Tag Archives: Clare

Waterford 3-23 (32) Clare 1-11 (14) – Under-21

Boost for Waterford hurling as U21 side storm into Munster final with 18-point win over Clare – The42.ie
Bennett blast for Banner as U-21s lift Déise spirits – Irish Independent
Waterford U21s blow Clare away – Irish Examiner
Stephen Bennett leads second-half blitz as Waterford put Clare to sword – Irish Times
Devastating Deise demolish Banner – HoganStand.com
Waterford trounce Clare to reach Munster Under-21 final- RTÉ


History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And, on occasion, the rhymes are a ripoff of the original. So it proved for the Waterford Under-21’s as, three years on from crushing the Clare Minors in the notorious free game in Dungarvan, they did the same to them in front of over 4,000 paying punters in Walsh Park. It struck me as I started this that a lot of those Clare players will have donned the county jersey for the last time. They won’t be sorry to see the back of our jersey – and the back of it is all they saw for much of this game.

I’m in a gleefully vindictive mood. If we only learned one thing from last Sunday, and if it took until last Sunday to learn this lesson then you must have spent the last half-century in Alpha Centauri, it would be that you have to enjoy these moments. In the build-up to the game I managed to work myself into a right state at the failures at this level over the last decade. In the long run Cork and Tipperary will always lord it over the rest of us and you have to make hay when they are shrouded by cloud, so for Limerick and Clare to win the last five Munster titles without even an appearance in the final from us is a dispiriting thought – and it’s not as if spirits were that buoyant to begin with. The class of 2009 came and went without making an impact on this competition. Could the class of 2013 do any better? If not, it would be clear that we were doing something fundamentally wrong.

The early signs were ominous. Having deliberately decided to sit right down at the far end of the stand so there would be plenty of room, a Clare lad duly plonked himself a few rows in front of me and proceeded to greet every score with at least 15 seal-like claps, even tap-overs from frees. Yes, I was counting. Had I not suffered enough on Sunday? Events on the field were not any better as Clare looked that bit sharper than Waterford. It seemed like we were first to every ball but they were cleaning up the dirty stuff and their goal was deeply alarming, going in after three attempts by Waterford to get the ball away. They were knocking over points around Waterford defenders and to slip 1-4 to 0-1 down inside the first ten minutes was enough to bring to mind all manner of dark thoughts. What the hell were we doing to players between 18 and 21? Stuffing them full of blaas?

A couple of frees from Patrick Curran stemmed the tide and there was one brilliant score from Mickey Kearney where Waterford worked it through the middle allowing him to ram it through the posts, but the ease with which Clare responded to that, a simple sashay up the left from the puckout without a speck of ash touching one of their players, was galling in the extreme. Six points up after 20 minutes, if Clare pushed on they could be out of sight by half-time.

They didn’t push on though and, in retrospect, had they found themselves in the same position one hundred times against the same team, they would have done well to win once. It was a remarkably open game and the Clare forwards had the edge up to that point on their Waterford opposite numbers, but even a small shift in a few battles saw Waterford get on top. Yet another ridiculously precocious score from a sideline ball by Austin Gleeson (see above) contributed to the Waterford fightback and while a chance of a goal was spurned by Patrick Curran it ended up in another point and showed that Clare were going backwards. By half-time the gap was down to two and you thought that with the wind to come they just had to be able to close this one out. If they couldn’t you’d be wondering what the hell we were doing to players between 18 and 21 etc.

Having spent half-time enjoying the sight of so many girls and boys (and a few adults) engaging in the simple thrill of playing on the pitch graced by their heroes . . . I’m laying it on thick here, but sod it. It would be all of 20 seconds before Waterford had killed the match stone dead, Stephen Bennett rattling the ball home after Waterford won the ball straight from the throw-in. Two points followed immediately from each puckout and even the world’s greatest fatalist here was contemplating going down and doing an Alan Pardew in front of Mr Seal. A few people have wryly wondered whether Ger Loughnane would question Waterford’s moral fibre after the Tipp game having been so disparaging of Galway’s far less apocalyptic implosion against Kilkenny. He would certainly have plenty of cause to be obnoxious towards his own county men here if he were so inclined as Waterford racked up score after score with barely any intervention. Stephen Bennett added a second goal after a mix-up in the Clare defence and another green flag soon followed from Colm Roche.

The bottom line is that the eventual 18-point victory completely flattered Clare. The last ten minutes it was Waterford who stepped off the gas, as if just to give the backs a bit of game time, with Jordan Henley dealing competently with a series of goalward efforts. None of it was Elastigirl stuff as the efforts were of the Hail Mary variety but it would have been annoying had one of them managed to slip by. I had a mutter or two along the lines that a 22-point win would be nice . . . man, I really am leaving myself some hostages to fortune here. Tipperary and Limerick will be waiting in the wings, both confident that they defeated the 2013 Minors in the course of that momentous season. It’s important though to tell posterity how fantastic this was. You know all the guff about teams being burdened down by expectations? Here you had a big crowd yearning for some redemption after the weekend from those who lifted us all up back then, and they got it in spades. There will be plenty of mournful moments to come, so let’s revel in the joyous ones while we can.

