Tag Archives: Dan Shanahan

Mr Rent-a-Quote strikes again

There was many a bitter tear among GAA hacks when Dan Shanahan called it a day. Who were they to turn to now for easy copy? Henry Shefflin? Well, they needn’t have worried as Dan hasn’t gone away you know:

Shanahan stands by retirement call

DAN SHANAHAN insists he’s at peace with his decision to walk away from inter-county hurling, even if he clearly feels he had more to offer Waterford.

Dismayed at his lack of game time under Davy Fitzgerald last year, Shanahan retired just two days after the Deise’s All-Ireland semi-final exit at the hands of Tipperary.

The Lismore man admits the decision to retire was based partly on self-preservation. He wanted to be master of his own destiny and feared he might have been forced from the Decies panel had he been available for 2011

“If I’m being honest I probably would have (stayed on had he been playing regular),” he said.

“It’s not being a regular or starting games, it’s just a bit more game time. I thought I deserved more but I didn’t get it and I made a decision myself then to call it a day.

“We all knew Davy was going to stay on (for 2011). I knew it, we all knew for a fact. He was going to stay on. And don’t be surprised if he gets another year with the county board that are there, but that’s their decision.

“I made my decision, I’m happy I made that decision and my club is benefiting big time from it. I started back with my club and I do think I owe them a bit more.”

Would he have been pushed from Waterford if he hadn’t jumped?

“Good question, yeah. I’d say it is 50-50. I could have been pushed a bit but if you train hard and work hard like I’ve done over the years, I can’t fault myself or my effort and it’s up to the management after that.

“If they don’t think I’m good enough to be worth more than five or 10 minutes in a game… it takes five minutes to get into the game at this level and to be getting five minutes to do it…

“I did it against Galway two years ago then took them out of jail again in Thurles in the Munster final last year.”

Ken McGrath recently followed Shanahan out the exit door as the Waterford team that thrilled for the best part of a decade slowly breaks up.

McGrath endured a difficult day at midfield against Cork in the National League and after being called ashore from the sideline, he walked away from the squad.

“You could see why he called it a day,” said Shanahan, who was in Dublin to launch the An Post Cycle Series, which encourages people to cycle.

“I was at the game and felt sorry for the man when he was taken off. He played midfield that day and you’re trying to deal with Donal Og Cusack’s puck-outs and he can put the ball in your mouth.

“And Pa Cronin takes off and the two boys are switching over and back and Ken is in midfield and is trying to follow them at over 30 years of age and with all the injuries he’s had.

“That’s the management team’s decision (to start him at midfield) but why not throw him centre-forward and see how he gets on there?”

Shanahan’s brother Maurice, who is currently out with a broken finger, also considered his Waterford future over the winter.

“Maurice didn’t know whether he was going to go back but he made his decision to go back. I suppose it was hard. Maurice, by a country mile, was the best club forward in Waterford last year.

“Yet he wasn’t one of the five fellas brought on in the semi-final against Tipp. That question answers itself there so at the end of the day he had to think himself whether he was coming back or not.”

It’s popular for GAA players to return from retirement at least once but, recalling the highlights of his career, Shanahan insist there will be no U-turn.

“The lads would have said to me would I be interested in going back. I’ve met them since and I get on brilliantly with them all,” he said.

“We’re great friends and that’s very important for me. We won all the trophies bar the big one but it was nice that what we won, we won it together. That’s the main thing.”

There’s a lot in there, and not all of it as inflammatory as the meeja would like. It’s not unreasonable for a performer of Dan’s calibre to think he could have eked a few more years out of his career, and he doesn’t seem to bear a grudge towards Davy Fitz over him disagreeing with that. He did what he could “and it’s up to the management after that”. You do wonder how much extra game time amounts to “just a bit more” – one wonders whether in reality anything less than a starting position would do – but he is surely absolutely correct that ten minutes, or even less in many cases, is an inadequate amount of time to make an impact on a game. Davy Fitz is hardly alone among managers in that department though.

So far, so reasonable. However, the reason all and sundry will be reading between the lines for criticism of Davy is because his next comments undeniably amount to a criticism of Davy. It seems that if Ken McGrath had been handled better everything would have come up smelling of roses. Yet you have to wonder whether he was watching the Cork game – I’m sure he was, but he didn’t see the game where Ken was absolutely stuffed. If he couldn’t cope with midfielders moving back and forth then how moving him to centre forward – where Donal Óg’s puck-outs really would have been dropping – would have granted him the elixir of life is unexplained. Ken’s race is run. How do we know this? Ken himself said so. Unless Dan has suddenly acquired the ability to read minds, we must assume that Ken thinks so too.

And let’s assume that Davy is a maggot who gets shot of players of whom he is not fond by making their lives a misery, whether it be not giving them enough game time or playing them in impossible positions. If this is so, little brother Maurice must be thrilled to see his doubts regarding the management shared with everyone and anyone. Maurice was peeved becasue he didn’t come on against Tipperary? Let’s look at who did come on. First we had Dan Shanahan and Ken McGrath. They had to come on obviously because, well, they’re Dan the Man and Big Ken. Of the remaining three, Seamus Prendergast and Eoin McGrath both scored so they must have been doing something right, which just leaves Thomas Ryan, a peer of Maurice’s who is surely entitled to expect some ‘game time’ as well. In short, there’s nothing to suggest that Maurice not playing was the result of some vendetta against him from the management. And if there is, having your brother mouthing off about isn’t going to make them come to their senses.

We probably should be grateful for Dan. For his big trap, I mean, not just all those happy memories. Newspapers and websites will cheerfully fill column and screen inches with any ráiméis from the English Premier League if the GAA won’t provide it. But given the potential for in-fighting and distrust caused by these streams-of-consciousness, you do wish it were someone else who were the GAA writer’s meal ticket. Come on Henry, tell us what you really think of Brian Cody!

