Tag Archives: Dublin

Waterford 0-14 Dublin 0-19

Dublin halt Déise’s unbeaten run – RTÉ
Resurgent Dublin see off Waterford to reach League quarters – Irish Times
Devastating Dubs stun Waterford to grab quarter-final place – HoganStand.com
Dublin beat Waterford at own game – Irish Examiner
Dublin stun Waterford – Irish Independent


Eek. I left a major hostage to fortune in the previous post, something that didn’t dawn on me until I noticed a like/favourite on Twitter from Rachael English. Comments as intemperate as  ‘Keep it up, and the promised land isn’t just likely. It’s inevitable’ are just the kind of thing to go viral when you get the runaround at home from Dublin. I could probably put up a weasely defence that I was merely prognosticating on a scenario where we kept on winning and just because we are no longer winning doesn’t mean it was wrong to speculate on the keep-winning scenario.  But the bottom line is that when you are trounced in this manner, you have to take stock.

And having taken stock, it wasn’t entirely apocalyptic. For starters, Dublin looked very tasty indeed. I say ‘trounced’ because the five-point margin probably flattered Waterford. Dublin’s short passing game was all at sea in the first five minutes as they gifted Waterford a three-point head start. It was blissfully reassuring. They’d soon stop acting the jennet and we’d still be too good for them. Except neither of those things happened. They kept it up and Waterford never got to grips with it. When you are as fit and well-drilled as Dublin looked, it is surely a recipe for success when you add some real talent, and Dublin had the star of the show in Eamon Dillon. I can’t recall noticing him before and I was alarmed to see the Dublin GAA website has him winning League and Leinster titles. Was I really so dense as to miss someone so good? Don’t answer that. Some quick Googling brought some relief as he played in neither of those wins and only came on as a sub in their loss to us in last year’s Championship. Either way, he was unplayable in this game. One score saw him catch a high ball coming over his shoulder near the sideline and, without breaking stride, turn and send the ball over the bar. It was typical of much of Dublin’s play in the opening 20 minutes, and with Waterford benefitting from a modest wind, it was looking grim.

Tom Devine was finding the task of being the lone forward to be utterly thankless. The manner in which Derek McGrath persisted with this plan in the face of its failure does make you wonder whether he was conducting some manner of experiment. In less wishful-thinking mode, it was likely that Waterford had several players have a bad day at the office all on the same day. Yes, Dublin were neat and tidy, but none of the in-your-face play that was so much in evidence against Kilkenny was on display here. Tadhg de Búrca, surprisingly restored to the side after injury, looked rustier than that crane off the Ardmore coast. More surprising was the occasionally flailing efforts of Kevin Moran. Watching this man-mountain with the hands of Roger Federer being beaten to the ball by players you would expect him to sweep aside was jarring. All over the field Waterford players were chasing shadows and you really felt something had to change as Dublin eased into a three-point lead having been three points down.

Nothing did change in the tactics or personnel, but Waterford managed to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Almost all the good stuff we did came via Jamie Barron who was making himself a proper nuisance in the middle of the park, and a brace apiece from Ausitn Gleeson and Patrick Curran meant that Waterford somehow went in ahead at half-time. Nothing spectacular had happened, just a little bit more oomph in defence, although the rampaging clearances that have been so typical of Waterford in the last year and a bit were conspicuous by their absence. Could they push on in the second half?

No, they could not. A couple of points were exchanged in the first few minutes but once Dublin hit the front at 0-11 to 0-10 they didn’t look back. Points came in all shapes and sizes and it was clear the heart wasn’t there to close the gap. There was no flame-out, no madcap chase for goals that might have turned the tide. The closest we came was right at the end, an effort by Gleeson from out near the 45 zipping over the bar rather than causing the chaos he was hoping for under it.

It was that lack of fight that gives me a perverse sense of comfort. You often hear that League games were played at Championship intensity. This is invariably nonsense, not least in the match the night before in Páirc Uí Rinn. I had accidentally ended up watching that game and while it was very entertaining fare it was most definitely not up to Championship intensity, except for the late burst of goals when Kilkenny bulldozed their way through the Cork backs (five points down with five minutes left, Anthony Daly ventured, upon hearing that there have never been a draw in the League between the teams, that Brian Cody would have taken that. No way is Brian Cody ‘settling’ for anything, ever). It was still a lot more thunder-and-lightning than this game though. This might be a sign that the players are getting a little blasé. With the return of Darragh Fives and the integration of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, the squad is stronger than it was last year. There should be more willing to use it rather than sticking with the same 18 or so players for every game.

In the short term, we’re still heading in the right direction. Thoughts that we might be a flash in the pan from last year can be dismissed, and we can look forward to the quarter-finals where we might end up second and still get a home draw against Offaly after their surprise win over Wexford. We must, of course, treat them with the utmost respect and leave no hostages to fortune.