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Twenty thousand’s a crowd

It is surely a sign of an increased sense of swagger in Waterford hurling that comments earlier on in the week ridiculing the propensity of Waterford fans for attending matches have passed seemingly without any sense of outrage. But never let it be said that this blog misses an opportunity to react to slights, or is burdened by any sense of irony about lashing out at criticism of our match-going habits having not gone to the match myself. I was kidnapped by a bunch of Brits. Yes, they are to blame for everything.

The comments came from Munster Council chairman Jer O’Sullivan, who reacted to a perceived poor attendance at the Waterford-Clare match by saying:

[If] you look back through recent years, Waterford, with all due respect to them, wouldn’t have brought massive crowds to games and the attendances would always be around 15,000 or 20,000.

Gee, I’d hate to see what he would say if he would trying to be disrespectful. The thing is, I saw the crowd while frantically hammering away at my Twitter feed over here in England and thought a crowd of 19,715 wasn’t that bad. Vague memories of checking the attendances as I researched the results archive would suggest these kinds of crowds were the rule even in the days before the back door, not the exception. With ‘all due respect’ to Waterford, Clare and Limerick, none of those counties is a particularly big draw in the way Cork and Tipperary would be, something that is confirmed by the attendance at the last Clare-Limerick clash all of 12 months ago, which could only muster a crowd of 21,493 for the respective All-Ireland and Munster champions of two years previous.

Further proof of concept is provided by the statistic that “Waterford feature in six of the 10 worst attendances in the Munster senior hurling championship since 2010”. I don’t know if this came from Jer O’Sullivan or the writer John Fogarty, and in fairness to the latter there is the caveat that the Waterford crowd “made up a sizeable proportion of the Thurles attendance on Sunday”. Whatever the source, this is a dig at Waterford supporters and one that, on its own merits, is grossly unfair. Think about it. Ten matches involves 20 teams, so if Waterford made up six of those teams then the other 14 are divvied up between the other four counties. Even distributing those figures evenly (which is unlikely) that means two counties each contribute to four of those not-many-shows. Hardly a statistically significant figure.

I know in the broader scheme of things it doesn’t matter, but it’s irritating to see the head honcho of the Munster Council peddling such nonsense. What we have here is an organisation determined to defend its relevance in an era when the provincial titles are no longer the gateway to All-Ireland glory. The statistic of how the Munster champions have not won the All-Ireland in a decade pops up in the unlikeliest of places, a stat just as useless as the one about Waterford’s frequency in the most-sparsely attended games. Did you know of the three counties to win the Leinster Championship in the last decade, only one has gone on to win the All-Ireland? You see how this works? The most effective way for Waterford to flick the bird at such slights is to win the All-Ireland, but that doesn’t mean we should let blatant disinformation pass unchallenged.

Waterford 1-21 (24) Clare 0-17 (17) – media reports

Déise advance after comprehensive win over Clare – RTÉ
Austin Gleeson’s scintillating scores give Waterford revenge – Irish Examiner
Waterford bounce back from league loss to see off Clare in style in Munster – The42.ie
Deise lower Banner – HoganStand.com
Waterford get it right the third time to dismiss out-gunned Clare – Irish Times
Waterford exact cold revenge on Clare in sun-kissed Thurles – Irish Independent

Tubthumping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22 (AET)

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


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

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

Unofficial GAA on Twitter summed up the first half:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 2-13 (19) Clare 2-12 (18) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

I wonder what the results would show if a monitor was attached to the heart of an ardent hurling fan for a game like the Waterford/Clare minor semi-final on Wednesday night. The machine would probably blow every fuse and gasket it had long before the game was over. Is there any evidence that hurling fans have shorter life spans or greater vulnerability to heart failure than the rest of the population?

Think of the exhilaration of the first seven minutes as Waterford cut Clare to ribbons with some marvellously quick and accurate hurling to go 1-6 to 0-0 ahead, and it should have been 2-6 had the Clare goalie not got his body in the way of Patrick Curran’s shot from the edge of the square.

Then, all of a sudden, the scoring tap was switched off. To an extent it may have been due to Clare raising their game boosted by Aaron Shanagher’s two-goal burst in the 10th and 12th minutes. However, the fact is that Waterford continued to create scoring chances, but managed to hit nine wides during the remainder of the half, and some of them were really bad misses. Perhaps the concession of those goals served to undermine their self-belief.

