Tag Archives: Croke Park

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

Waterford v Kilkenny 9 August 2015 Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember where you read that slogan first.

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

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

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

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

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Waterford 2-12 (18) Kilkenny 0-16 (16) – Minor

Early in the second half of this game, I gave up trying to put together any meaningful record of events. The first half had featured a harum-scarum performance from Waterford, so lacking in a plan that even the thought of just getting the ball into Stephen Bennett at every available opportunity, an unimaginative plan but one that would have at least been coherent, seemed beyond them. I put my camera down and waited. The narrative would come to some kind of conclusion without my intervention.

02 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

With all that in mind, here’s a meaningless record of my day in the smoke. I had been determined beforehand to just enjoy the experience. A combination of our dire record in All-Ireland semi-finals (one win in twelve attempts at Senior, Minor and Under-21 since winning two against Antrim in 1992) and my record in Croke Park (one draw and eight defeats since seeing us beat Galway in my first ever visit to Headquarters in 1998) meant I wasn’t filled with optimism. We were going to head up and support the boys then enjoy the second game, which looked rather tasty. Such feelings of bonhomie were aided by a picaresque scene on the Luas as a lovable Dublin gangster went about his day. I say ‘lovable’ as he spent a good two minutes talking to a Cork supporter about last week’s football game while she was talking about the hurling match that day. I say ‘gangster’ as he then got on the phone to advise someone that while he was sorry about the way things were going with the person at the other end, he had to talk to some third party who had grassed him up. He didn’t want to fight with anyone but this needed to be ‘sorted’. This line of conversation went around three or four times to increasingly broad grins from the overhearing culchie contingent. I must remember to check whether there were any gangland shootings in Dublin on Sunday evening.

Arriving at Croke Park before the gates had even opened, I got a little emotional upon seeing a couple with their Waterford jersey-clad children. They were aged somewhere between 7 and 9 (the children, not the parents) and had the wide-eyed look of those on their first trip to Jones’s Road. It struck me that there was no guarantee that when my son is their age (six weeks old at the time of writing) he will be able to experience this kind of outing. The man on the loudspeaker in the kids area under the Davin Stand wondered whether there was anyone left in Waterford while also spotting a lone Carlow jersey. Not much call for Carlow folk to be in Croke Park in August. Despite the woeful records I referenced earlier, these are still days to be treasured.

04 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

We took up our seats in the Canal End Davin Stand and opened the programme I had unthinkingly purchased. Oh. Four pages on the Minor game. Who knew there was so much more emphasis on the main feature? Still, it was noted by one of my siblings that the Waterford player from Bonmahon on the starting lineup (Micheál Harney) and from Tramore on the bench (Barry Whelan). It was likely both of those players had been on the field during the Three-Minute War. A long way from there to here.

The match began and it was clear that Waterford fans outnumbered those from Kilkenny by a multiple of several. This was good, but it would be remiss not to doff a cap to the Kilkenny people who made the journey. This was my first All-Ireland Minor semi-final. Your average Kilkenny supporter will have had double-figure opportunities to see the Kittens (groan) so the people who were here on this day for Kilkenny really do care about the game. And they had more to cheer about early on. Waterford, to be frank, were crap. Kilkenny players were first to every ball and promptly winning frees which were slotted over with considerable élan by Alan Murphy. There was some grounds for irritation in Waterford circles at the ease with which the referee was blowing his whistle – if you got ahead of your man, all you had to do was hit the deck and you had the free – but there was no doubt most of the frees were justified as Waterford struggled to get going.

As I said earlier, there seemed to be no plan, not even one of getting it into Stephen Bennett post-haste. And when they did, lo! he worked the oracle, breezing past two Kilkenny defenders before drawing the goalkeeper and lobbing the ball into the onrushing Adam Farrell to bat the ball into the empty net. Great stuff, and Waterford could have had another goal moments later but Farrell went for a point from a narrow angle when he really should have made the goalie work and the ball went wide.

