After pausing to give oneself a quiet bualadh bos for parsing the De La Salle – Cushendall match correctly – it’d be tough, but a Waterford team is not going to lose its nerve against an Antrim team – let’s dig a bit deeper into that analysis. Post match, there were two interviews on TG4 which reflect this dispensation. Brian Phelan isn’t known as the Bull for nothing, and he let the cat out of the bag by effectively saying that Cushendall were a tougher challenge than he expected. When the interviewer playfully suggested that DLS may have underestimated their opponents, the look of panic that swept across his face was priceless. Rule No 1 of engaging with the media (known as the Babs rule): never admit to thinking your opponents are anything less than equals. No, he replied, we didn’t underestimate them, and the set of his jaw told us that this line of questioning was at an end.
A slightly more sophisticated point of view came from John Mullane. After the obligatory knew it would be tough etc (see Babs rule), he was asked whether he felt sorry for a club enduring a seventh fall at the penultimate All-Ireland hurdle. Having endured five All-Ireland semi-final defeats with Waterford (I’m sure he was present in Croke Park in ’98 – shure didn’t we all feel it like we had played that day), he was not going to muster any faux-sympathy for Cushendall. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles”, sayeth John Almighty.
It does make sense to cover your ass by following the Babs rule. John Mullane probably knows that better than anyone when a casual comment about a potential September meeting with Kilkenny was pounced upon by Richie Bennis. But surely there’s got to be a point where privately Waterford teams have got to start believing that they can whip anyone and everyone we play. Otherwise, defeatist thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Feeling relief that DLS won’t be meeting the best that Kilkenny has to offer, like I did when I heard Portumna had beaten Ballyhale Shamrocks, is deranged. Portumna, by dint of hammering Ballyhale and being the defending champions, are clearly a far more formidable outfit. Yet even after breaking it down like that, I still feel happier to be facing them than any Cat. With an attitude like that, we’re never going to beat Kilkenny at anything. Hopefully the public spirit of Brian Phelan exists in private too.