Tag Archives: Croke Park

Waterford 1-18 (21) Tipperary 3-19 (28)

Let me start with a story.  Before the match I was told the desire of an inter-county hurling manager whose county was travelling through the backdoor on whom they would like to get should his team end up playing the losing Munster finalists. It is not necessary to name said manager because it is a third-hand story (he said that he said that he said) but the spirit is revealing – even if it is made up, someone had to make it up and putting it in the mouth of a noteworthy figure doesn’t make it any less instructive about attitudes. Mr Manager wanted Waterford, because his county would have hang-ups about playing Cork that they wouldn’t have playing the Déise. It’s exasperating after all these years that we still give off a smell of fear, one that can be picked up by horses and hurlers alike.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Before the game I was slightly bemused by the consensus that Tipperary were a sure thing. They had pushed Kilkenny so close last year, but their record against serious competition since then was one thumping defeat from Cork and one supermodel-thin margin of victory over Galway. And while we may not be the team we once were a new sense of purpose had infused the Waterford team. What were the punditocracy seeing that I wasn’t?

The answer would be in the programme, but more on that later. Before the game I was gloating in the presence of our secret weapon – my brother-in-law, and his 100% record at Waterford matches. Not only would his essence inspire the Waterford players to ever-dizzying heights, but he would be wowed by the awesome majesty that is Páirc an Chrócaigh. Towering cathedral-like over the rude huts of association football, he would return to his native soil laden with reports of the marvels he had witness in the land of the supposedly unsophisticated Gaels.

Okay, I wasn’t that concerned that his gob be well and truly smacked by Croke Park’s splendor, but I managed to be a little disappointed that he didn’t even bat an eyelid. As someone who habitually decries the cult of the sports stadium – ohmigod the Nou Camp which is really the Camp Nou in Catalan I know these things because I’m a stadium geek is sooooo amazing it just goes on and on and on – it’s a little disconcerting to find oneself hoping the Saxon will deign to notice our contribution to the cause. Note to GAA self: must work harder on dispensing the inferiority complex.

Then again, talking about Croker saves us the bother of talking about the match. Ah yes, the match. Must knuckle down and maintain this august contribution to the ages. Arriving after the teams had been announced, I hadn’t noticed that Brian O’Halloran had replaced Seamus Prendergast on the team sheet. I don’t have any problem with playing someone who is waiting on their Leaving Cert results, preferring to subscribe to the school of though that says if they’re good enough they’re old enough. But I thought this nonsense of shuffling team sheets at the last-minute had gone the same way of Ger Loughnane’s hair and management career. Speaking of nonsense, Tipperary had decided early on to play the short puckout game, and were rewarded with some woeful wides. There is no link between the two but the tenth circle of Hell is being constructed for those who engage in short puckouts so a few bad misses was surely a small price to pay.

For all of that, Tipp scored a couple of points with suspicious ease to cancel out Richie Foley’s fine opener and despite a point from Eoin Kelly (WD) from a free to level matters there was a feeling that Waterford were already struggling, typified by John Mullane nearly taking an opponent’s head off with a wild lunge for which he was deservedly booked, although he was quick to acknowledge his culpability. Mullane looked up for it and scored another trademark stunner, but if he was getting ragged this early on then we were in trouble.

I spoke of the programme earlier and how it contained the answer to how the game would pan out. As Croke Park programmes go this was one of the worst, containing some truly dreadful filler – semi-finals from 1990 – 2010? How arbitrary. But it had an interview with Donal O’Grady which was prescient, O’Grady saying that if Tipperary’s half-backs got on top they’d be likely to win. And boy, was their half-back line in charge. We were living off scraps and a cracking individual effort from Kevin Moran and some more wayward shooting, most shockingly from the deadballs of Eoin Kelly (TS), kept Waterford in touch. It wasn’t as if Waterford could claim that the referee was out to get us, John Sexton inexplicably missing another high challenge although Waterford gave the ball straight to John O’Brien to put them back in front, a case of bad karma if ever there was one.