***looks at previous post***

Eek.

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Waterford 2-21 (27) Dublin 1-19 (22)

Dublin 2015 cover

A number of years ago, when blogging was young and I threw every thought regarding Waterford GAA online, I worked out that Waterford always have to move terraces in Thurles. Cork and Tipperary always get the Town End and Killinan End respectively whoever they play. Limerick get the Town End when they play Clare or Waterford. Clare get the Killinan End when they play Limerick or Waterford. This means Waterford have to move for everyone else. Have I got a chip on my shoulder over this? You bet I do, and it got some extra vinegar when I went to get tickets from SuperValu and was told at the checkout that Waterford had been ‘allocated’ the Town End. Seriously? Share a terrace with a load of Langers who would be just waiting to put the boot in were we to fail? It was especially galling given the odds were always going to be that the combined Cork terrace attendance, Confederate flags and all, would outnumber the attendance of the other three terrace goers combined. I pompously puffed out my chest and explained that I did not want to share a terrace with Cork people. I expected the woman, hailing as she does from Eastern Europe, to greet this with indifference. Instead she looked at me like I was mad. But when we arrived, my suspicions proved to be correct as the Town End looked well populated with red and white while the Killinan End had oodles of space. In your face, Polack! Or whatever you are.

Enough of the unreasoned bitterness – there’ll be plenty of the reasoned bitterness to go around. Dublin opened the scoring with the wind at their backs, but Waterford responded quickly with Shane Bennett drawing a free from which Maurice Shanahan scored. Shanahan got our first from play then Colin Dunford put it over after Waterford had harrassed the Dublin defence into coughing up possession. This was what we had come to see, although the lack of a sweeper was curious. On the way up we had discussed whether this would be a good game to go 15 v 15, and it looked like Derek McGrath and co had overheard us. This made the game ridiculously open, and Dublin nearly capitalised when a ball over the top allowed them in for a goal chance, and it ended with a score for them anyway. After a solid start it looked as if Waterford were almost overwhelmed by the luxury of the ‘extra’ man up front, and an overcomplicated move saw a few opportunities for a point spurned and Shanahan shoot lamely at Gary Maguire in the Dublin goal. A hospital ball from Dunford led to Shanahan giving away a free and Dublin were able to use the wind to send it over from a long way out.

A point from a 65, an award that looked well dodge from where I was standing having looked to have come off Bennett, kept the scoreboard ticking over for Waterford, but Dublin reacted quickly with excellent points from distance Niall McMorrow and Ryan O’Dwyer. Shanahan managed another free while Dublin looked more efficient from play, David O’Callaghan getting a good score at one end while Bennett tried a Hail Mary effort in the corner from the other end. Austin Gleeson, who had been relatively anonymous further up the field thus far, showed him how it was done by bursting onto a loose ball and popping it over while a Dublin wide at the other end reassured us that we didn’t have a monopoly on poor efforts. Dunford also managed to reassure us with a fine effort after a pinpoint pass from Philip Mahony from inside his own half, showing the sense to make space for the point rather than trying to shoot at the first sniff of the posts. Another Shanahan free was followed by another Dublin wide, although the puckout was well gathered on the run by Danny Sutcliffe and fired back over the bar. Disappointing, but it was good play and these things are bound to happen when you are playing it as loose as both teams were doing.

A free for overcarrying, which again looked well dodge, stopped Liam Rushe in his tracks – his day wasn’t about to get any better – to give Shanahan another simple free, and it was Shanahan again who gathered a puckout and dropped a ball in which was cleared by Dublin under pressure from, um, Austin Gleeson. Him popping up there really showed how confused Waterford’s strategy was, while Dublin’s play was far more clean and focused. A free from distance and an excellent point from a narrow angle drew Dublin level again while even someone as reliable as Kevin Moran was spurning scoreable chances, this time after Jamie Barron had once again wriggled his way out of seemingly impossibly tight spot. The frustration mounted for Waterford as a series of attempts to get through the Dublin half-back line, any of which might have ended in a free, instead culminated in a free out for Dublin when it looked like the whistle had only been blown to allow treatment for Sutcliffe. The free did allow de Búrca to strut his stuff though with a salmon-like catch and a cat-like clearance and from the attack Bennett had a half-chance which was cleared but only as far as Dunford to tee up Moran and get Waterford back in front.