The worst miss was when Peter Hogan (I think) soloed through the Clare defence and then managed to hit the ball wide of the post from the edge of the square. They were also unlucky when a Waterford forward (Aaron O’Sullivan, I think) at the edge of the square got his hurley to Cormac Curran’s super sideline cut but the ball was stopped on the line by a Clare defender.

At the same time, Waterford were lucky that Clare’s shooting was equally inept at the other end of the field. They missed five scorable frees, including two from the 20 meter line by the usually reliable Shanagher.

The Waterford mentors can take no credit in allowing (or instructing) corner back Eddie Hayden to follow his man who was brought out to midfield by Clare. This made it much easier for the tall, skillful and athletic Shanagher to both get possession and make ground when he had possession. You will never see Joe Canning one-on-one with his marker when playing at full forward against Kilkenny. In situations like this a team should move one of their own corner forwards out to midfield to pick up the free man if he is causing problems.

Having said that, Shanagher was very lucky with his first goal, as he was hooked from behind as he took his shot only for the rolling ball to slip under Billy Nolan’s hurley as he came out to collect. That wasn’t Nolan’s only mistake. Later in the half, after he blocked out a high ball into the square and went after it, he made the basic error of turning back infield with the ball only to lose possession which was compounded by one of the defenders doing the same thing. Clare worked the ball into the goalmouth only for MJ Sutton to make a desperate (and brilliant) clearance off the line. However, fair dues to Nolan for an excellent second half performance, capped by that unbelievable save from point-blank range at the death.

Waterford appeared to regain the initiative just before half time when Patrick Curran offloaded an excellent long pass out of defence with a superb sideways pass to the inrushing Shane Bennett who flew past the Clare last line of defence and blasted the ball to the net (although the Clare goalie might have done better as the shot went right through him).

The sending off of Clare’s Michael O’Malley five minutes after half time should have further strengthened Waterford’s hand. However, rather than buckling at this setback, Clare really got stuck in and completely dominated play for the next 15 minutes, moving from six points down to two points ahead.

A major problem for Waterford in this phase of the game was the persistence and predictability of aiming all puckouts to Cormac Curran on the left wing. Not only was Curran not at the top of his game, but Clare were able to crowd the landing area and repeatedly win possession. Waterford should have varied the puckouts more and in particular made more use of the extra man who should have been deployed in midfield, where Waterford were finding it impossible to get possession.

However, just as it appeared that Waterford’s goose was cooked, they managed to turn the tide. There were a number of factors involved in this. Switching centre back Colm Roche and centre forward Conor Gleeson proved to be a master stroke. Bringing on Eddie Meaney gave Waterford a lot more possession on the right side of the attack. As Meaney had a similar impact when brought on in the first game against Clare, one wonders what he needs to do to get a starting place.

As the game became more open in the closing stages, the advantage of the extra man became increasingly important for Waterford. And, given that Waterford won the first game with a similar late spurt, it might be that they were simply fitter than Clare.

This game will have brought Waterford on a ton. I would not rush to move Colm Roche out of the centre back position, as this was his first competitive game in several months. However, I do believe that Shane Bennett would be of most value to us at left half back. I also think we need a ball winning presence in midfield which could be provided by Cormac Curran or Eddie Meaney. We might also need a rethink in the full back line, as Limerick have three very nippy full forwards.

I was at the Limerick-Cork game on Thursday night, and Limerick certainly did not look world-beaters in a game in which there was a lot of poor play (again, the long lay-off for both teams may account for this). Cork lost two of their starting players to injury in the first half, missed a penalty, and had a late free saved. They panicked a bit when they went five points down early in the second half and, despite getting a lot of possession, they repeatedly ran at the Limerick defence looking for goals which, with one exception, never came. Had they taken their points, the game could have had a different result.

The Limerick full back line looked solid, Ronan Lynch is a strong presence at centre back, Colin Ryan did well at centre field (and at free-taking) and their captain Cian Lynch won a lot of aerial ball at left half forward. Their star turn was Tom Morrissey at full forward who scored five points from play. This is the guy whose goal, after taking 12 steps, brought Limerick back into the game in last year’s final. He is a very different proposition from Aaron Shanagher, not particularly tall but very skillful and fast and he likes to take his man on. That said, Limerick never forced the Cork goalie to make a save and seemed content to keep taking their points (they got 23 of them).

Two interesting features of this game were the very low number of wides (seven by my count compared with 22 on Wednesday) and the fact that all the officials were from Waterford. The referee was Paul Foley (who did a good job, I thought – which you couldn’t say about the referee in Dungarvan) with Michael O’Brien and Michael Wadding running the lines and Alan Kissane as 4th official).

