork teams haven’t been so bad, but in the early days of the competition we were routinely mown down by the likes of Blackrock, Midleton and St Finbarr’s. It’s been a while since a team from Cork was inherently scary. The same cannot be said of the Clare champions. The hoodoo the Banner had over Waterford teams in the ’90’s was brutal, knocking us out no fewer than nine times in the twelve years between 1991 and 2002. Mount Sion didn’t beat Sixmilebridge in 2003 – they exorcised them. Now if only we could get all Max Von Sydow on the Galway champions . . .
The list of Waterford’s results at Minor level is complete, although not without having to choke back a few tears as I went past the match reports for the 1992 Munster final – it was then, not the run through the Senior Championship in 1998, that Waterford hurling awoke from its decades-long slumber.
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The overall record throws up some oddities. It’s nowhere near as bad as our performances at Under-21 level which probably reflects that the Minor competition existed long before Waterford hurling really went off the rails in the 1970’s – five of our eleven wins at Minor level against Tipperary came before 1950. That good record against Tipp is offset by a mediocre one against Limerick, whom we didn’t beat at fourteen attempts between 1957 and 2009, and a terrible one against Galway, almost the complete opposite of our 100% record against them at Senior level. But we do have a 100% record against Kilkenny. Hopefully we’ll get to test that before too long.
Dublin’s draw with Kilkenny had me wondering whether a weird but not altogether unlikely sequence of results could yet propel Waterford into the League final. After crunching the numbers, the answer is ‘not a hope’. Let’s assume Waterford played their remaining two games against Offaly and Galway now. Winning both would leave us on nine points but still behind Kilkenny on points difference. Dublin are currently on eight, so to stay ahead of them we would need them to lose to Cork. To stay ahead of Cork, who would then be on seven points, we would need them to either lose to or draw with Wexford. Should that miracle take place we would still require Tipperary to beat Galway to ensure we stay ahead of Galway, then have Offaly beat Tipperary to ensure we stay ahead of Tipp. In short, it ain’t gonna happen.
So today’s game against Offaly is just for pride. Thanks to the sterling efforts of UibhFhailí.com, Offaly is the only county of whom I have a complete record of their results against Waterford.
We gave them a walkover in our first game against them in the very first National League so didn’t play them for real until the 1966/7 season where they gave us a sound beating in Birr. Since then it has been an even battle, each county with nine wins apiece and no one winning more than two games consecutively. Ah, if only the rest of hurling was like that. Today then is a tiebreaker. The tension will be unbearable.
Sarcasm aside, there’ll be no need to manufacture tension in Dungarvan where both sides desperately need a win, Offaly to maintain their promotion push and Waterford to avoid relegation – Cavan’s win over Louth last night has sent us to the bottom of the table. We’ve never beaten Offaly in football, the record being played seven lost seven according to UibhFhailí.com, so thank goodness we have home advantage. Tom Cunningham, take note.
Fraher Field was a happy hunting ground for Waterford this weekend, and even before the win over Cork I was pondering whether there is much advantage to being the home team in the GAA. The footballers have lost narrowly and been stuffed away from home, and recorded two solid victories at home. Obvious enough pattern there. It’s a little more opaque with the hurlers. Away from home we were decisively beaten by Tipperary and Wexford were probably closer to us than they might have otherwise expected. At home before Sunday we had taken the only point that Dublin have dropped thus far. So was the difference between Cork and ourselves because we were at home?
The GAA doesn’t seem to treat home as ‘an advantage’. Little effort seems to be made to rotate League fixtures so that you end up playing counties home-and-away in alternate years – four of our seven matches this year have the same home team as in the corresponding fixture last year – and when publishing results the winner comes first, although in fairness this may be a function of the slightly goofy scoring system; the winner will be obvious without having to convert the goals in to points. So using National League results going back to 1950 as a guide and a sufficiently significant sample, what impact does being at home have on Waterford’s chances?
The answer seems to be ‘it’s significant, but not as much as you might think’. The number of home and away games are very close together, which suggests the GAA does give it more thought than I originally suggested. We’ve won at home 55.7% and away 46.9% of the time, which means (if the logic of my maths is correct) that all other things being equal we are 15.8% more likely to win at home than we are away. It’s not something you’d want if you could avoid it – imagine if every game was a case of ‘first to 100 the winner’ and you had to give the opposition as 16-point head start – but it shouldn’t be enough to induce despair before you have even taken to the field. And if you shrink that figure down to an individual game like against Cavan, an advantage of 15.8% represent 1.1 points for Cavan, so they still would have won. I’ll tell myself all of this when we’re playing Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on Sunday week. Someone else can tell the players.
With the exception of a few dates and venues, and an odd match against Galway in 1966 which was present in the 1992 final programme but I can’t find referenced anywhere else, I’ve completed the list of Waterford’s results at Under-21 level. And as initially suspected, what a tale of woe it is. For example, we’ve beaten Cork once in fifteen attempts, that sole win unsurprisingly coming in 1992. There’s one draw, and of the thirteen defeats we’ve not once come within a goal of them. Today. Golden Age. Fact.
One of the fringe benefits of researching Waterford GAA in days of yore has been the comical nature of newspapers. Yes, I do know you use Nugget Shoe Polish, thank you very much. It has been testimony to the correctness of Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’ assertion that Our Dumb Century is “the true history of the world”.
But such mirth at the loopiness of newspapers back in the day was far from my mind today as I ploughed through National Hurling League results from 1950-2. Looking through the pages of the Irish Independent, the Irish Press and the Munster Express – the Irish Times was a dead loss for the GAA at this stage – not once did I come across anything as useful as a league table so I could tell what other teams we would be playing. This wasn’t a problem during earlier forays into the archives as I was able to piece together the format of the league by cross-referencing with other matches, e.g. if Waterford played Wexford, then I saw that Wexford played Kilkenny, then Waterford must have played Kilkenny at some stage of the campaign, right? Yet there were several instances of this not being the case, at least if looking through every Monday edition of the Indo and the Press and every edition of the Express from October 1950 to April 1952 is anything to go by. It was a galling experience, and things are only likely to get worse the further back you go.
Then just I was packing up my laptop and wondering why I was bothering, the day was salvaged by a book. Yes, all that technology was usurped by one of Gutenberg’s offspring upon which my eyes randomly alighted. The Munster Story, by Jim Cronin, only goes up to 1984 but it had the result of every inter-county match played in Munster up to then. Given how rarely Waterford stepped outside the province in those days it is effectively a definitive record. Expect much more from Minor and Intermediate levels and even football, and slowing down in National League results.