Tag Archives: Cork

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 It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Cork had at least one extra defender, with one of the Waterford forwards withdrawn in a sweeper role.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.


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.

Thin line between Heaven and here

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

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

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

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

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

The deep breath before the plunge

I think Derek McGrath must have had a barnstorming interview. And you know what? That’s great! I hope he went in and wowed the interview panel with a stunning vision for the future of Waterford hurling. A panel of selectors with a judicious combination of learned wisdom and disruptive genius. Fitness coaches and physios capable of keeping the panel in tip-top condition and able to peak at just the right time. Sensible ideas for blending the undoubted talent at underage level…into the Senior panel. Peter Queally was good. Derek McGrath was better.

Known unknowns, 5/11/2013

The paragraph should not (and won’t be) treated as an I-told-you-so. If nothing else, I abdicated the right to be smug when I booked a holiday months ago, focusing all my thoughts on my wife’s unspoken wish to get away as early as possible to minimise the length of time we would be away from her garden during the peak growing season, and neglected to check the date of our opening match in Munster. In the end, I found out the result via the medium of Twitter:

Thanks, Mary!

I was surprised how nervous I was in the build-up to the game. Part of that was a sickening premonition that a defeat here would lead of to all manner of eyebrow raising and sly winks from the usual suspects about how they knew Waterford wouldn’t be able to cope with pressure of Championship hurling and you can’t bayte tradition. As it happens, the game was a positive indicator that the League was not a flash in the pan. It was a repeat of the Tipperary game to see Waterford calmly reel their opponents in after giving them a decent head start and it was a repeat of the Cork game to hold them at bay in the second half while they flailed away at us in the fashion of Scrappy Doo demanding we lemme at em. There was also the bonus of Waterford hitting a team with a couple of quick-fire goals, and top-notch goals they were too. It would have been seen as a potential weakness in Waterford’s arsenal so it will give a few of the more considered eyebrow raisers something to consider to see Waterford deploy that particular weapon. Cork were flattered by the ten-point margin of defeat in the League final. To put in so much better a shift in the Munster match and only get to the stage where they were flattered by a four-point margin of defeat augers well for the future for Waterford.

It is to that future that we can now look, and to do so we must first look at the past and the paragraph at the top of this post. Speaking positively about the rationale for appointing Derek McGrath didn’t amount to much more than an elaborate way of saying ‘give the guy a chance’ but events seem to have proven the hypothesis to be correct. I had said in a prior post that McGrath would have access to the services of Conor McCarthy, the physio of the Irish boxing team, as productive a conveyor belt of talent as exists in Irish sport outside of County Kilkenny. This was questioned on boards.ie, but I saw Conor on the sideline in Thurles – this was an improvement on the last time I saw him in a GAA context, after the Battle of Tramore – and a few days later I got the chance to congratulate him on his efforts. His demeanor was exhilarating in its matter-of-factness. Job done in the League, now on to the next one. I joked that McGrath must be very single-minded. There wasn’t a flicker of reaction to this. EVERYONE was focused on the next one, he said.  Everyone was definitely in block capitals.

Now, you can dismiss this as a load of hokum if you wish. Mind games might not survive the matter games of some of the teams lying in wait. Conor grew up in the same milieu for Waterford hurling as I did though, one where defeatism was in the stony grey soil. Here was a prepared mind, and we all know how chance views the prepared mind.

Having felt surprise at the tension that coursed through me before the Cork game, there can be no surprise at any tension in advance of the Munster final. We are not in bonus territory. We are in it to win it.

Waterford 1-24 (27) Cork 0-17 (17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: Waterford 0-11 Cork 0-7

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Only the Little People serve suspensions

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few weeks on boards.ie about the looming absence of Séamus Callanan from the Tipperary team to play Waterford in the League semi-final. The consensus opinion was that it would be a better test of Waterford’s mettle if the free-scoring Tipp forward was present, particularly given the seemingly eternal concerns over our full-back line in the face of goal scorers. While I would be of the opinion that anything that enhances Waterford’s chances of success is a good thing, even in the much-maligned League – a day may come when we are so flush with success that can afford to look on it with disdain, but Sunday is not going to be that day – I could understand the logic of the position. It isn’t just a question of whether we have the personnel, it’s whether an entire system, one with the potential to transform our prospects and even the entire game of hurling, is really what we hope it is. Better to find out now that dream of making the Donegal-style tactics work in hurling is a pipe dream rather than later on when there is no chance to rectify it.