It was better from Waterford, even if they kept on giving Kilkenny too much space, space which ended in a free and a score from Murphy. It made for frustrating viewing, but while there were signs that while Waterford were struggling to win clean possession they were having no such problems winning the loose ball. I’ve fretted on a previous occasion about how midget-like Waterford players are at this level, but this team looked much more robust and it was by a demonstration of teak-tough play and no little skill that Waterford got their second goal, DJ Foran bursting onto a loose ball out on the 45 and zipping through the Kilkenny back lines before cracking the ball in off the stanchion – it rebounded out but was tapped in anyway, just in case.

You have to be fatalistic if you are going to survive as a Waterford supporter, and even amidst the pleasure of the goals was the worry that this is what this Waterford team were about – goals keeping them in the game, just like in the Munster final replay. The self-belief was beginning to show though as Patrick Curran added a couple of frees and another effort from Stephen Bennett, this time a fine individual point, kept us ticking over at the same rate Kilkenny were doing. A two-point half-time lead felt slightly flattering, and there were numerous horrifying moments as they frequently played first-time balls which may be in the spirit of our hurling forefathers but is enough to give you a coronary in this age of defences hunting in packs. Waterford were on the ascendancy, struggling to win the ball first time but mopping up any loose play. Maybe the plan is to play to the strengths of players – in this case, their strength?

17 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

Whatever it is, they hit the ground running in the second half, two fantastic early scores stretching the lead to four and causing me to put my camera away. I couldn’t pretend any more that I could be blasé about this. If we failed to win this one, it would be more sickening than several previous losses in HQ, low expectations that I had in those games. Kilkenny quickly hit back with two scores of their own and while it could hardly be said that the teams were now keeping it tighter the pattern was clear. Kilkenny were more of a unit but Waterford had the standout individuals, with Bennett, Foran and Patrick Curran making life very difficult for Kilkenny whenever they got the ball, the latter hitting the post with a 65 but showing no ill-effects by popping the ball over the bar when it was played back to him. The backs weighed in with a couple of great scores courtesy of Harney and the ever-industrious Austin Gleeson, and if we could match them score for score, we’d be home and dry. Easy!

It’s been a summer noteworthy for the furore over red cards, and for a horrible few minutes it looked like that was going to be the case in this game. Flicking through match reports, I’m still not sure what happened to Shane Bennett as he picked up a second yellow card midway through the half.  At the time I was right confused as it looked like the second yellow card had instead gone to a different player and Bennett had been given a straight red card for what could only have been giving the referee a bit of lip. The confusion was a by-product of the surreal surroundings. You’d normally hear a reaction in some section of even a tiny crowd at a decision, but when the red card came out, there was…nothing. As we fumed at what seemed like complete foolishness on his part, as opposed to the partial foolishness of picking up two yellows in this card-happy season, Waterford lost their way. Crucially though Kilkenny, unlike Cork a few hours later, failed to ram home their advantage. A few bad wides and suddenly the clock was against them. It’s probably a bit harsh to assume that a group of boys are potentially lacking characteristics of the adult teams that have ruthlessly put the boot in when a team was down. That’s not going to stop me thinking it though, i.e. that this group of Kilkenny hurlers lacked the characteristic of previous generation in ruthlessly putting the boot in when a team was down. Wishful thinking? I’m in a buoyant mood.

Whatever about the future, the present saw Kilkenny fail to expolit the extra man and when Eoin Kenny also saw double yellow for them – referee evening things up, perhaps? – and DJ Foran got a spectacular point from distance to stretch the lead to three, once again pouncing on secondary ball and shrugging off the attention of two backs to score from distance, you felt we just had to keep them away from the goal to clinch the win. Kilkenny managed one point from distance, but there were three subsequent plays where you thought ‘if we can only win this ball, we’ll be fine’. And yes, I realise that makes no sense. Waterford duly won each of them to keep Kilkenny on the back foot and when Shane Hourigan blew up after a minute of injury time, Croke Park erupted.

Okay, it didn’t. We did though. It was great. I had really thought I could school myself to be casual about the Minors, but this had been a plan of battle that had not survived contact with the enemy. They had taken on the Evil Empire and triumphed. For only the third time in my life, we can look forward to seeing a Waterford hurling team play in Croke Park in September. There are no words for the feeling. It was just great.

23 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

And so we sat back to smugly enjoy the second game, passing all manner of arch comments about the Jacks and the Langers, confident that nothing could mar the splendor of the day.