The pitch was beginning to look like it had lurched a few metres off centre as Eoin Kelly (An Pasáiste – someone in the County Board clearly overdosed on the Gaeilge as mystery clubs like Caisleán Cuanach agus Deaglán Naofa cropped up in the clár) missed a relatively easy one before Tipperary scored their first goal. The nerves were getting shredded at this stage so I thought taking as many pictures as possible would put me one step removed from the action. So the ball flew over the top, I had the camera poised in situ . . .

. . . and missed the action as Lar Corbett stole in around the back and lashed the ball past Clinton Hennessy. Five points down and already I was thinking that’d be an acceptable deficit at half-time. A free from Kelly and a point for Seamus Prendergast, on the pitch early in an admirable admission from Davy Fitz that the gamble on O’Halloran hadn’t worked out, seemed to open up the possibility that we might achieve that, but Tipperary finished the half on the charge and two points in injury time snuffed even that limited hope.

The half-time break seemed to go on forever and the arrival of the Waterford team was greeted with a soul-destroyingly small ripple of applause. I knew it, they knew it, we all knew it – we were licked. For years I’ve railed in a not-very-orignial way against cavalier shooting, but watching this game made you ponder whether it can be, except in the extreme case of Kilkenny, a symptom of overwhelming dominance. The Clare team of Ger Loughnane used hit 15-20 wides a game but they’d invariably come out on top as their crushing machine-style ultimately overcame the opposition. Tipperary supporters were probably fretting that they’d regret those misses, but from the other side of the fence the perspective was that they could afford to be prodigal.

Points from deadballs from Tony Browne and Kelly and another classic from Mullane moved it to a one score game but then Noel Connors, prospective All Star after the year he’s had Connors, served up the kind of moment that really makes you despair, winning the ball superbly then handpassing the ball inside to the waiting Lar Corbett who pivoted and knocked it over the bar. Sickening, and when Kelly stretched the lead to five the time had come to play the last roll of the dice, Dan Shanahan and Ken McGrath entering the fray in what was in at least one case an effort to prolong their inter-county career for another three weeks. No sooner were they on though when the truly decisive blow was landed. A sideline cut managed to elude everyone and this time it was Eoin Kelly’s turn to dance his way into space and pull the trigger. It was seemingly a splendid effort but at the time it looked untidier than a World of Warcraft addict’s bedroom and the woe-is-me how unlucky can we be mentality was really beginning to dominate proceedings.

It had to be goals now. Ken McGrath sent a bomb in which tickled the crossbar and for a split second looked like it might drop under, and John Mullane would slalom his way through the Tipperary defence bringing off a brilliant save from Brendan Cummins. But by that stage Tipp had already gotten a third goal, Eoin Kelly being given the freedom of the park to bat it home. The futility of Waterford’s efforts were emphasised by the final set of substitutes which left all but Mullane out of the starting six forwards on the bench. The Tipperary fans felt comfortable enough to start giving ‘Slievenamon’ an airing, something that even amidst the disappointment could be appreciated as something refreshingly old school. One of the subs gave the choir a moment of pause . . .

. . . Eoin McGrath repeating Corbett’s trick of sneaking in around the back for an easy finish and yes, you did wonder if we could pull off an Istanbul, but John Mullane drove a half-chance high and wide and that was that.

Since the game, people in work have being asking how it was. The word I have come up to keep it pithy was deflating. The gap between expectations and reality was revealed with ghastly slowness by a Tipperary team who have already shown that they can put it up to Kilkenny. There’s no chance that we can. Things can change. Things do change. But we going to require change of Darwinian proportions to get to where we want to be.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Liam Lawlor, Noel Connors; Tony Browne (0-3, 0-165), Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Richie Foley (0-1), Kevin Moran (0-1), Stephen Molumphy (0-1; Thomas Ryan), Eoin Kelly (0-5f; Ken McGrath, 0-3, 0-1f),) John Mullane (0-3), Shane Walsh (Eoin McGrath, 1-0),  Brian O’Halloran (Seamus Prendergast, 0-1)

Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Declan Fanning, Conor OMahony, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath (0-1), Gearóid Ryan (Seamus Callinan), Patrick Maher (Pa Bourke), John O’Brien (0-6), Noel McGrath (0-7, 0-1f, 0-1 65), Eoin Kelly (2-5, 0-3f), Lar Corbett (1-2)

HT: Waterford 0-8 (8) Tipperary 1-11 (14)

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)

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Thus far and no further

Of our seven All-Ireland semi-final defeats over the last thirteen years, this was the worst. There was no shame in losing to Kilkenny in 2009. They were on their way to an unprecedented run of four years unbeaten in the Championship (Cork in 1941-44 having lost in Munster but won the All-Ireland thanks to foot-and-mouth travel restrictions) so we lost to a team who could say with a straight face that they were the greatest team ever. And of the defeats in *deep breath* 1998, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007, you felt that if Waterford played any one of them again in the morning that it’d be a 50:50 game.

Today was different. It wasn’t a hammering in the mould of the one Kilkenny dished out to Cork last weekend, but we were soundly beaten. The 1-18 we scored was nothing short of miraculous given the lack of possession. Add in some awful shooting from Tipperary and they’d probably be able to repulse anything this set of players could throw at them. We might be grateful in a few weeks not to be part of a turkey shoot, but the McCarthy Cup seems an awfully long way away right now.

Life expectancy

Tipperary are favourites today, and that is understandable given our lamentable semi-final record and their performance against Kilkenny last year. But the extent to which they are favourites – Paddy Power have us as 13/5 to win – is surprising, and strikes me as putting too much emphasis on events in the distant (relatively speaking) past. For if we look at the recent past, Waterford are surely better placed. If nothing else, we drew with them in the League. And since then we’ve beaten the team who pounded them into the ground. You could argue that they’ve impressed in coming through the back door, but have they really? The only team who gave them any resistance was Galway, and they came within a whisker of going out at that stage. That doesn’t mean I think we’re going to win today, but this is not a game where we’re going up to make up the numbers like we would in, er, the All-Ireland final. Any season where we win a trophy is inherently a successful one. I still want more though, and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t go further.

Mixed emotions

It would be altogether too easy to be flippant about the footballers loss to Limerick in the Division Four final. After all, promotion was always the goal and this match mainly represented a nice trip to Jones’s Road and the results was peripheral, right? It’s possible, and a good Championship run has to be the priority. But there are precious few opportunities for Waterford teams to get their hands on some silverware and you don’t play a game, any game, unless you want to win it. It was a cracking game and given the one-point gap between the two teams when they met earlier in the campaign, it’s clear there isn’t much between the two teams. If they met again in the morning Waterford might win. And Waterford have the consolation of getting another crack at Limerick on the Munster semi-final. There’s the little matter of Clare, of course, but a team can dream.

Comments about the poor record of Waterford teams in Croke Park are to be taken as read. Move along, nothing to see here!

Bonus time

Winning the Munster minor title may not seem like much, and no one is under any illusions that a Minor title is comparable to a Senior one (and no, I haven’t come up with a coherent use of the initial capital when it comes to words like Minor, senior or Championship. We just go with what looks right at the time). With that caveat, let’s blithely assume just that.

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Before Outraged of Knocknagoshel emails, this is obviously only in hurling.

It makes for grim reading, and if you were under any illusions as to why winning the Munster Under-21 title meant so much to Clare, this should disabuse those notions. Winning the Munster minor title makes this year a successful one for Waterford hurling. Winning the All-Ireland would be a splendid bonus.

Update: not to be then for the Minors, beaten today by Galway. 2-22 is an incredible score and nothing to be ashamed of. Occasionally I do wonder whether my relentless que sera sera attitude is more damaging than it is healthy, whether it is indicative of a mindset in Waterford hurling which militates against pushing on from a position of relative comfort. Something for another day though. Hard luck to all concerned.