A lot of people will be satisfied then to see Callanan has been successful in his appeal against the red card, and there will be a lot of overlap with the subset who thought he didn’t deserve to get sent off in the first place. But while I can understand the position of the former, seeing the latter makes my blood boil. The issue at stake isn’t whether Callanan deserved to get sent off. The only question that should be considered by the authorities in any appeal is whether the rules were correctly applied. If the referee judged a player to have struck an opponent with the hurley and a review tells us that the player struck an opponent with the hurley, even with minimal force, that’s a red card. This includes the marching orders given to Michael Walsh and Shane O’Sullivan in the League last year, and the mild tap that resulted in a red card for John Keane in the 2012 Munster club final. Yes, they were harsh decisions. But as long as the referee is applying the letter of the law, you can’t claim you were hard done by. Let that be a lesson to you to show more care next time. That big piece of wood is for hitting the ball, not your opponent.

So how did Seamus Callanan get off the hook while the aforementioned Waterford* trio did not? I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suggest that there is one rule book for the Big Three and one for the rest of us. Recently we were all united in acclamation of King Henry. It was probably understandable amidst all the hosannas that no one saw fit to question why he felt the need to refer to the red card he received against Cork in the 2013 Championship. As with all of the red cards I have mentioned here, it was a hard call. But there was nothing substantively wrong with it, so the hysteria which greeted it could only be explained in the context of who it had happened to, not what had happened. The idea that it was a blot on his reputation was ridiculous. Countless players have been sent off over the years and no one bothers mentioning it come retirement. Yet not only did Henry feel the need to bring it up upon his retirement, he managed to make us aware of the fact that he had been sent off before in an obscure Minor game, so his reputation was well and truly in the toilet anyway, right?

That same summer, we had a similar ho-ha over Pat Horgan’s red card in the Munster final against Limerick. The result was the same – red card rescinded. You can see the pattern emerging. Maybe you don’t think that’s fair, the suggestion that players from the Big Three are getting treated more leniently than those from the other counties. There are plenty of examples out there of harsh decisions against Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary players that were not overturned, and perversely the pattern would suggest that referees are happy to hand out cards to the biggest names without fear nor favour. After all, they don’t come any bigger than Henry Shefflin. But how else can you explain the strict support for the final word of the referee in the cases of Keane, Walsh and O’Sullivan and the after-the-fact undermining of them that took place in the cases of Horgan, Shefflin and Callanan? At best, it’s too small a sample size to be significant and the authorities are making it up as they go along. At worst, they are so starry-eyed by the big names from the big counties that the entreaties about shure he’s a grand lad who would never harm a fly gain traction. Whatever the truth, it’s not good when it comes to a supposedly rule-based endeavour.

*I believe John Keane is from Tipperary, but if you are playing for a Waterford club you are not representing Tipperary.

Seeking order amidst the peil-mell

When writing the last proper post for the proper website, I expressed a sickened frustration at the prospect of a lifetime – I’ve always got three-score-and-ten ahead of me, no matter how old I am – of being subjected to the trauma of constant updates on the fate of Waterford teams the length and breadth of the land. In retrospect this was a rather maudlin way of looking at it, unworthy of Modeligo and Cappoquin asterling performances in their respective Munster championships. The truth of the matter is that interest in a particular competition will ebb and flow according to the prospect of Waterford success. It’s a logarithmic progression, so when (for example) the Waterford ladies football team are a hot prospect at Senior level, interest in them rockets. Let their standards slip, even a little, and interest drops right back down again. This isn’t something that is peculiar to myself or Waterford folk. Stephanie Roche will be able to tell you all about the phenomenon as she hangs up her fancy frock and pulls back on a self-laundered shirt.

With that in mind, could interest in the Waterford footballers be about to rocket? While forlornly keeping tabs on Modeligo and Cappoquin’s ultimately unsuccessful tilt at All-ireland glory, what should happen but the footballers only go and beat Cork then win the McGrath Cup. I can hear the scoffing at the notion that winning the McGrath Cup or beating Cork on the way to it means anything in the wider scheme of things, and it’s fair to say it won’t mean much if it doesn’t translate into success at bigger dances. Still, we’ve met Cork many times since the last win over them in 1960. On many of those occasions it would have been a small-time fixture with Cork at one of their habitual low ebbs – the Rebels only seem to have two modes: steely-eyed assassins or in-fighting riddled rabble, with no points to be found in-between. Yet despite that, Cork won every one of those fixtures. So for Waterford to beat them then close out the competition with a win over the Sigerson Cup winners does indeed count for something.