Hoi, weren’t you listening? I said nothing could mar the splendor of the day! For crying out loud . . .

A Minor inconvenience

Alas, work commitments mean I won’t be able to see the Minors take on Dublin tomorrow in Croke Park. Were I not working, I would have thought nothing of spending half of my precious weekend traipsing up to Dublin and paying €40 to see a team of kids. No, it’s the work thing all the way. No doubt about it.

There seem to be two schools of thought as to why the GAA chose to schedule the Minor match with the Dublin Senior semi-final rather than that of Waterford: utter contempt for the Déise or utter devotion to the Jackeens. The first one is easy to dismiss. Come on, why would the GAA authorities hate Waterford? There may be a few embittered Kilkenny folk who would happily lose both their legs if they thought it would deny someone from Waterford a wheelchair, and with two of the last ten Uachtaráin hailing from Kilkenny they seem to have a disproportionate status in the Cumann. My father always cackles with delights at the heartbreak constantly endured by Paddy Buggy who once bewailed how, as a resident of Newrath, he went to bed one night in Kilkenny and woke up in the morning in Waterford. But the rest of Gaeldom yearns for a Waterford All-Ireland triumph as reward for all the entertainment over the last decade or so, even if only at Minor level.

The other idea, that the GAA loves the Dubs, has more merit. Colm Keys, writing during the week about the €6 million that has been spent on development of the sport in Dublin, referenced the idea that Dublin is ‘different’ to everywhere else:

Yet the perception away from the capital is that Dublin hurling is the GAA’s ‘pet project’ and that anything that can be done to make it succeed will be done. The money issue rankles in places like Wexford, a county which has felt the heat of much stronger Dublin teams across all levels in recent years.

Their argument is that if the same resources were put into Wexford hurling that have been put into Dublin over the last number of years, the same results might accrue.

But that ignores the wider argument that every GAA member must embrace. If the GAA loses the battle in Dublin, where almost 30pc of the country’s children are now born, then it could eventually lose the war.

It seems plausible then that Dublin are indeed treated as a special case, and the scheduling of their Seniors and Minors adds to this idea. Considering the difficulties they had finding their way to Thurles for the football quarter-final a few years back, we don’t want to make it too hard for the little darlings, eh?

Despite all that, I’m inclined to believe there’s a third factor at work which tipped the GAA’s hand. Everyone commenting on the outrage has taken it as self-evident that making Waterford travel twice trumps all other considerations. Yet there are other considerations. Dublin fans will be expected to pony up for not only the football semi-final in a couple of weeks – don’t sneer, if Waterford were there we’d be bringing it up too – but for the Under-21’s as well. How many seperate matches are we expecting the hardcore Dub to pay for? Then there’s the fact that of the four teams playing from Waterford/Dublin/Senior/Minor, only one are the provincial champions. Making the schedule suit them makes sense, as to do otherwise would be to effectively punish them for winning their province.

I wouldn’t totally dismiss the possibility that there’s a committee of moustache-twirling fiends in HQ laughing maniacally at the misfortune they are visiting on the denizens of the Gentle County. Actually, I would. The GAA found themselves with a scenario where someone had to disappointed and in this case we were the unlucky ones. Their reasoning was sound though and it would be better for our long-term sanity if we did something we’ve done quite well in recent times – building a bridge and getting over it.

Waterford 1-16 (19) Kilkenny 2-19 (25)

Alexei Sayle once had a sketch exploring the cosmic narcissism that governed a sentiment like ooh, it always starts raining when I come out without an umbrella. Cue a series of images where a demented demigod figure is tasked with watching over the person at all times and ensured that precipitation would be targeted at that person at the exact moment they dared to mock the Gods by stepping outside without adequate rain gear. How self-centred would a person have to be to think this is the way the universe operates? Much more believable, however, is a situation whereby Waterford’s results are determined by whether I’m at the game or not. And when it became clear before this game that the presumptions of the Kilkenny and Tipperary hoors in work meant that there was no holidays left for the first Sunday in September, thus ensuring I would be working that day, we were bound to be present. Damn you, cruel Fate!

This was, of course, ridiculous. How were Waterford to first overcome the drag factor from my presence in Croke Park for the semi-final? The answer was that they couldn’t as the Déise turned in one of the most consistently anaemic periods of play in the third quarter that I’ve ever seen from them to put the kibosh on any good work they had performed in the first half. If only I had left at half-time . . .

