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?

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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.

We don’t get no respect II

I had a comment a few weeks back on my rant about the Wexford People and my underlying belief in their underlying belief that you only have to give Waterford a nudge and the whole edifice will crumble. LCD fan said:

Think the Wexford people article is a pretty fair one having read it, I don’t think your point stands up that they wouldn’t publish the same sneaking suspicion that they could pull it off if they were playing Tipp for example .

That’s all well and good, LCD fan, but you’re assuming you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have a massive chip on their shoulder [edit for clarity: that’s me, not the Wexford People]. I suffer from a chronic dose of confirmation bias, so when I saw SBB on Seó Spóirt chundering on about Limerick’s greater desire in his match preview, it was all I needed to hear. Infamy, infamy, they all have it infamy.

If I had bothered to check other sources I would have found plenty to agree with my point of view on the game, i.e. that Limerick are heading in the right direction after a good win over Dublin and with copious amounts of talent coming through, but Waterford have done a better job in integrating our own recent glut of talent into the panel and are currently that little bit ahead of them – see here and here for such analyses. And in the end, that was to undersell our position as Waterford dished out a proper hiding in the second half, throwing up a remarkable stat:

I worry way too much about our standing in the game. I can’t gush about how far we have come from the abyss that was the 80’s in Waterford hurling and then expect others to not have their view informed by the abyss that was the 80’s in Waterford hurling. It’s not as if SBB is out to get us. I’m pretty sure his wife is from Waterford and he has frequently gushed himself in the past on Waterford’s progress. With that in mind, here’s a promise in advance of the final against Clare: they deserve to be favourites based on their pulverising of Kilkenny, a display even more impressive than the nine-point winning margin suggests as they played a sparkling brand of hurling and left the Cats chasing shadows for much of the game. Let the pundits have their say and que sera sera, okay?

NB this promise doesn’t cover anyone being unfair to us. Thank you, Donald Trump.

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

Waterford 1-10 (13) Cork 0-17 (17) – Minor – media reports

Strong start by Cork as they defeat Waterford in Munster minor hurling opener – The42.ie
Rebels win in Waterford – HoganStand.com
Impressive Cork reveal fighting spirit to reel in Waterford – Irish Examiner
Sheehan shines as Rebels edge past Waterford – Irish Independent
Second-half surge eases Cork minors to victory – Irish Times

Waterford 1-10 (13) Cork 0-17 (17) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

Waterford could, and possibly should, have won this very strange minor hurling game played in Walsh Park tonight before a paying attendance of 2,707.

Waterford had first use of a very strong wind blowing down the field towards the town goal and had the best possible start. In their very first attack, Eoin McGrath (wearing the number 9 jersey allotted to Harry Ruddle in the programme) ran through the Cork defence and blasted an unstoppable shot to the net from over 20 metres. Cathal Curran and Michael Mahony followed up with excellent points to leave Waterford 1-2 to 0-0 ahead after just three minutes.

Any hopes that Waterford would settle down and drive on from this tonic start were quickly blown to shreds. Cork took over complete control in all sectors of the field. Their ball control was excellent, they were much more alert and sharper in their play and had a game plan – which they executed superbly – to overcome the facts that they were up against both a very strong wind and a physically bigger and stronger team. Their main ploy consisted of low, short balls into the forwards which were regularly collected with their markers yards behind, giving them plenty of space to plan and play their next ball.

By contrast, Waterford team fumbled and foostered all over the field, dropping balls from hand and unable to execute the most basic pickups. They stood off their men and allowed the smaller/lighter but much more committed Cork players to run around and through them. An example of the Waterford mindset was a defender hitting one sideline about six feet and then completely missing the next one.

Waterford’s main attacking ploy was booming puckouts from Billy Nolan which rained down on the Cork half backs. Those balls which they didn’t catch cleanly out of the sky were broken down and then hoovered up by alert and quick defenders. It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Cork had at least one extra defender, with one of the Waterford forwards withdrawn in a sweeper role. Playing a sweeper when Waterford had the assistance of a very strong wind didn’t make much sense to me, and points up the importance of being able to adjust a prepared game plan to prevailing circumstances and conditions.

Despite playing into the wind, Cork reeled off eight points in a row without reply to go 0-8 to 1-2 up by the 25th minute. Then, as if someone had tripped a switch, Waterford suddenly completely took over again and landed four points in a row to go in at half time 1-6 to 0-8 ahead. An important factor here was a change in Nolan’s puckout strategy, sending lower and more directed ball to the midfield area.

During the interval we reckoned that if Waterford could start the second half as they finished the first and dictate the terms of play they might have some chance. However, the first ten minutes of the second half was a complete disaster for them, with Cork again taking over in all sectors and rattling off five points in a row to go four up. At this stage a complete hiding looked in store for the home side.