A modest proposal

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall a few years back when the Munster Council decided on the current system for the Minor hurling championship. The principle would have been that each county should get two games, but with six counties involved the challenge would have been to ensure that, after all the games leading up to the semi-final had been played, you wouldn’t have two teams who played each other in the ‘quarter-final’ meeting up again in the semi-final. I haven’t exhaustively looked at the permutations, but it doesn’t look possible to me, and you’d like to think that those looking at it did so thoroughly before concluding that it wasn’t possible and saying “feck it, alea jacta est!” Okay, maybe I wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, for fear of having my illusions ruined about the usage of classical quotations by members of the Munster Council.

The thing is, I like the system. The principle of ensuring each county gets two games is a sound one, even for Kerry. Yes, it’s hard to see them making it through but they’re clearly doing something right in the Kingdom if their Senior teams efforts in the League are anything to go by, beating Carlow twice on their way to the Division 1B/2A playoff against Offaly (it’s a scandal that they have to go through another playoff to get promoted, but that’s for another day), and they’re not going to improve if they shirk games against the best at Minor level. However, the issue with the possibility of teams playing their next game in the championship against the team they just defeated is a problem, compounded by the arcane manner in which the Munster Council treats home and away decisions.

Consider this scenario. Tipperary and Limerick were playing each other after the other two games in this year’s Minor championship, so each county knew who they would meet in the next round, whether that be in the semi-final or in the loser’s round. With Waterford beating Clare, they would have known that the winner would play Cork and the loser would play the winner of the Clare v Kerry game. Given the Munster Council’s rigid adherence to rotating home and away advantage – the same rules that mean Waterford will next play Limerick as the away team, because the drawn Munster final in Limerick last year in front of tens of thousands of Shannonsiders was treated as a neutral venue – it is not inconceivable that one of the counties might calculate that a win would leave them playing Cork away, while a defeat would see them play Clare/Kerry and Waterford at home. No doubt the purists would recoil at such suggestions of chicanery and say that no Munster team is ever going to go out and deliberately lose, and this would be fair comment – when it comes to bitter rivals, everyone is. However, you find yourself seven points down with ten minutes to go . . . it ain’t the end of the world if you have to win two home games rather than bust a gut to get the ‘honour’ of playing Cork in their own back yard, is it?

Even if you don’t believe a team would ever put in less than 100% effort in a championship game, there’s the issue of fairness. As it happens, ceteris paribus – those Munster Council boyos aren’t the only ones who can talk real purdy – Waterford have a 2:1 chance of getting a home draw in the semi-final. We last played Clare (this year) and Kerry (2006) away and Tipperary (last year) at home. But it doesn’t seem right that we could be at a venue disadvantage in a match against Tipperary despite winning our only game, especially when it’s a problem that is easily resolved. The team that comes out of the losers round of games should always cede home advantage in the semi-final to the team that got there by winning their quarter-final game. This would mean that if Tipperary come through, they have to come to Waterford. It’s a simple, elegant solution to the problem, and as such has no hope of ever becoming the way of things.

Forward planning

Awaking this overcast St Patrick’s Day morning, I scrambled to my phone to find out whether I had imagined yesterday’s events. Had there really been that avalanche of goals in the opposition’s back yard? Had the the recent better results proven to be an illusion, one shattered as superior scoring talent rolled forward in waves and inflicted a humiliating defeat? Yes, it was true. Liverpool had indeed walloped Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Oh yeah, and WaterfordwerebeatenbyClaremovealongnothingtoseehere

I haven’t seen the game, but in the light of my optimistic comments before the game it would be remiss not to provide some kind of follow-up, and the raw facts tell their own story: Clare possess dynamite up front. In writing about the Championship clash between the two teams last year, I referenced the arrival of Peter Duggan on the pitch, an old school mullocker in the style of Christy Heffernan brought on to soften up the Waterford backs. While Duggan would play a role in the turning point in that match and lead to a stream of invective in the comments that day and yesterday – curious how people with different handles and email addresses could have exactly the same viewpoint and style of writing – it was instructive that Duggan would play no role in the All-Ireland final victory or in the Cusack Park massacre. Who needs fixers when you have the likes of Shane O’Donnell and Podge Collins in your ranks, old school wristy forwards who terrorise defences with their brilliance?

It’s never nice to get a shoeing, and the short run outlook has turned grim as we have gone from being well placed for a League knockout appearance to needing to beat Kilkenny to avoid the relegation playoff (Update: probably. KevIRL on boards.ie has crunched the outcome numbers). The long run outlook hasn’t changed though. If we are going to prosper, we need to integrate the Minors into the Senior ranks. Easier said than done, but at least Derek McGrath can be under no illusions about the scale of the task ahead. And no team’s position is set in stone. If in doubt, just ask Man Utd fans.