Then again, if I had left at five past four I’d have missed most of the first half too. We departed our city centre hostelry as the final whistle blew in the Minor game. I suggested that extra-time might be imminent, but the sight of the Galway and Clare players shaking hands seemed to contradict this, as did the knot of Clare supporters charging along the North Circular Road. It was only when I sat in my seat and had made myself comfortable – something that after the Páirc Uí Chaoimh experience I say without a trace of irony – that I twigged that the match was still going on! The GAA really need to sort this kind of nonsense out. If they must insist on having extra-time in these matches then it has to be built into the schedule. Alternately the time has come to de-couple the Minor matches from the Senior games. Players not knowing whether there is extra-time or not is just plain daft, and far more damaging to the image of the GAA as a serious organisation than people invading the pitch.

Then again x2, perhaps this is the strategy the GAA have adopted for making sure there are no latecomers. Not that they need have worried here as the crowd was pitiful, not least from Kilkenny. They must have known something the rest of us did. As one wag behind me put it we were level fifteen minutes after 3.30pm. Pity there was only thirty seconds on the clock because Waterford were immediately under the cosh from a dropping ball from Henry Shefflin – were the feckers going for goals already? – with Michael Walsh failing to get the ball clear and Shane O’Sullivan just barely eluding the Kilkenny forwards. Waterford managed to get clear but Pauric Mahony’s rushed effort was wide. It was as close as we’d get to their goal in the opening moments as Kilkenny won every early ball and soon put our worst dreams into reality, a Waterford back overshooting a long ball and Darragh Fives was shown a clear pair of heels by Richie Hogan before drilling the ball past Clinton Hennessy,

What was that we said about not giving away early goals? Doesn’t work that way though, and always sometimes you’ve just gotta give second best and it began to look like it would be 2008 all over again. Richie Power got the freedom of the park to race towards goal only to hit it wide and we weren’t making our situation any easier with the evil of short puckouts as Hennessy put Noel Connors in all sorts of bother and a free was eventually conceded from which Shefflin pointed. What is the logic of the short puckout? It was tried on several occasion but for every time it worked, thus gaining Waterford about another twenty metres on the drive, it would give Kilkenny time for two forwards to close in on the back. Just drive the damn thing. Little did we know at that stage that it would become the refrain for the day.

Seamus Prendergast, who didn’t pull up any trees against Galway, would have a much better outing here, his first contribution being a great catch and was unfortunate to see his effort being blocked, only to Kilkenny charge straight down the field. The extreme robustness that has characterised this generation of Kilkenny hurlers was much in evidence and Waterford were relieved that Barry Kelly chose not to play advantage when Eoin Larkin looked to have swatted off the despairing challenges of the Waterford backs. As it was, Shefflin knocked over the free and Kilkenny were five points up without a single effort to show from us. Our first score almost looked like a mercy effort from Mr Kelly and he harshly adjudged Jackie Tyrrell to have overcarried and Eoin Kelly tapped it over. Why was he taking the free? Some people speculated that he might go for a goal, a notion bolstered by him taking it but undermined by not a single other Waterford player bothering to face the goal as he took the free. Kilkenny were soon back in the attack, some scrappy Waterford defending leading to a sideline ball which Tommy Walsh floated into the mix for Larkin to turn and rifle the ball over the bar.

It looked grim already, but Prendergast finally managed to get things going for Waterford as he won the ball and teed up John Mullane for our first score from play. Shane Walsh also began to demonstrate what has made him such a revelation this year. It’s curious watching a player bloom at such an advanced age, but he has looked every inch an inter-county hurler in 2011. He had two useful contributions in succession here, first batting the ball down which just eluded the onrushing Mullane, then seeing a splendid pickup and shot just plucked from over the bar by David Herity. His clearance wasn’t the most inspiring though with Mullane intercepting it and drawing the foul from Pauric Mahony reduced the gap to three.