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Just Justin

When I started with the results archive, I was wondering whether anyone had done it before and was thus reproducing something that was already out there – discovering recently that there was a blog for my club didn’t inspire confidence that there wasn’t something concealed by the web. And not long after my first efforts went online, I heard that RTÉ’s South East correspondent Damien Tiernan was writing a book about Waterford hurling. Great. He was bound to have the time and resources to gazump my piecemeal efforts.

But it transpired that the book would be about the last twelve years, that era when Waterford were as much to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness as any amount of All-Ireland winners. This was sincerely great news, because a) it barely touched on what I was up to (you didn’t need to trawl through newspapers to know Waterford’s results from that period), and b) it was bound to be rubbish. Sports books of this style are rarely insightful, stuffed to the gills with boy-done-good stories and rehashing the misery of failure. Tiernan would presumably be hidebound by an RTÉ hacks need to be non-controversial. And with a name as naff as The Ecstasy and the Agony, how could it possibly go right?

The book is nearly here, and the work-in-progress title has somehow survived the production process. What is more surprising is there is a danger the book might be interesting, at least if the content of Tiernan’s interview with Justin McCarthy is anything to go by. At the time my sympathies lay almost entirely with McCarthy, not least because of the dignified way in which he handled his departure. But he clearly is no longer as sanguine as he was at the time. You really need to read the whole article in the Irish Examiner to get the full impact of his bitterness, but Michael Moynihan’s opening paragraph captures the flavour pretty well:

JUSTIN MCCARTHY has broken his silence on his departure as Waterford hurling manager, describing the players as “bluffers” who did not give him credit, stating it wasn’t a “f**king creche” he was running when manager in the southeast.

Please Justin, don’t hold back. You can see his point, the way in which the players ganged up on him at the infamous meeting in Tramore having plámásed his hurling talents to all and sundry over the years. Had he said all these things at the time he would have had a lot of receptive ears, especially when set against the sight of Dan Shanahan snubbing him as he left the field against Clare (something we’ll get back to in a moment). But he also earned a lot of respect for refusing to set off a civil war in the county. He couldn’t have clung on in the way Gerald McCarthy did as the County Board had decided not to back him, but he could have made life very awkward had he chosen to.

But he didn’t, and to come back now after all this time suggests that it is his experience in Limerick that has focussed his mind rather than these feelings being truly contemperaneous. What is especially unhelpful to his cause is the reaction of the players. As part of his own opus, Big Dan has chosen to show contrition for the Gaelic Grounds episode, labelling it “the biggest mistake of my life”:

“I didn’t know then that that was the start of me getting some amount of s***. If I’d even said to him after the match, ‘Justin, I’m sorry I didn’t shake your hand,’ things might have gone differently, but I didn’t.”
Interrogate that comment very closely and you might surmise that he regrets the abuse he received rather than what he did, but I’m inclined to believe he sincerely wishes he hadn’t been so cold towards Justin. And only one spin can be put on Eoin Kelly’s direct reaction to Justin’s comments as he shows a display of sweet reason that would make Ban Ki-moon blush:

“It’s a bit disappointing to read that.

“All of us in Waterford would be well aware of Justin’s contribution to our success in recent years. I don’t think we were unwilling to give him credit for the games and titles that we won.

“I remember in 2002, when we won the Munster hurling title after a gap of 39 years, Fergal Hartley praised Justin at length from the podium in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, for instance.

“I’d say you could go back through the records and find plenty of other examples of players praising Justin and his management team after games.

“I know it ended badly between Justin and the team but a lot of people in Waterford would have good time for him and would give him plenty of credit for all that he did for the county.”

This really was the perfect riposte, to the point where he could plausibly say that it wasn’t a riposte at all for he felt so little animus towards Justin that a ‘riposte’ was not even necessary. In a week when the ultimate exponent of player power, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, finally ran out of road, it was a good one for the Waterford players. And Damien Tiernan will be feeling pretty chuffed too.

Update: An Moltóir has written his initial impressions on the book here.

Update II: Kieran Shannon hits back, announcing his own personal bias as the ghost writer of Justin’s autobiography then making the valid point that:

In contrast to his namesake and fellow Corkman, Gerald McCarthy is portrayed in very flattering terms, with Ger Loughnane’s thesis that he underachieved with Waterford going without mention, let alone examination. Another glaring inconsistency is that while the mishandling of the 2008 All Ireland final is brilliantly detailed by Tiernan, the character and workings of Davy Fitzgerald escapes the same scrutiny that Justin’s were subjected to, an imbalance Dan Shanahan may address in his book released later this week, because, unlike Tiernan, he no longer has to deal with the man.

Fair comment. We all adored Gerald for telling us how great we were, in contrast to Justin’s habit of saying managing an inter-county team wasn’t an effin’ creche. Yet it was Justin who won a Munster title within a few months of Gerald’s departure. Am I sitting on the fence? These splinters are dead comfortable.

Fallout 2010

When Waterford surrendered their All-Ireland Under-21 crown in 1993, losing to Limerick on their first defence, there was murder on the airwaves. Déise AM, or whatever the equivalent was back in those days, was ablaze with recrimination and accusation as assignation of blame was sought by all and sundry. It was most unedifying, and things weren’t about to get any better as the Kerry senior hurlers lurked in the long grass. So it represents progress of a sort that defeat to Tipperary has not led to an orgy of finger-pointing. They were bigger than us. Next time, we’ll have a bigger boat.

All of that satisfaction at such a collegiate mentality doesn’t mean no one is entitled to have a go though, and Dan Shanahan has fulfilled his anointed role as provocateur-in-chief, lashing out at Davy Fitz as he exited stage left.

But this isn’t on a par with the aforementioned Under-21 rancour, or even his cold-shouldering of Justin McCarthy in 2008. Yeah, he felt he didn’t get a fair crack of the whip – what habitual substitute doesn’t? – and his jibe about Tipp getting “our tactics off more than anything else” is fair comment. But he was quite explicit that the responsibility for selecting the manager lay with the County Board, so no strikes here. When you see certain characters lingering around like Evander Holyfield, certain that they can squeeze one more year out of their ageing bodies to justify their past actions and land the main prize, it’s good to see that some Old Big ‘Eads know when their “time is up”.