Waterford 3-15 (24) Kilkenny 2-23 (29)

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As the dust has settled in the days following another exciting game involving the Waterford hurlers, I’ve been forced to ask myself whether I am sticking my head in the sand by being relatively pleased with how things turned out. Plenty of people on the intrawebs who are not habitually given to ridiculing Waterford were quite dismissive of our efforts, feeling that Kilkenny had plenty left in the tank and that some criminal wides and bad choices had left the Déise boys failing to fulfil their potential. Was it delusional to be so content after yet another defeat in Croke Park?

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The first point to be made in what is going to be an extensive defence of Waterford’s performance is the usual fatalist one – it could have been worse. Not only was the 23-point drubbing last September hanging over the game like the sword of Damocles, there was also the small matter of the curtain raiser. As we walked along the Royal Canal we heard a roar from the ground and the chant of “May-o! May-o!” went up. Things were clearly going well for the county that I habitually use as a lesson in not getting your hopes up. We reached our seats in the Upper Hogan just in time to see Meath equalise and then watched with resignation as they rattled off five points to put the match beyond Mayo.

If expectations weren’t high before this, now they were lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. But that’s not low enough as an adequate defence mechanism, so it was time to dwell on my wretched record in Headquarters. I hadn’t seen Waterford win there since 1998 against Galway. In the meantime we’d contrived to lose to Kilkenny, Clare, Cork, Cork again and Kilkenny again. The best I could show was a draw with Cork in 2007. Before these thoughts were so overwhelming that you’d feel like ending it all off that convenient drop a few rows ahead, the only other time I’d been in the Hogan Stand had been for that Galway game. Onwards and upwards, eh? Eh?!

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Still, every game starts at 0-0 to 0-0 and if everything went Waterford’s way they’d have a chance. And I’m going to state in advance that lots of things went Waterford’s way. They got off the mark with a great score, Shane O’Sullivan curling a delightful sideline cut over the bar. Kilkenny were soon in front but Waterford then got another break, Shane Walsh having the simple task of batting the ball past PJ Ryan after a mazy dribble from Kevin Moran. The goal was a huge boost for Waterford on many levels. Quite apart from the three points – always handy – it showed that we could score goals and provided a swing in momentum towards us at an early stage. When you consider how the match last year was already slipping away from us in the first ten minutes, it was important to put manners on Kilkenny.

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Speaking of putting manners on people, I had been pretty polite in the opening exchanges and would remain quite mellow throughout – with one noteworthy exception. Waterford were competing brilliantly in the breakdown and Kilkenny had even hit a wide or two before they got their first chance to really flex their considerable muscles, Henry Shefflin combining expertly with Eddie Brennan to put the latter clear and bat the ball past Clinton Hennessy. So the Cats were already in front when Eoin Murphy deliberately hauled down Brennan as he powered towards the goal. The free was a long way out and Shefflin is no Paul Flynn or DJ Carey so the logical thing to do would have been to pop the ball over the bar. It’s impossible to know exactly what was going through his head as he teed up the free, but for some reason I got it in to my head that he was fuming at Waterford’s brazenness in Murphy’s ‘professional’ foul and he decided to inflict maximum damage for the insult. Duly he went for goal and a poor effort it was too, easily saved by Hennessy. By the time Kilkenny’s follow-up had drifted wide – another improvement from last year, Kilkenny now had at least two wides – I was foaming at the mouth at such disrespect. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but Shefflin would have a similar chance in the second half when the ball was moved in and he knocked it over the bar. If he had been taught a lesson that he shouldn’t assume that the Waterford bitches would tamely let him lash home any free he liked then this was progress.