Thanks to the efforts of Mullane and Prendergast, hope was beginning to kindle. Mullane had moved out to the half-forward line, almost to the midfield, and his presence was making life more difficult for Kilkenny and a rather labyrinthine series of passes after he had won the ball found Prendergast in not-much-space and he made the space for a fine point. The tortured nature of that score was shown up by Brian Hogan who galloped from his own half for a great score to restore their three-point lead. The Mullane and Prendergast show carried on, a sweet pass from the latter to the former leading to a foul, a pointed free from Mahony and Mullane lepping around like a mad thing to try and gee up the crowd. Even a soft free from which Shefflin scored didn’t dampen spirits. We were in this game now. Could we step it up?

What the ref had given earlier he now took away, failing to play advantage when Stephen Molumphy managed to release Eoin Kelly and got elbowed for his troubles – the big screen showed the replay then moved swiftly on – only for Mahony to miss the tricky free. The ref then risked antagonising us further, ignoring a blatant push on Seamus Prendergast only to eventually award a free for a much less obvious foul on Connors. Tony Browne’s free went straight to Tommy Walsh whose clearance was brilliantly intercepted by the omnipresent Mullane. His deflected effort was cleared with interest by Herity and while Shefflin was hustled out of it by Lawlor he managed to find Michael Fennelly to stretch Kilkenny’s lead back to four.

The curse of the short puckout now reared its ugly head, Fives this time finding himself surrounded by a clutch of hungry Cats. In the ensuing scramble the referee ignored several opportunities to penalise harrassed Waterford backs and we were relieved Kilkenny eventually shot wide. The Fates weren’t going to ignore that piece of undeserved good luck though as Kilkenny scored straight from the proper puckout. Maybe they should have hit it short. And Waterford were left rueing more poor judgement as Eoin Kelly sent a quick free from under the Hogan Stand straight down into the corner where he was ordinarily stationed. He possessing not the gift of bilocation Kilkenny were able to clear and strike over another point. A blizzard of switches in the forwards reflected the fact that we were creaking again and it took a lightning-quick sweeping clearance out for a sideline from Connors to prevent a second goal. Kilkenny missed the sideline and the switches that had taken place at the other end paid instant dividends, Prendergast winning well and playing a clever ball for Mullane to run to. His shot arrowed past Herity and the concerns of the last few minutes evaporated like so much gossamer. With so obviously in the zone that you felt we had a chance – if only one or two others could step to plate with him.

You were already thinking it in the 26th minute: can we hold out to half-time? The defence seemed to be fronting up to Kilkenny, back-to-back throw-ins in the Waterford half being cleared but the entire team seemed to have been drawn to the ensuing shemozzle and there was nothing but Cats in their half. Kilkenny rammed the ball back down the field and TJ Reid found the space to put Kilkenny an insurance score ahead. It was the kind of effortless score that sadly Eoin Kelly seems to no longer be capable of, his limp effort into no-man’s-land being easily gathered by Mullane. The frustration of it all led to Mullane charging into him and earning a yellow card, much to the chagrin of the Waterford crowd. Two lads near me argued that the ref was right because he had taken the goalie off his feet, although my brother wondered whether that only applied inside the small square – if not, a goalie could probably come up fifty metres and benefit from the same rule. To my mind the ref was right because Mullane had no intention of playing the ball. Still, it was stirring stuff and he was soon on hand to take the ball off a rampaging Molumphy for another fabulous score. When Kelly made good on an excellent win by Shane Walsh the gap was suddenly down to two. Dare we dream?

Dangerous things, dreams. When Mullane managed to get way from his marker again, he dared to dream of goal when a point might have been simpler. Despite what Davy Fitz has said subsequently, he was right to for the goal. We weren’t ever going to win this game by being timid and his eye was sufficiently ‘in’ that he felt he could do anything. The effort was decent but it needed something better to beat the goalie from that angle and it was a routine enough save. What made it look bad was what happened next as Kilkenny came down the field, Connors’s clearance to nobody suddenly put Waterford on the back foot and Shefflin managed to wriggle onto the ball and down on goal. His flick up to Hogan was too easy to miss and he didn’t. A six-point turnaround, and the best you could say for that phase of play was that Clinton didn’t see red for what looked like another clothes-lining on a forward. The last few moments saw Waterford desperately trying to prevent another blanket finish much like Tipperary had had four weeks earlier, forced to foul Shefflin and give away another pointed free and just about sniffing out another move that was heading towards another goal.