Dan’s comments raise legitimate points about Davy Fitz’s tenure. It has been a success. When he took charge, the only way looked down and we’ve reached an All-Ireland final and won another Munster title, something only Justin had managed previously. But we may well have peaked under this regime. Thankfully it looks like we’ll have a quiet period of reflection rather than a gunfight at OK Corral to decide where we go from here, and the dignified manner in which the likes of Dan is taking their leave – yes, dignified – will make things that process easier.

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

Waterford 2-17 (23) Kilkenny 1-16 (19)

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(I include this image first because I’m pretty darn chuffed with it. So there.)

In a geeky moment a number of years back when in a job with a lot of down time (God be with the good old days), I compiled a spreadsheet showing Liverpool’s results as a function of how they did against the same opposition the season before, or the equivalent in the case of promoted / relegated teams. So it was particularly crushing on Saturday when the Reds went down to Middlesbrough – a poor result last season was followed up by an even worse result this season and the Spreadsheet of Doom tells me that Liverpool are now a point worse off than at the same stage in 2007/8.

I mention all this because a) beating Kilkenny was just what the doctor ordered after that debacle on Teeside, and b) the never-ending question about the League performances, while not about to be answered here (it is, after all, never-ending) can be given a fresh spin by the notion that in the corresponding match in 2008 Kilkenny cruised to an 11 point win. And before entertaining any guff about Kilkenny not being bothered, remember that a) Kilkenny love to beat down on Waterford and b) Kilkenny players are always under pressure to perform what with the talent waiting in the wings and the thunderstorm awaiting them in the dressing room after the game. Kilkenny gave their best today – and lost. Let’s be happy.

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Especially seeing as it looked like deja vu all over again when Kilkenny roared out of the blocks rattling over three points in the first two minutes, all of which could be attributed to careless play on the part of Waterford whether it be coughing the ball up to their opposite number or poor attempts at a clearance. It was an immense relief when the Cats actually managed a wide – that’s fully 50% of what they managed in September. Waterford even managed to get  few scores but there was a sense in those early exchanges that Kilkenny were far more potent, their points been smacked over the black spot rather than tap-over frees or slurping apologetically over the bar. This was until Eoin Kelly came on for the unfortunate Shane Walsh – perhaps punished for losing the ball after a mazy run in the Kilkenny 45 that was the exemplar of the jennet express – and scored a wonder point, twisting and turning on the uncovered side of the ground then rattling the ball between the posts from what must have been a good 70 metres out as the crow flies.

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It was uplifting stuff, and perhaps Kelly might have struck some great heights had he not been the victim / perpetrator (delete as per bias) of some striking himself. Kelly got into a tussle with Tommy Walsh and before you could squeeze the shutter on the camera a dozen players were piling in. When the dust had settled Kelly, Walsh, Seamus Prendergast and Jackie Tyrrell had gone . . . well, until the latter pair had gone off I didn’t realise the import of the new yellow card rule. Is there any limit on how many yellows you can get? Could you run out of players? Despite the loss of Eoin Kelly and his swashbuckling scores, you felt at the time that Kilkenny were worse off. Stripping them of two of their Triple A defenders when they already had a few new faces back there meant they had to be worse off.

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And as it happened, Waterford had another player determined to take on Kilkenny singlehanded. While Kilkenny continued to behave as if every point had to come with a go-faster stripe painted on it, Ken McGrath was calmly keeping Waterford in touch, slotting over long range frees with splendid monotony. His period in the backs had made me forget just what a sensational forward he is. It’s not just his scoring, it’s the manner in which he ties down opponents like a WWE wrestler being tied down by midgets. Early in the second half he chased a lost ball and flung himself full length to rattle in a shot that PJ Ryan did brilliantly to save – then knocked over the 65. wellboy has been banging the drum for ages about playing Michael Walsh at centre back so as to free Ken up for the forwards. On the basis of this performance, he is entitled to feel smug (although surely not this smug).

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With Kilkenny – dare I say it – in danger of overelaborating and Ken keeping the scoreboard ticking over, Waterford  had incredibly ghosted in front when they then dared to score a goal, Stephen Molumphy benefitting from an impulsive charge off his line by Ryan to kick the ball to the net.

It beggared belief. Waterford were now five points ahead and you could imagine Brian Cody going puce on the sidelines. It was a figurative battle of Cannae, the smaller army retreating before the massed hordes then catching them in a double envelopment movement – guess who has been watching too much of the History Channel recently? A three point half time lead almost felt disappointing, which demonstrated the gap between the pre-match expectations and the half time reality.

After a ridiculously long talking-to from Davy Fitz, Waterford emerged and were . . . pretty flat, actually. Maybe it was the rain but after the hammer-and-tongs first half typified by the brawl, the early second half clashes were more handbags than Hannibal. Only a handful of points were exchanged in the third quarter with a lot of players struggling to keep their feet on the now slick surface. It would take an another – ahem – coming-together to stoke the fires of the match. I’ve dealt with this elsewhere so I’ll just add that something must have happened off camera to have caused the umpire to intervene. It doesn’t excuse Declan Prendergast’s behaviour, and his reward will surely be to miss out on a National League should Waterford win it – at best.

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The tempo seemed to lift after this and Waterford struck what should have been the killer blow when the rangy substitute took the opportunity to make a name for himself. Of all the moments that would have caused the perfectionist Cody to detonate – and if it seems I’m labouring the point, it’s because it’s both wise and true –  the manner of Waterford’s second goal will surely be the worst. Maurice Shanahan showed good composure to steady himself for a shot but the shot itself was poor, more being lucky to hit the post while going wide than being unlucky in missing a point. But Molumphy was first to the ball (Vesuvius) then a second Kilkenny defender charged towards him leaving Dan all alone on the edge of the square (Krakatoa),who showed Fowler-in-his-pomp vision to make the space. Molumphy coolly picked him out and Shanahan Sr coolly slotted it home.