Then, that switch was tripped again and suddenly Waterford took control again and essentially dominated territorially for the last twenty minutes. Faced with a desperate situation, key players decided that enough was enough and began competing for the ball and making it stick. An additional key factor was the introduction of Clonea’s Conor Dalton who put in a powerful last twenty minutes.

Unfortunately, Waterford were unable to translate their dominance outfield into scores on the board. Time and again they drove forward from midfield only to run into cul-de-sacs in front of the Cork goal. It didn’t help that Tommy Douglas, whom we would have looked to for a scoring edge, completely failed to get the grips with the game (and the ball) with the other corner forward Michael Mahony also failing to make any impact.

Waterford also failed to turn a series of scoreable frees to advantage. Having started well, freetaker Eoghan Murray went completely off the boil as the game progressed. He missed a free just before half time and two more, from in front of the goal, in the third quarter, on top of a straightforward shot from play which he hit badly wide. One wonders what the result might have been had Harry Ruddle, who did very well for De La Salle in the Harty Cup, been on the frees here. While Waterford did manage to raise a few white flags, Cork, with the aid of the strong wind, were able to match this at the other end to keep themselves 4-5 points ahead.

The game ended on a slightly farcical note when Waterford were awarded four close-in frees in a row. Billy Nolan came up to take the first two of these but his two well-hit shots were blocked out. Harry Ruddle took the third, with the same result, before Nolan came back up the field to take the fourth which he blazed just over the crossbar. The game ended on the puckout.

Apart from Conor Dalton, for me Waterford’s two key players in the second half were Cathal Curran (brother of the Brickeys’ Cormac), operating in the midfield area, and Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) in the half forwards. Both players won a world of ball and repeatedly drove at the Cork defence, with Montgomery notching two good points in the process.

Cork’s key players were their go-to man in the corner, Evan Sheehan, who hit four points from play and one from a sideline and their centre forward Matthew Bradley who also scored four from play. Their full forward Josh Beusang converted four frees and also scored one from play, as did midfielders Cian O’Mahony and Robbie Bourke and corner forward Liam Healy.

A lot of people in the attendance were condemning the Waterford players for their apparent lack of skills on the night, but of course they are much better than they showed here (and indeed they did demonstrate this in patches). Their big problem seemed to me to be poor mental preparation. They have to believe that they are much better than they showed tonight. If they can marry their physical size with their undoubted skills and, most important, the kind of drive or “cur chuige” that is required in championship matches, I would not write them off yet. Poorly and all as they played, they could still have won this game with the chances they created. They now go on to play Tipperary in Walsh Park.

Waterford: Billy Nolan (Roanmore) (0-3, frees); Conor Giles Doran (De La Salle); James Flavin (Ardmore); Darragh McGrath (Abbeyside); Donal Power (Passage); Eoghan Murray (Ballyduff Upper) (0-2, frees); Michael O’Brien (Geraldines); Eoin McGrath (Butlerstown); Harry Ruddle Redmond (Ballygunner) (1-0); Jack Prendergast (Lismore( (0-1); Dylan Guiry (Fourmilewater); Cathal Curran (Brickey Rangers) (0-1); Michael Mahony (Ballygunner) (0-1); Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) (0-2); Tommy Douglas (De La Salle).

Chances’d be a fine thing

A couple of years back a Tipperary work colleague couldn’t resist a dig at how the Waterford Minors won the All-Ireland despite losing twice. I was most upset at such a belittling attitude, and by ‘upset’ I mean ‘amused’ with much in the way of cry-me-a-river pouring forth. It was an odd quirk of the system though, and it’s just gotten quirkier as the Munster Council have put in place rules to ensure everyone gets at least two games, something that hasn’t been possible in recent years in the absence of Kerry. The new setup involves the two quarter-finals being played tomorrow, Waterford v Cork and Limerick v Clare. The winner of each game goes into the semi-finals. The loser of the Waterford-Cork game plays off against Tipperary. The winner of this play-off is the third semi-finalist. The loser of the Waterford-Cork-Tipperary play-off then plays off against the loser of the Limerick-Clare game.  The winner of this second play-off takes the last semi-final place.

(E&OE)

The bottom line is that Waterford could lose to Cork and lose to Tipperary then beat Limerick/Clare and be in the semi-finals. Assuming there is a back door for the losing Munster finalist, we could lose three games and still win the All-Ireland. If that should happen. the world’s entire stock of microscopic violins would be needed in Waterford. Of course it would be an outrage worthy of sending someone to The Hague if Cork pulled off that trick.

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.