This was all a bit of throwback, the Stravinksy of the Nineties and Noughties rather than the (occasionally) Bach of recent years. You need some impressive performers to pull off such a show though, and watching Gleeson run the ball out over the sideline and engage in the kind of tantrum that gets players sent off, you appreciated he is no Fergal Hartley. Ryan O’Dwyer levelled matters again after gathering the resulting sideline, and their slow and steady policy looked at that stage like it might be the right one. Another fortunate 65, this time after Bennett had hit another tame strike on goal and the umpire erroneously concluded the ball had gone out over the endline from Maguire’s looping save, put us back in front. He wasn’t having much luck and nor was Liam Rushe as he was penalised for clinging on to Michael Walsh’s hurley. It was the correct decision but you can understand a player getting exasperated by being penalished in such a hurly-burly moment. When Dunford did one of those trademark gallops down the wing a three-point lead looked possible. Alas, a trademark wide followed. It wasn’t the worst wide of the day but it looked costly as Dublin suddenly went nap. Clever play from Mark Schutte drew a foul for an easy free, then Sutcliffe drew Dublin level with a great score from distance. Waterford could feel aggrieved once again as the half ticked towards the end of injury time when another whistle for what looked like treatment, this time to Jake Dillon after a collision, resulted in a free to Dublin and they worked the ball to Sutcliffe who once again struck it cleanly between the posts to give Dublin the lead at the break.

What was going on? This had been as flat a half as we had produced all year. The performance reeked of burnout, and I couldn’t help but ponder sourly, in so far as I could ponder at all given the racket pounding out of the PA system during the break, on the assurances given to me that the aim for the panel had been to peak in September.

Oh me of little faith. A storming run from Moran led to a point in the opening thirty seconds, then a moment of such exquisiteness followed that you almost wished you were watching the telly to appreciate it properly as Shanahan worked space on the wing before lobbing it into Bennett in acres of space near the goal. It looked in real time like he mis-hit the ball which accounted for the manner in which the ball scythed off the bas of the hurley, but in truth it was only a minor loss of control, more than made up for by a half-volley that tore past Maguire into the back of the net.

Note to self: next time, just look at the big screen.

The feeling of elation at this flying start to the second half events was tempered by a foolish piece of play from Darragh Fives, hitting a sideline ball back towards the goalie and only succeeding in knocking it out for a Dublin sideline closer to our goal. Thankfully they failed to take advantage with a sloppy effort from McMorrow and when Gleeson hammered over a fantastic point straight from the puckout you knew we were completely in the driving seat. Mark Schutte got one back but he was made work bloody hard for it in complete contrast to the first half funk.

Waterford kept the hammer down right through the opening ten minutes as Gleeson won a free straight from the puckout to allow Shanahan to score then Walsh pounced on a loose Dublin puckout and picked out Shahanan to stretch the lead to five. Liam Rushe was a little unlucky to concede a free for overcarrying when it could have gone the other way which led to an eye-bulging roar into his face from Shanahan, and while he couldn’t take advantage from the free, a wide from Paul Ryan after Dublin had been harried all along the Waterford 45 typified the new dispensation. Yep, The System was back. You told me The System was immortal! O green-life-conquering System!

Everything was going our way now, with Shane Bennett pulling a delightful pirouette to draw a foul for an easy free while a mis-hit sideline ball fell to Gleeson to move the lead out to seven with the game moving towards the final quarter. You felt one sharp push from Waterford and we’d run away from them and it was telling that Dublin were already looking for goals. The thing about looking for goals though is that you only get them when you do that and an excellent ball from Joey Boland into the corner allowed Dublin to unlock the previously watertight defence as Mark Schutte fired it home from close range off Stephen O’Keeffe’s hurley.

It was equally telling that this didn’t fill me with despair. I could probably casually invoke The System again, but I was also plain confident that Waterford would hold their nerve. A few balls into the danger zone were confidently dealt with by Darragh Fives and Tadgh de Búrca respectively and when a siege-lifting run from Barron ended in a sideline ball, there was Gleeson to fire it over the bar. An O’Callaghan point kept Dublin in touch but Waterford were the ones being cute now with Curran putting the head down to draw an easy free.

One last push, that’s what was needed, and Bennett nearly got it when he ghosted in behind the defence but couldn’t kick the ball to the net. A professional foul kept Dublin to a point from a free but they were spending very little time down our end of the field and the sand was fizzing into the bottom of the timer. They were having to commit more men forward and the last push came courtesy of a marvellous soccer-style counter attack, the ball moved through hands quickly from the back line to Shanahan to drill the ball low into the net.

There was no way Dublin were going to get seven points in the last three or four minutes, a bit of time wasting on Shanahan’s part as he got in Liam Rushe’s face again helping matters, as did the ref by putting a throw ball on our 21 into space rather than into any players who could do something with it. O’Callaghan did show some ability to thread himself tbrougj the eye of the needle and the subsequent free was obviously a source of concern but it was going to be some effort to get past half the Waterford team on the line and it was deflected out for a 65. This duly went over the bar but the futlity of it all was shown by the announcement of “at least one minute” of added time when the one minute had already elapsed.