Matches cannot be subdivided into little pieces where if  you can just prevent a goal for thirty seconds then multiply that by 140 you need never concede a goal. So the idea that Waterford might save us all a lot of grief if they could just stop conceding goal straight after scoring them is fanciful. Stuff happens. Still, you can’t help but grind your teeth when watching Richie Power pounce on the loose ball and cut across the goal into an unstoppable position. Kilkenny were bound to close the gap now. But Waterford held their nerve, keeping Kilkenny scoreless for the last five minutes and even getting the insurance scores to make it much less traumatic than it might have been.

It was a deserved win. We’re always told how Kilkenny have battalions waiting in reserve who could beat any team in the country. On the basis of this there is one team they can’t beat. And while Shefflin, Fitzpatrick and their ilk are still to come back, Mullane, Kelly (only ten minutes today) and Browne will be present come the summer. And never forget that winning the NHL, which this result would contribute to – watch as Kilkenny take out all our other rivals! – is result worth acheiving in itself and sod the summer. In the day that Man United landed the League Cup, just ask Liverpool fans.

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Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors, Richie Foley, Michael Walsh, James Murray, Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle (0-1), Gary Hurney, Ken McGrath (0-9, 0-6f, 0-2 65), Stephen Molumphy (1-0), Jack Kennedy, Seamus Prendergast (0-4, 0-3f; Pat Hurney; Maurice Shanahan), Shane Walsh (0-1; Eoin Kelly, 0-1; Dan Shanahan, 1-1)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan, John Dalton, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell (Canice Hickey), Tommy Walsh (TJ Reid), Brian Hogan, James Ryall (0-1), John Tennyson (0-2), Michael Rice (0-1), Eddie Brennan (0-2, 0-1 65), Willie O’Dwyer, Eoin Larkin (0-1), Michael Grace (0-1), Richie Power (1-7, 0-4f), Aidan Fogarty (0-1; Richie Hogan)

HT: Waterford 1-11 (14) Kilkenny 0-11 (11)

Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois)

Turn turn turn

In what will be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the team that defeated Clare, Waterford show only one change for the visit of the holders of some bauble picked up last September. The omission of Dan Shanahan will be seen as a shock, but the only shock is that it’s taken this long for the selectors to give someone else a go. With the inevitable return of Stephen Molumphy – why make him half-captain if he isn’t sure of his place in the team? – the selectors thoughts seem to be crystallising around this XV.

This is ominous.

Back in Year Zero (also known as AD 1998, or CE 1998 if you are so inclined), Waterford played Tipperary in the first round of the National League in Thurles. After a good winter, hopes were moderately high. By half-time, Waterford fans were in hysterics after walloping Tipp all over the park. 1-11 to 1-3 didn’t flatter Waterford one bit. Easing off the throttle and a couple of late goals took the shine off proceedings, but it was a great performance and had I been told that that team would appear in the Munster final later on in the summer, I would have believed it.

Yet there were to be significant differences between that team and the one that played Clare in July. While Brendan Landers was close enough to the team against Tipp to be playing the next day against Cork, neither Dave Bennett, Anthony Kirwan or Brian Flannery had made any impact in the winter matches. Ger Harris, Gary Gater and Mark O’Sullivan –  a veteran of Year Minus Six, so his pedigree was impeccable – would all vanish with barely a trace. Stephen Frampton, so doughty in the half backs in the summer, was to be in the corner against Tipp. To summarise the argument, the team would undergo significant changes throughout the League before it could be considered to be Championship ready. It’s not just important that the team goes through the wringer between now and the summer, it’s essential.

Maybe Waterford were so good against Clare (and it seems they were pretty good) that they are beginning to take shape already. Sunday will tell us how true that is, but you can’t help but worry that they’ll be exposed by whatstheirnames, and we’ll be back to Square Zero.

Bring Your Family To Work Day

Dan, Dan, Dan. It was obvious at the time that your claim that you felt unable to bring your daughter to the game because of the profanity being poured on your head was a rather crass use of your daughter as a shield against any form of criticism. But really, could you at least have made some concession to the idea of it being for real?

Great to have you back in the saddle.

Waterford 2-19 (25) Wexford 3-14 (24)

Pre Scriptum: it’s a new era here at Come on the Déise. We’ve taken the plunge into the world of Sky+, and pretty darn slick it is too. Up until now, I’ve always adopted the philosophy that match reports should be as contemperaneous as possible. If you want to read a proper account of the match, there are plenty of sites for that. If you want to read an account of just when a grown man felt closest to a heart attack, you’re in the right place. However, with Sky+ the more obvious clangers can be nipped in the bud right at the start. For the moment we’ll carry on in the old vein, reserving the right to switch if trying to remember who scored what point – Eoin McGrath got 0-4! – becomes too obviously hard.

One of the more worthwhile exercises I’ve ever conducted online regards the accusation that the GAA has an unwritten rule encouraging the referees to ‘play for a draw’ – yeah, it’s worthwhile in comparision to conducting long drawn out battles with WUM‘s or checking out the results of the Boston Red Sox. It seems that since 1998, the year that is universally accepted to be when hurling began, Waterford have been involved in quite a few one score championship matches:

1998: Tipperary (won by three points), Kilkenny (lost by one point)
1999: Limerick (won by one)
2000: Tipperary (lost by three)
2001: Limerick (lost by three)
2002: Cork (won by one), Clare (lost by three)
2003: Limerick (won by two)
2004: Tipperary (won by one), Cork (won by one), Kilkenny (lost by three)
2005: Cork (lost by two)
2006: Tipperary (won by three), Cork (lost by one)
2007: Cork (won by three), Cork (won by three)

We’ve played fifteen championship matches where the refs have failed to engineer the draw so beloved of the GAA despite having an open goal, so to speak. In all that time, only three times (Clare in 1998, Limerick in 2004 and Cork in 2007) have they succeeded. Either they haven’t being doing a very good job, or they are playing it straight.