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The game was definitely on, and you wonder if John Mullane had been less fired-up whether it might have turned out differently. Twice he received clean possession only for the ball to pop out of his hand like a bar of soap, and he hit one wide that he would normally have put over had he been on his knees. The theme of Waterford not taking their chances has surfaced repeatedly over the last couple of days but I’m inclined to be more charitable. You can’t get every score and we weren’t noticeably more profligate over the 70 minutes than Kilkenny. There’s no doubt though that momentum can play an important part and misses like that followed so closely by scores for the opposition can be a killer. So it proved with Kilkenny’s second goal, a poor clearance being returned back down the field with interest and Aidan Kearney took his eye off the ball for one horrible split-second, allowing Henry Shefflin to have the freedom of the 21-metre area. It wasn’t a gimme, coming over his shoulder at pace, but like all good strikers he had anticipated the error and was able to pirouette and first-time the ball past the advancing goalie.

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The temptation to throw your hat at it after a blow like that must have been immense, and it is to Waterford’s credit that they didn’t let it fester, getting the next two scores including one splendid effort from Kevin Moran. Kilkenny finished the half on the up though, leading by six points at the break. What to expect from the second half? Waterford had competed manfully and the performance was at the upper-end of expectations. And yet they were still six points down. Play any worse and the best we could hope for would be a 13-point defeat. Everyone had to go right in the second half.

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Here’s the thing: plenty did go right for Waterford. The second half got off to an absolute flier as Shane Walsh eluded his marker and booted the ball to the net. My wife, chugging on a train through the north of Britain, got online on her phone long enough to see that it was 2-12 to 2-9, which clearly told her things were going well. Eoin McGrath and Kevin Moran chalked up infuriating misses, but at the other end it was arguable that Kilkenny were doing even worse with one gilt-edged goal opportunity being spurned as it came off Declan Prendergast’s arse, another effort to set up a chance dribbling embarrassingly wide, and yet another hustled out for a 65.  These were all opportunites that would have buried us but were spurned, and Kilkenny were concerned enough for Shefflin to put aside the aforementioned hubris and slot a potential goal-scoring free over the bar.

I’ve never claimed to be an expert on hurling matters, and if you want a proper match report then there are plenty of places to find one. There are times though when you wonder whether your small opinion is the most obvious thing in the world yet the people on the sideline can’t see the wood for the trees. At this stage, the Waterford team needed shaking up. All that effort, all those breaks, yet it was proving infuriatingly impossible to wear them down. The Kilkenny backs were on top and Henry Shefflin was having one of those days, shaking off markers with the typical elan that has made him such a legend and keeping their scoreboard ticking over, missed goal opportunites be damned. And yet no activity from the Waterford mentors apart from some perfunctory warming up by Dan Shanahan. Looking up at the scoreboard to see that there was only twenty minutes left, you wondered what any sub was meant to do in the remaining time. The fact that Dan couldn’t make an impact when he did come on, certainly akin to what he did against Galway, was almost incidental. The habit that all sports managers seem to have of sticking with a lineup that has worked well but not well enough is frustrating.

Especially so because Waterford seemed to be having all the luck going, or at least were capitalising on every sniff of a goal chance. Dan and JJ Delaney seemed to get to the ball at the same time and in the ensuing tug-of-war the ball went for a 65. It looked like one to me although both my siblings were doubtful. We also disagreed on what to do with the 65. They thought Eoin Kelly should take the point, I thought he should drop it in – no point in kidding ourselves that anything other than goals were going to win this for us. He must have been listening to me because the ball was lobbed in to the square. To put into context just how crazy what happened next was, can you imagine if it had happened to Waterford? All the talk of bottlers and losers and whatnot would have been overwhelming. As it was, it was PJ Ryan and co who, under no pressure whatsoever, let the ball squirm into the net.

Cue a grandstand finish as the blizzard of substitutions that should have happened earlier took place, not least one Kenneth McGrath. It wasn’t too late, especially with Eoin Kelly having one of those purple patches where everything he struck hit the target. Kilkenny though, led by Shefflin in his pomp, held it together. As the clock ticked down it was clear we were going to need two goals. One of them almost arrived right on the stroke of the end of the 70, Kelly overhead-pulling first-time on a ball that had popped up in front of him. It was a breathtaking hit, but PJ Ryan made up for his earlier gaff with a spectacular flying save. Even the point that resulted from the save was a better result for Kilkenny as we weren’t going to get two more plays in the remaining minute.