At half-time I tweeted that we were playing “at 100% but six points down“. In retrospect we weren’t that good – I was assuming that the magnificence of Mullane was concealing some great performances to come – but it reflected the satisfaction with the performance while simultaneously not believing it would be remotely enough. Things could have been worse though. Carol Kiely, the one-millionth person to attend a Championship match in 2011, was outed by her father Tommy as the best-preserved quinquagenarian around:

Interviewer: How long have you been taking Carol to games?
Tommy: For over forty years now.

Her Langer future husband has a lot to match up to.

Remember I said earlier how driving the ball would be the motif for the day? The third-quarter of this match would probably be the most frustrating period of play I’ve ever seen following Waterford. I’ve said a few times this week that ‘it must be easier said than done’, bowing to the superior knowledge of the likes of Davy Fitz on matters hurling. But the extent to which Waterford’s backs kept on trying to make space for clean strikes at the expense of quick, direct ball was galling. It was typified by the first move of the half, no less a level head than Tony Browne playing a hospital ball to the exposed Jamie Nagle which was intercepted and whipped over the bar. At the other end, Waterford were already resorting to shooting on sight. Kevin Moran dragged one effort wide when he had more time to steady himself, although at least he could claim he had done all the spade work himself. Eoin Kelly, on the other hand, tried a ridiculous over-the-shoulder effort from way out on the right that might have made sense had he been knocking them over from all angles in the first half. He had not been.

The refusal to let the ball fly reached an almost farcical level five minutes in, Waterford players batting the ball around along their own 45 and inducing puce-faced screams from everyone wearing white-and-blue in Croke Park. It was a relief that it ended in a free-out. Not even Waterford would be doing anything but putting the bas through the sliothar for one of those. A wide from Kelly followed after more good approach work from Mullane, and the frustration was reaching boiling point as Colin Fennelly was given several attempts to spoon the ball onto his hurlety before being fouled and allowing Shefflin to move them eight points clear.

Mullane tried to keep the show on the road with yet another point after good approach work by Molumphy, and this was the point when Davy began the time-honoured response of the beaten team: emptying the bench. Pauric Mahony came off for Maurice Shanahan which was a bit harsh on the new boy but you could argue that something had to be done. Not that it made any immediate difference, Michael Fennelly getting an easy score then Shefflin doing his thing to stretch the gap to a demoralising nine points. Some more careless dinking around by Jamie Nagle nearly led to the hammer blow as Colin Fennelly was able to steal the ball and get a clear run on goal, but he inexplicably flopped a shot wide when it seemed easier to hit the target and we were able to at least coo with delight at a Kilkenny clanger.

Kilkenny were beginning to coast already. A free-out from Hennessy was almost screwed up by two Kilkenny backs as they had so much time and space, while the pattern of Waterford forwards panicking at the prospect of a rare chance continued, this time Shane Walsh shooting wide from a silly angle. Shefflin was again allowed too many touches on the ball, then Larkin was allowed to run around the Waterford defence. Briefly it seemed he might put the head down and go for goal but settled for a point. Waterford were flatter than an obsessive compulsive’s tablecloth, and no amount of jiggery-pokery was changing that.

The dismay at such a supine performance didn’t justify the cheers that greeted the next wave of subs. Eoin Kelly knocked over a point from a free after being chopped down on and that was to be his last contribution, possibly ever for Waterford. It’s clear he’s not the force he once was, the superhuman energy that once characterised his game dissipated by injuries and age. To cheer his departure stank of ingratitude, and makes you wonder why any hurler bothers. That was his last act, and another wide from Shane Walsh was his last, replaced by Richie Foley. Again, this struck me as short-sighted. The match really was over, and taking off Walsh will probably deny our most improved played a tilt at an All-Star. Out of sight, out of mind – that’s the journalistic way.

What made it more maddening was the worst characteristic of Waterford’s play continued unabated. Another short puckout was ruthlessly given what-for by Michael Fennelly, and anything good Waterford did seemed to come from some oh-so-precious direct ball. Prendergast managed to give Molumphy a score after a fine catch, then some neat passing at the right end of the field led to a foul on Molumphy from which Shanahan pointed. Michael Fennelly benefitted from a loose bat-down from Fives, although we soon had the grim satisfaction of seeing Shefflin yellow-carded for a nasty chopdown on a Waterford forward. Shanahan added the free and the fact that I was trying to whip myself into a frenzy thinking of what the meeja would say had a Waterford player done that to Blessed Henry showed how desperate I was for some spark.