And yesterday we saw it again. Referee John Sexton announced with two minutes remaining that he would play one minute of injury time. It would surely have been politically sensitive to give Wexford one more chance past that additional period – one that is only ‘a minimum’ – to secure a draw / replay (more on that later). But he did not. The final whistle went with buttock-unclenching haste and Waterford were into their sixth semi-final in eleven years. Had it been the other way around we’d have been fuming, much as we have in the past.

Speaking of the past, it came as a surprise to realise in the build up that the pleasures of the Killinan Maher Terrace, as it is now known, had gone untasted for nine long years. This was a realisation that brought out a dose of reminiscing on the day when Mikey O’Connell put us to the sword, a day which my poor wife had to relive even though it happened three years before I met her, as I foamed at the mouth recounting how a player could score six points from the midfield then vanish from the annals of hurling, All-Ireland medal and all. Nostalgia sure ain’t what it used to be.

Waterford got off to a decent start, with Eoin Kelly knocking over his first two frees. Last time I noted the Jonny Wilkinson-esque routine he seems to have adopted (at least, I don’t remember him having as convoluted a routine before) and despite my sniffiness at the time it might well be having results. The first point from play was quite a laugh, a Wexford back clearing to the delight of their supporters – only to send the ball straight down the throat of Eoin McGrath who did the needful. Speaking of Wexford’s supporters, it was quite shocking how few fans they had at the match. Having been very impressed by the noise and the colour generated by the Wexford fans in defeat when I saw them in the 1999 Leinster semi-final in Croke Park, I’ve thought well of their fans. To see the paltry turnout for a match that everyone agreed they had a decent chance in shows how much the beatings they have taken at the hands of Kilkenny has reduced morale in the Model County.

Those who stayed away were to miss a stirring performance, one jumpstarted by as classy a goal as you are likely to see. Rory Jacob got in behind Eoin Murphy and sent the ball across the goal where it was gathered by Stephen Doyle. He cut inside and batted the ball past the helpless Clinton Hennessy. Simple as you like, and it makes you wonder why there aren’t more goals in hurling. I suppose it helps when trying to keep them out to have, you know, a good full back line. The match programme noted that Waterford were trying to keep three successive clean sheets for the first time ever in championship hurling. So much for that then.

Having snuffed out Waterford’s early lead, Wexford proceeded to open up a three point lead of their own. Waterford were huffing and puffing at this stage, and it wasn’t until a rather splendid gather-pivot-and-shot effort from Seamus Prendergast that Waterford got a score that could be said to be all their own work. At the other end of the field, Ken McGrath was beginning to get on top of things. He had fluffed his first attempt to gather the ball for the third match in a row, but his next effort was a message-bearing scythe across the dropping ball and his third a clean catch and clearance. In contrast to Offaly, Wexford didn’t seem to be putting Waterford under that much pressure. Certainly the ‘tactic’ of getting space before driving the ball seemed to be reaping greater dividends as the half wore on. Some nifty play got Dan Shanahan into space and he bore down on goal only to have the ball flicked from his hurley when he was in position to pull the trigger. This brought the usual bout of carping from the assembled fans, but to me it was the first positive contribution from Dan all summer. Having demanded his head during the week this was definitely one in the eye.

Slowly but surely, Waterford began to assert their authority. Stephen Molumphy was creating havoc in the middle third of the field and Mullane was in dominant form – except that the ref was insistent on penalising him for overcarrying the ball. The odds are that Mr Sexton was correct, but I find it hard to believe that Mullane was the only player at it. Still, the amount of possession we were getting was a good sign, in no small part due to a towering performance from Tony Browne at centre back. Waterford played it cool at this point, confident that with all that ball that scores would come, and as it neared half time Waterford had edged two points in front. Mullane might have made it three but for one of those overcarrying penalties, allowing Wexford to clear and tack on a score as the clock ticked towwards the end of the extra two minutes. I’d have settled for that, but Seamus Prendergast had other ideas. A mighty catch in the middle of the field while surrounded by three Wexford players was followed up with a well directed ball into the danger zone. The ref gave Waterford a free and Eoin Kelly teed it up. “Take yer point” said some fool on the terrace (ahem) but he didn’t listen, instead opting to smash the free into the roof of the Wexford net.

What a turnaround, 1-5 to 0-1 in the second quarter of the match, a period that had been as good a display of control from Waterford as we had seen all year. Mentally ruminating on events in the first half, two things seemed clear to me: 1) this lot weren’t as good as Offaly, and 2) a goal early in the second half and we’d run away with it. A team whose fans were afraid to turn up for fear of the beating they’d get were surely one sharp push away from collapsing entirely. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. After an exchange of points Rory Jacob got the ball in the corner. “Don’t foul him”, roared the Nostradamus of the terrace and the ball ended up going out for a Wexford lineball. What happened next was a bit of mystery – no Sky+, remember – as the sideline ball seemed to fly through the entire Waterford back line before bouncning apologetically into the net. The fact that the goal was credited to Willie Doran would suggest to me that the ball did travel all the way without being touched by anyone in the full forward line. Then in the next attack, Jacob and Stephen Doyle were given the freedom of the park to walk the ball into the goal.

Well that’s just champion. Perhaps there was a karmic butterfly effect at work here and Eoin Kelly shouldn’t have been so brazen in going for that goal at the end of the first half. Whatever it was, we had gone from being four points up to being four points down without much effort on Wexford’s part. Yanking off Brian Phelan in favour of Kevin Moran did not inspire confidence that the bench knew what they were doing. Credit at this point to Jamie Nagle for an excellent score from the midfield, earning a gee-up from Eoin Kelly in the process. It was certainly a moment to calm the nerves, and with John Mullane working out how to avoid being penalised for overcarrying and instead drawing soft frees from frazzled defenders, Waterford began to climb back up the self-made mountain again.