Waterford football has always been an enigma. It’s not unfair to say that, in the course of my lifetime, we have been the worst county in the land. Yes, I know Kilkenny have been worse, but given their notorious scorched earth policy towards the big ball game, that’s not setting the bar very high. It’s not as if the raw materials for some manner of competitiveness are not present. Large swathes of the county are dominated by football, and it’s strange to contemplate that those people who are so committed to the game can’t get their act together to the point where they can give Clare, Limerick and Tipperary a goon a frequent basis. This is particularly true now the back door is in place. The prospect of being whaled upon by Kerry and Cork, even when the latter would be in-fighting riddled rabble, would have justifiably put off many a generation of Waterford football talent from making the necessary investment to compete at the highest level. Once the back door was introduced though, you would have expected a better showing. Even if progress through Munster only ever ended one way, you could then draw a fresh new challenge from up the country and have a reasonable expectation of beating any of the counties that tend to move between Divisions Three and Four of the National Football League. That’s not how it has worked out though. They gave Galway an awful fright a few years back in Salthill, and the high-profile scalping of London was noteworthy, giving us all a good chuckle at seeing it on Sky Sports News. Other than that though, the back door has proven to be just as barren as the provincial championship, and losing last year to Carlow, the Carlow beaten by 28 points in the Leinster championship , the Carlow undergoing much internal angst over the rise of hurling at the expense of football, suggested that Waterford football was going nowhere fast.

Could Tom McGlinchey be about to change all that? No, of course not. The infrastructure impediments that see underage teams thrown together at the last minute and the sense of inadequacy that plagues Waterford teams at all levels in all codes are not going to removed overnight. It doesn’t all have to change though to get better. Any improvement is better than none at all, and they might well have taken that first step in such a journey.

Counsel of despair

Among all the Senior, Minor and Under-21 Championship & National League matches that I have seen Waterford play live, last Wednesday’s Under-21 loss to Cork was the most disappointing result of the lot.

It’s often said that Waterford perform at their best when they are underdogs. This is despite us usually losing games where we are underdogs because, well, it’s correctly assumed before the game that we’re not as good as the opposition. What people mean when they say we perform better as underdogs is that the tag of favourites brings with it expectations that are very hard for Waterford to fulfill. And against Cork, that hit us with a vengeance. A combination of factors before the game suggested this might be Waterford’s day after four successive first-game knockouts at Under-21 level. We were at home, we had shown last year against Clare that we could compete at this level against the eventual All-Ireland champions, and we had a formidable combination of players with Senior experience and Minor All-Ireland-winning flair. To hell with the tag of underdogs, the time had come to embrace the tag of favourites and play like it.

Now there was a plan of battle that didn’t survive contact with the enemy. The worst thing is that the enemy was the one within. The first half showed that Waterford could certainly compete on a man-to-man basis. The outstanding performer on the field was Alan Cadogan, but this was not unexpected. Austin Gleeson wasn’t far behind and the Waterford backs were well on top. So on top that we were wondering why they felt the need to play with such a defensive lineup. Yep, in an example of that BS phrase so beloved of management gurus, Waterford were engaging in some vertical integration between Senior and Under-21 levels. Forwards dropping off to win possession and playing short passes around the back to keep that possession. Most players were competing well, the depredations of Cadogan being the exception and sometimes you have to accept your punishment in the manner other teams had to cope with John Mullane. It felt like gilding the lily to persist with these tactics when simply trusting the players seemed a more optimal plan.

And in one horrible second-half minute the gap between the expectations generated by the talent on the field and the reality of their application was brutally exposed.  In fairness the game was probably already slipping away by the time Cork went down to 14 men, the umpires spotting a straight-red swipe on Gleeson. There was a five-point gap with only 18 minutes to go and Waterford hadn’t shown enough of a goal threat to suggest they might turn that around. But having seen the game against Clare last year slip away thanks to a red card, here was a reason to hope we might be the beneficiaries of such a decision this year. Cue the bad karma of that short passing game, particularly the evil of the short puckouts. Goalie hits the ball to back, back has his pass across the field intercepted, Cork pounce for a goal, the optimism generated by the red card is immediately snuffed out, and a county that have played in five provincial Minor finals in six years finds itself unable to produce a result at Under-21 level for the fifth year on the bounce.

The despair in Walsh Park was palpable, something you can see in the bleakness on boards.ie. It can’t have been a coincidence that both Derek McGrath and Peter Queally are adopting this dispiriting, demoralising, and borderline unforgivable mode of play. Barring an astonishing volte-face on the part of management, one for which Wednesday night is evidence of why it should happen and evidence of why it won’t, Waterford are going to go through the same motions tonight. Set against stories of Wexford selling out their (stand) allocation, we have veterans like Giveitfong talking of not going for fear of what might befall us thanks to the “crazy and self-destructive tactics”. I’ll be there, but after Wednesday night hope is on life support.