That point put the gap down to seven and when successive points from Mullane, the first served up to him again by Prendergast and the second pouncing on a sideline cut, we managed to convince ourselves that we were only two scores behind. Like life on the good ship Venus, we allow ourselves to get excited by such fantasies because there’s naff all else to do. A forceful drive from Nagle, clearly learning from earlier howlers, allowed Shahahan to get the ball back to five and with Kilkenny having several second half wides, undocumented by this Waterfordcentric scribe, it briefly looked possible that the Gods were about to punish Kilkenny for their profligacy. Alas, it was not to be. A thunderous effort from sub Paddy Hogan stretched the gap back out to six and Kilkenny now circled the wagons in front of their goal, safe in the knowledge that Waterford did not have the craft to find a way through their ranks. Several long-range efforts followed, some dropping into Hennessy’s lap and some drifting wide, but all evidence of the amount of bodies they had back there through which none would pass. A knackered Liam Lawlor, surely cementing his position at full-back for next year, allowed Eddie Brennan a late point, and Shanahan gave Mullane the chance to notch up his sixth point. It had been a stellar performance. God knows what went through his head as the final whistle blew and it had not been enough. Not by a long chalk.

Last year’s performance against Tipperary represented the first semi-final loss where you felt that if we played them again in the morning the result would have been no different. This was the same, only more so. This was far from a vintage Kilkenny team, a shadow of the one that hit two wides in the 2008 All-Ireland final. We have got decent underage talent, and all our eyes turn to the Minors next week against Dublin, a rising force if ever there was one. But Limerick are now the Munster Under-21 champions. Clare won the All-Ireland at that level two years ago and have won back-to-back Munster titles. Not to mention Dublin – oh, we already did. The standards are rising all around us. Those Minors are going to have to grow up very quickly if we’re not to be swamped.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Darragh Fives, Liam Lawlor, Noel Connors, Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast (Jamie Nagle), Kevin Moran, Shane O’Sullivan, Seamus Prendergast (0-1), John Mullane (1-6), Pauric Mahony (0-2f; Maurice Shanahan, 0-2, 0-1f), Stephen Molumphy (capt, 0-1), Shane Walsh (Richie Foley, 0-1f), Eoin Kelly (0-3, 0-2f; Thomas Ryan)

Kilkenny: David Herity, Paul Murphy, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan (capt, 0-1), JJ Delaney, Michael Fennelly (0-3), TJ Reid (0-1; Paddy Hogan, 0-1), Michael Rice (0-1; Eddie Brennan,0-1), Richie Power, Henry Shefflin (0-7, 0-4f), Colin Fennelly (0-2), Eoin Larkin (0-2), Richie Hogan (2-0)

HT: Waterford 1-7 (10) Kilkenny 2-10 (16)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

A world without lawyers

Christy Cooney has reason to be pleased at how smoothly Plan A went on Sunday with regards to Croke Park’s long-held desire to prevent the pitch invasions on All-Ireland final day. Their assessment that blocking entry from Hill 16 would discourage those in the rest of the ground looks to have been correct and it’s only fair to note, given my belief that this was all about getting a platform out into the middle of the pitch so Etihad Airlines could have their pound of  advertising flesh, that the presentation took place in the Hogan Stand. It’s a tipping point in the story of pitch invasions, tonight’s shocking throwback in Thurles notwithstanding. In ten years time we’ll probably be looking at them as an oddity alongside not winning the All-Ireland through the backdoor or kissing the Archbishop of Cashel’s ring.

But really, are we seriously meant to believe that everyone was just thrilled to bits with it? That nobody expressed the opinion to him that it was all very milquetoast compared to the rough-and-tumble presentations that we’re used to? Christy, you need to broaden your entourage from a series of yes-men.

Pitch battles

One of the small consolations about not being in this year’s All-Ireland final will be that we won’t have to face the dilemma, for the want of a less overwrought word, of whether to try and invade the pitch.