It was, ironically enough, from a less-than-authoratitive moment from Mullane, that Waterford moved to within sight of the summit. Turning to shoot after some good supply work from Eoin McGrath, he either mishit the ball or hesitated at the last moment, sending a strange looping ball into the edge of the square. Lurking with intent, only moments after some yahoo on terrace had demanded he “win the ball at least once, ya lazy feck” – in this case, I plead not guilty to having said that instead tut-tutting sotto voce at such obnoxiousness – was Dan Shanahan. He plucked the ball out of the air like an ripe apple from a tree and this close to goal there was only going to be one result.

There wasn’t exactly joy unconfined on the Killinan End, but it was definitely what the doctor ordered. From this point on it felt as if it would be who ever was ahead at the final whistle would win – that might seem obvious, but play five more minutes and you’d have a different winner, another five another winner. This might have motivated Eoin Kelly when another Mullane jig – followed by crazy war dance for the benefit of the terrace – earned Waterford a free. Straight in front of goal, not much more than 21 metres out and only two extra bodies in the Wexford goal, a shot at goal seemed a no-brainer. Yet Kelly popped it over the bar.

Keeping the scoreboard ticking over had to be the reason. It wasn’t long before this didn’t look so reasonable. Stephen Doyle cut in from the right again and in the ensuing scramble Wexford got a penalty. Up trotted Damien Fitzhenry and mentally you were already adding three points to Wexford’s score. This meant it felt like quite a release when his shot raced into the nets behind the goal. While Eoin Kelly’s effort was deliberate, this must have been a mishit. Why send your legendary goalscoring goalie up for a penalty to do what every hurler in the country could do on their weak side?

So were hanging in there, sometimes level, sometimes in the lead, but crucially never behind – had Fitzhenry’s penalty yielded a goal it probably would have been very different. Wexford seemed to be on top in their back division, with David O’Connor mopping up everything that came his way. Why Waterford only used one sub on a day when the sun was beating down like a hammer is something the mentors need to think about before the next game. At this point we began speculating on the possibilty of the dreaded extra time. I was convinced that extra time would be necessary, but page 3 of the match programme seemed to blatantly differentiate between the certainty of extra time in the minor and the lack of said certainty in the senior matches. So a bumper pay day was in the offing for the GAA, if John Sexton played his cards right.

And perhaps Wexford were expecting that, because when the announcement went up that there were effectively only three minutes left, Diarmuid Lyng was standing over a free awarded after Kevin Moran had effectively committed a professional foul to sniff out the possibility of a goal. Three minutes left, two points in it: plenty of time left if Wexford didn’t dally, yet Lyng took a lot of time to take the free. Molumphy had the chance to leave Wexford needing a goal as the time ticked inexorably on but his shot went wide. The clock moved into the 72nd minute and Fitzhenry still showed little in the way of urgency. This tardiness meant that it was almost anti-climactic when the ref blew the final whistle. Where was the last minute scramble, the ball hitting the bar, the back emerging triumphantly with the sliothar in his fist – or the forward wheeling away in triumph having smashed home the goal to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Not that I’m complaining, though Wexford might legitimately gripe about the ref having no soul.

And thus it has come to pass. The leprechaun has given us his crock of gold, or at least a portion of it. It’s obligatory to say at this stage that there doesn’t look like there’s an All-Ireland in this Waterford team, and I’m loath to omit that which is obligatory. Still, after the rout against Clare it would have not seemed possible that Waterford would be the only team left out of the non-Big Three counties at the semi-final stage. It’s not progress but at least we’re not going backwards and anything is better than going back.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Ken McGrath, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan (Jack Kennedy), Tony Browne, Brian Phelan (Kevin Moran), Michael Walsh (capt), Jamie Nagle (0-1), Dan Shanahan (1-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Stephen Molumphy (0-1), Eoin McGrath (0-4), Eoin Kelly (1-8, 1-6f, 1 65), John Mullane (0-3)

Wexford: Damien Fitzhenry (0-1 pen), Malachy Travers, Paul Roche, Brendan O’Leary, Mick Jacob, David O’Connor, Colm Farrell (Darren Stamp), Eoin Quigley (0-1), David Redmond (0-2), PJ Nolan (Stephen Nolan, 0-1; Keith Rossiter), Willie Doran (1-1), Diarmuid Lyng (0-5f), Stephen Doyle (2-1), Stephen Banville (Barry Lambert), Rory Jacob (capt; 0-3, 1f)

HT: Waterford 1-10 (13) Wexford 1-6 (9)

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)

Waterford 2-18 (24) Offaly 0-18 (18)

What do you take from a win that is the work of one man? On the one hand, it can’t be sustained. If you were told after the Galway – Cork match that the Tribesmen were carried by Joe Canning, you would not be surprised to learn that they lost. On the other hand, what’s wrong with one player dominating on a day when other tried-and-tested players don’t fire on all cylinders? Past performance is no guarantee of future results, an axiom that can cut both ways. Perhaps one of the giants who slept through the Offaly game will arise against Wexford and take the burden from the shoulders of the one who carried it against the Faithful. You can only hope.

Speaking of hope, those who hold out hope for the future of hurling – a bare handful of people if the volume of conversation on the web is to be believed – will be puffing their chests out after this stellar day in Thurles. For the preposterously low sum of €25, the thirty thousand-odd people who were present were treated to over two hours of top notch entertainment. Chief among the hopeful brigade is Wellboy over at UpTheDeise.com, who was to be found (I think; perhaps it was one of his acolytes) on the bridge near the railway station handing out his branded balloons. I’m not certain what these items are called, and Googling hasn’t yielded any results, but I recall the cacophonous din created by the fans of the Anaheim Angels during Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. 45,000 people hammering them together was quite a sight, and while it’s easier to get everyone doing it when a) the crowd are all rooting for one team, and b) the sport in question, i.e. baseball, is a series of setpieces rather than the nonstop tumult that is hurling. Still, 10/10 as an exercise in marketing, and I might frequent UpTheDeise.com a bit more, especially now that he seems to have purged the trolls.