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I’m not convinced that Kilkenny had a lot left in the tank had Waterford been able to muster a late charge. It would be generally accepted that Tipperary are the team best equipped to take them down, but their tactics will doubtless consist of hoping that they’re within a few points with a few minutes left then catching them on the hop. Certainly no one will be thinking in terms of running away from Kilkenny. With that in mind, Waterford definitely rattled Kilkenny’s cage on Sunday. As for our own performance, I don’t think there was much room for improvement. There were not that many bad wides, and Kilkenny will have more cause to point the finger at their own players for blunders than we would. And we had all that luck. So despite being close to 100% in terms of output and getting as many breaks as anyone can reasonably – or even unreasonably – expect, we still came up short. Yet I’m still pretty chuffed with how it panned out. It’s the first time in four cracks at the Cats that Waterford can be said to have maximised their potential. On Sunday we played a team who are probably the best there has ever been. In 1998, we lost to a score of 1-11. In 2009, we lost to a score of 2-23. We might not get that close again, and we can be certain that some  players, Tony Browne in particular, will not be there to help the cause. But Kilkenny can’t keep these standards up forever. Some day we’ll be able to match 1-11 from them with 3-15 from ourselves. I just hope I’m there to see it.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Aidan Kearney, Noel Connors, Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan (0-1), Kevin Moran (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-1; Dan Shanahan, 0-1), Stephen Molumphy (Jamie Nagle), Shane Walsh (2-0; Maurice Shanahan), John Mullane (0-1), Eoin Kelly (1-9, 0-6f, 1-0 65), Eoin McGrath (0-1; Ken McGrath)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan, Michael Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, John Tennyson, James Fitzpatrick (0-1; Derek Lyng), Michael Rice (0-1), Henry Shefflin (1-14, 0-7f, 0-1 65), Martin Comerford (TJ Reid), Eoin Larkin (0-2), Eddie Brennan (1-2), Richard Power (0-1), Aidan Fogarty (0-1; Richie Hogan, 0-1)

HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Kilkenny 2-12 (18)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

The neverending story

Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can only make one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Dan really is the man. All the media outlets I could find (Hoganstand, RTÉ, the Indo and the Irish Times) led with the fact that Dan Shanahan was not going to start against Kilkenny tomorrow. At first glance, you’d wonder why they are so uniformly surprised. One-and-a-half explosive cameos against Galway does not an automatic selection make. Given the woeful nature of his recent starting performances and the current fetish for the ‘impact sub’, the shock would have been if he had been starting. One shouldn’t be too harsh on the hacks though, especially when as sober and clever a journalist as Cliona Foley is involved. They’re in the business of selling papers and / or advertising space, and Dan sells a lot more papers / attracts a lot more eyeballs than Aidan Kearney.

For it is the putative placing of Kearney at full back that is the real news. Making a radical switch in personnel or placement for a match against Kilkenny famously blew up in Waterford’s face in 2004 when Ian O’Regan was sprung for the semi-final only to ship three first-half goals from which Waterford never recovered. Last year, Davy Fitz tried to avoid that scenario in the always problematic full back position by grooming Ken McGrath for the position throughout the championship but that didn’t really work either, or at least not to the extent that he felt confident enough to try it against the Cats. Putting Kearney in there isn’t going to ruffle too many feathers. His form has made him Waterford’s third best player of the summer, behind Michael Walsh and John Mullane. Taking Walsh out of the centre back position – now that would have been really radical. Leaving Prendergast in there though would have left a high probability of total carnage. Playing Kearney represents a reasonable compromise. We have no way of knowing how it is going to go. But aprés Kundera, it’s better to do something than to do nothing.

Next time: all I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to hurling, says Bertie O’Camus