How important is the post-match pitch invasion? It’s hardly as integral to the victory experience as many of its supporters would argue. When Waterford won the Munster title in 2002 very few people got on the pitch but no one looks back and feels it wasn’t quite the same without it. Invoking ‘tradition’ is lame. How about bringing back in the all-in throw-in from the Archbishop of Cashel while we’re at it? And speaking of the Archbishop and tradition, the speechfying from the Minor captain and His Excellency is being abolished yet no one seems to be losing any sleep over the loss of this anachronism tradition. Clearly some traditions are more equal than others.

But that’s the thing – the pitch invasion is a good tradition, a positive one. When Waterford beat Galway in last year’s championship my wife’s brother and cousin were thrilled that they were permitted on the pitch after the game. It’s often said that other sports have eliminated the practice which a) isn’t entirely true – the practice is still common in college American football, and it is almost obligatory should the home team be promoted in any game in English soccer for the fans to invade the pitch – and b) why do we care what other sports get up to? So much of the opposition to the pitch invasions reeks of the ‘we’re the laughing stock of Europe / the world / the Milky Way’ school of argument so beloved of the community of self-loathing. The pitch invasion is a source of gaiety and joy for so many. You’d want to have a very good reason for abolishing it.

Over the course of the debate, which has been bubbling under for at least the ten years since the first All-Irelands where there was no pitch invasion, many reasons have been put forward to eradicate the practice – players getting jostled, compensation claims, damage to the pitch – but as matters come to a head the GAA have dismissed all those arguments and settled on the most powerful one: safety of players and supporters. There’s no doubt that has got to be the priority, but the problem is that their primary response – erecting a fence on Hill 16 – flies in the face of notions of safety. Blocking the easiest route of escape from a terrace should anything horrible occur up there is bats, akin to claiming that all possible precautions have been taken to preventing a fire in a building then installing bulletproof glass in the windows, but that’s where we find ourselves. As Paddy Heaney has noted:

It is now abundantly clear that the key objective is to stop fans coming onto the pitch. This has become such an obsession that the health and safety of supporters is now a secondary consideration.

This may seem like a dreadful calumny against Christy Cooney, Peter McKenna et al. That they would put the need to prevent pitch invasions ahead of the need to protect life and limb is a strong thing to say. And I’m willing to accept their protestations that they are certain that the danger from pitch invasions is so great that installing a fence will, all other things being equal, make Croke Park a safer place overall.

But the problem with that is there is a much better way of stopping the pitch invasions that they are studiously ignoring, one suggested by Bord na Mona Man over at the GAA Discussion Board, i.e. to announce that should there be any incursion on to the field at the final whistle, “there will be NO, repeat NO cup presentation”. Can you imagine the fallout should such a policy be put into action this Sunday? It wouldn’t be the year we won the five-in-a-row / stopped their five-in-a-row dream. It’d be the year we got the Liam McCarthy Cup in the Burlington Hotel that evening because some clowns couldn’t stay off the pitch like they were told. Quite the Plan B.

We are told that all avenues have been explored and the fence is the last resort. They have either not considered the above course of action, in which case they haven’t thought it through at all, or they have thought of it and rejected it. Why would they do this, rejecting a policy that would save the need for a fence and even cut down on the number of stewards required? To my mind, it is because the only scenario worse than a pitch invasion for the presentation is the prospect of no presentation at all. Put bluntly, and this is why I don’t think ‘all other things are equal’ with regard to the motivations of the top brass, no presentation = a lot of very angry sponsors deprived of all those eyeballs on their hoardings. If I thought they were willing to sacrifice that on the altar of safety, I’d happily believe their protestations. But they are not, and thus one must come to conclusion that preventing the pitch invasions is not a means to an end (safety) but the end in itself.

If I were at Croke Park this Sunday, nothing would induce me to invade the pitch. Clearly the authorities are determined to prevent it, and it would diminish any joy (and what joy it would have been!) to have to confront stewards caught between an irresistible force and an immovable object. And should disaster occur and someone gets hurt, the primary responsibility will rest with those who wouldn’t do what they were told. But that will not absolve the authorities for failing in their duty of care. The opportunity for them to nip this in the bud is there. Have they the courage to face down vested interests to do it?