We took up our seats good and early, with two Laois women, a Kerry man and an English woman in tow, all cheering for the Déise boys – now how’s that as an exercise in marketing? We certainly got there earlier than the hordes that suddenly erupted out of the New Stand onto the pitch a few minutes before the match was due to start. It didn’t look like the stand was full, but you can’t blame the stewards for deciding that it was better to give those willing to trash the GAA some more ammo by permitting people to switch stands in such an undignified manner than have people crib about being expected to sit in the wings of the stand. It was two parts amusement one part buttock clenching embarrassment as the stream continued into the (superior) Old Stand, despite the protestations of the announcer. Once again, the GAA can’t win with its public. People complain about having to buy tickets at a booth when it would be easier to pay at the gate. Yet things like this are bound to happen when it’s pay at the gate. Should the authorities close the stand you’d have people wailing that they would have to run around to the other side to gain admittance and they should delay the throw-in, which would lead other people to say to hell with them, start the game on time and come earlier next time, but the Gardaí would inevitably delay the throw-in due to the danger of a crush which means no one need be worried about the game not being delayed meaning they turn up late next time and the next time . . . nope, there’s no solution short of some kind of hive mind implant to change everyone’s behaviour.

(One final thought before we get away from this padding and into the match. Once again, the toilet facilities were superb in the Old Stand. Whoever decided that the patrons of Semple Stadium deserved treatment that wouldn’t be out of place in the Hilton after years of treating them like cattle should be beatified.)

The last couple of weeks have been rather helter skelter, what with the English woman up to her tonsils in exam papers and the dislocation of switching jobs, so the details of Waterford’s team passed me by. It wasn’t until Waterford had their first free that I twigged that my great crusade for 2008 had come up short. Dave Bennett was back in his pre-destined position of bench warmer, punished for the crime of not being flawless with the frees against Antrim. I probably should give up banging this drum, but the sight of Bennett coming on with about thirty seconds to go was enough to make yer blood boil. The manner in which he takes these slights is only further evidence of the even temperment of a man who should be picked way ahead of some of the fat arses currently stinking up the side. Sort it out, Davy Fitz.

So that’s one of those things that haven’t changed under the nouveau régime. Another thing that hasn’t changed is Waterford’s capacity to hit the ground running, as John Mullane rattled over the first point within seconds then worked his way into space before playing a pass to Eoin Kelly that went too close to Brian Mullins in the Offaly goal. Way down in our perch near the Town End of the stand it was impossible to tell just how big a clanger he dropped – did it bounce awkwardly or did he simply take his eye off the ball? – but it somehow squirmed past him and Eoin Kelly, like a good striker assuming the best, was there to bat the ball into the gaping net. Further quick fire points followed and Waterford were 1-4 up before we’d even drawn breath.

Other things that never change are the free taking calamities, as Eoin Kelly missed a routine strike only for Offaly to come straight down the pitch and score. We joked that this was a ‘turning point’ then watched in growing horror as Offaly reeled us in like a mackerel. The early spurt was always going to be skewed by the soft goal which made this period all the worse. Eight points flew over without reply. The Antrim game had made me wonder whether the Davy Fitzgerald model had a game plan, something you could never accuse Justin McCarthy of having. The only plan there seemed to be here was an infuriating desire to do what I can only describe as micromanaging the ball, constantly twisiting to try and create more space rather than simply letting fly with the ball out of defence at the first available opportunity. Even the first available half- opportunity would have been better than these ham-fisted handpasses and hospital balls. Panic seemed to be spreading through the team to the point that every foray forward had to end in a goal. In fairness they were decent goal scoring chances, with Hurney racing (in so far as he can ever ‘race’) through only to be well blocked, Mullane slicing a chance wide and Kelly being fouled then having the free saved and cleared. But had we been several points ahead rather than watching a lead evaporate you can be certain these would have gone over the bar.

Thank God for defensive cockups then as Offaly’s full back line contrived once again to gift Waterford a goal. Another charge towards goal seemed to have ended when the ball was intercepted by Michael Verney but he fumbled the ball like a bar of soap and Kelly was there to lash the ball past Mullins. What an utter sickener for Offaly, seeing all their good work undone in one careless moment, and Verney was quickly called ashore. Points were exchanged until half time leaving Waterford a point ahead at the break.

Much has been said online about the performance of the referee Michael Haverty. He didn’t have a great game, that’s for sure. It struck me that he was prone to give the decisions according to the way the momentum was going. Whichever side was on top was given the benefit of the doubt, which led to some truly wacky decisions. Players were punished for what might be termed loose strikes but were neither dangerous nor anything they could have anticipated. I’m all for supposedly over-fussy refs – apply the rulebook, that’s all I ask; this notion that refs should ‘let the game flow’ is a recipe for brutality, something that would be evident in the following game between Galway and Cork. But Haverty got lots of decisions wrong, the only consolation being he seemed to dish out the errors evenly. And the abiding memory of the ref from this game was the astonishing distance he got on the sliothar as he threw them from the 65 metre line to the edge of the square just before the start of the second half. Clearly no one is going to argue with his decisions.

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The second half started with Offaly flying out of the traps, knocking over two quick points before the game settled into a series of tit-for-tat points, with Eoin Kelly contriving to miss another doozy of a free in this period. It is about time that I referred to him directly, as anyone who was at the game will be wondering what game I was watching to be so dismissive of his performance. For starters, his goals were soft affairs gifted up to him by dreadful Offaly errors. And his free taking was as erratic as always. He seems to have adopted a Jonny Wilkinson-style routine for his frees but while he hit some decent ones in the second half he did miss a few easier ones that we need to be getting if we are to advance further. Up to the fifty minute or so mark, there was little to suggest he was about to go supernova. But go supernova he did, with a display of crazy point scoring that was as good as any hurler ever produced. Gathering a puckout around the 65 metre line, he turned and smacked it over the bar on his left side. Then he pointed from way out wide on the right, over his shoulder no less. Then came another crazy heft from out the field under pressure. Long range frees now flew over the bar with minimum effort. Stirring stuff, and it was observed to me after the game that you could see Offaly crumble around this time. They persevered but when it became clear that goals were what was needed it became equally clear that none were going to be forthcoming. Whether this was because of the presence of Ken McGrath is debatable. We definitely missed his moxy in the half back line, and he didn’t seem to do a whole lot of import at full back. But the scoreboard tells us Offaly didn’t score a goal and Clinton Hennessy didn’t have to make a single save throughout the game. Some might say Offaly didn’t threaten, but Joe Bergin has given us palpitations in the past so it’s not unreasonable to suggest we were doing something right.

Kelly’s stellar performance, rounded off with two more long range frees, carried the team across the finish line. The ying of his 2-13 can be set against the yang of 0-5 for the rest of the team. John Mullane endlessly caused trouble for the Offaly backs and drew a few frees, but the rest of the forwards could have been replaced with dustbins with little harm done, and Big Dan was a fair bit worse than any trash receptacle might have been. The selectors have got to bite the bullet with Dan. Tracing the comments I’ve made through each game this year can show how mediocre he has been. The point where you say “give him another chance” was passed a few games back. Other players may have underperformed yesterday but they’ve either not had enough games to be sternly judged (Hurney and Prendergast) or can point to good outings already this year in their defence (Mullane and Eoin McGrath). The ongoing experiment with Ken McGrath in the back line will surely be persisted with even if the evidence for its effectiveness is mixed. We’ve come a long way since that Clare game, and (let’s be honest) we’ve gotten the easier half of the draw in the quarter-finals – just like Offaly in this round Wexford will view it the same way so no need to paste this to the dressing room wall, Mr Meyler. Kilkenny and Tipperary won’t be quaking in their boots but even getting a crack at either of them would represent progress of a sort.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy; Eoin Murphy, Ken McGrath, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Tony Browne, Jack Kennedy (Brain Phelan), Michael Walsh (capt), Jamie Nagle (Paul Flynn), Dan Shanahan, Gary Hurney (Stephen Molumphey, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), E McGrath (0-1; Dave Bennett), Eoin Kelly (2-13), J Mullane (0-2)

Offaly: Brian Mullins, David Franks (0-1), David Kenny, Michael Verney (Conor Hernon; James Rigney), Kevin Brady, Ger Oakley, Paul Cleary (0-1), Brendan Murphy (0-2), Rory Hanniffy (0-2), Shane Dooley (0-1), Joe Brady, Derek Molloy (0-1), Brian Carroll (0-9), Joe Bergin (0-1), Daniel Currams (Conor Mahon)

HT: Waterford 2-6 (12) Offaly 0-11 (11)

Referee: Michael Haverty (Galway)

Post Scriptum: the second game was a thirlling, tension soaked, bonus. Hopefully I’ll get to write about it through the week.

Eating Your Cake and Having It

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble

Patrick Kavanagh, Stony Grey Soil

After Waterford’s win over Cork in last season’s All-Ireland quarter-final replay, Tom Humphries wrote on how the awaiting press corps were dismayed to see Dan Shanahan pull down his baseball cap and stride purposefully away. Dan usually provided good quote, not afraid to big up Waterford’s chances or to spurn false modesty with regard to the team’s accomplishments. It therefore comes as no surprise to see Big Dan holding court in recent weeks on all manner of subjects.

It doesn’t seem like he feels the need to comment on his celebrity work. This is eminently sensible, as to respond to the weasels having a cut at him for these activities would be to dignify them with a response. At the risk of endless repetition on the matter (not that that’s ever bothered me before), if the management felt that he was adequately placed to contribute to Waterford’s cause then these activities that so many people seem to consider a distraction were nothing of the sort, or at least no more a distraction than other players doing nixers or contributing to the media. It is to Dan’s credit that he ignores the comments rather than publicly acknowledge them which would only add grist to the mill of his detractors.

More problematic is his defence of his actions with regard to Justin McCarthy as he left the field against Clare. Dan says that nothing was meant by it and that it was natural frustration at being substituted after a bad day at the office. The thing is, Dan, it can’t be both of these things. By your own admission something was clearly meant by it, i.e. you were frustrated at being substituted. If you feel that snubbing your manager after being substituted is understandable behaviour in the heat of battle then fair enough, but you’d better be prepared to defend it as such. Certain luminaries from Kerry defended Paul Galvin’s moment of madness on the basis that he was passionate, as if being passionate entitles you to behave in an ignorant manner. In fairness to Dan, his reaction was nowhere near as bad as Galvin’s – there’s always going to be an element of rough and tumble in a team environment, whereas referees are supposed to be sacrosanct. But in fairness to Paul Galvin he unequivocally apologised for his behaviour while Dan wants to hide behind the these-things-happen defence.

And speaking of hiding behind things, bringing his daughter into matters was uncalled for. Now, the abuse of her father that she had to hear was disgraceful and my heart goes out to her. But this was one muppet giving it large. Had she been twenty yards away the odds are she would have heard nothing aimed at her father – suggestions online that Waterford fans are somehow more prone to lashing out at their own is typical internet trash talk with no basis in fact – but plenty aimed at referees, linesmen and umpires. It would be safe to say that Dan has no problem with her hearing this kind of lip, said with no consideration that the official’s family might be nearby. When you see the hilarity which greeted Sol Campbell’s efforts to highlight the grief that soccer players were getting, it’s clear that the terrace skangers won’t be reforming any time soon, so if you don’t like your family hearing you getting ripped to shreds, leave them at home.

Or you could always play better, Dan. I’m going to Hell for that comment . . .