You may have noted that I’ve made note of the instances of Maurice Shanahan engaging in a set-to with Liam Rushe up to now. I’ve broken with my normal habit of trying to write reports from my contemporaneous notes, riddled as they would be with errors, and watched the game through on Sky+ to see just how often he was acting the maggot. This is because it has been a recurring theme on the internet that he had stepped over a line that somehow justified What Happened Next. I think the reason for this wave of comment is a tweet from Eddie Brennan which is a masterclass in weasely GAA speak where a pundit attributes a characteristic in general to an incident (#sportsmanship) then denies black is white when people ask him to substantiate the particulars of the incident (“don’t twist my words”). I’ve counted two instances of Shanahan getting in Rushe’s personal space before What Happened Next, which was an off-the-ball coming together that culminated in Rushe slapping Shanahan across the head with his hurley. Straight red card, no question, although it was deeply alarming that a Waterford player might do something stupid and get a ban for their troubles. Thankfully that was as bad as it got, and the final whistle came immediately afterwards.

The manner in which Waterford hit the afterburners once the second half started and the sweeper system was back in place is a source of optimism as we prepare to head back to Croke Park for the first time in fourteen Championship matches. Back in 2008, I had wondered whether Davy Fitz had used the games against Offaly and Wexford, games where we clearly overmatched them both, to experiment with their setup, e.g. Ken McGrath playing at full-back. I’m doubtful whether Derek McGrath was engaging in such a rope-a-dope strategy here against Dublin, a team much closer to our level than Offaly and Wexford were to the 2008 team. Still, he must have been wondering whether reverting to a more orthodox strategy would have yielded dividends against Tipperary. I think he has his answer. There can be few doubts now that going 15 v 15 against Kilkenny is going to be a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Kilkenny will be red-hot favourites, but at least we are going in with a wild card ready to be played rather than just hoping we will be dealt four aces. And whatever happens, we have the comfort of knowing that, for the first time since the mid Noughties, we are not a team raging against the dying of the light.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors (Stephen Daniels), Darragh Fives, Tadgh de Búrca, Philip Mahony, Austin Gleeson (0-4, 0-1 s/l; Eddie Barrett), Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran (0-2), Shane Bennett (1-0; Stephen Bennett), Michael Walsh, Maurice Shanahan (1-12, 0-8f, 0-2 65), Jake Dillon (0-1; Tom Devine), Colin Dunford (0-2; Patrick Curran)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Shane Barrett (Peter Kelly), Cian O’Callaghan, Paul Schutte; Chris Crummey (0-1), Liam Rushe, Joey Boland, John McCaffrey, Niall McMorrow (0-1; Cian Boland), Paul Ryan (0-5f ; David Treacy, 0-2, 0-1 65), Danny Sutcliffe (0-3; Oisín O’Rourke), Ryan O’Dwyer (0-2), David O’Callaghan (0-3), Conal Keaney (Eamon Dillon), Mark Schutte (1-2)

HT: Waterford 0-12 Dublin 0-13

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

The big chill

I had decided a few days ago that I wasn’t going to produce a report for the relegation playoff against Dublin. This was entirely because I wasn’t confident that I could maintain focus on events on the pitch in Walsh Park while events were unfolding hundreds of miles to the north-west in Anfield. I needn’t have worried myself on that score. Checking my phone at a couple of minutes past four, around the time things were beginning to unravel for Waterford,  I chuckled to myself that Liverpool had better be 1-0 up. Imagine my delight to see that they were, and things were to only get better. Alas, the same could not be said for the game going on in front of me.

While there were no other reasons for not taking notes other than that, there would be additional factors which made it a wise decision. The last time I didn’t keep track was against Cork in Fraher Field last year . Like then, it was absolutely perishing and gloves were definitely the order of the day. Anyone who wants to re-jig the season so that weightier Championship matters are played at this time of year needs shipping off to Antarctica. Then there was the programme. It’s been a long-running scandal that the Waterford County Board have the chutzpah to charge €2 for what is effectively a team sheet. The programme for the previous game against Dublin doubled up for both that match and the football game out in Carriganore against London. It was terrible value, containing an article for each game – both were perfectly fine, but you can get as good online for free, literally in the case of Tomás McCarthy – and the team sheets. The programme yesterday though couldn’t even claim either of those things, with no articles and lineups that were so inaccurate as to be worse than useless. Both sides had different starting 15s, which is to be expected at this stage. To add further, entirely original insult, Dublin started with players who were not even in the programme while Waterford had Tadhg Bourke and Noel Connors in the wrong jerseys. Trying to keep track of who did what would have been a pain, so it’s just as well I didn’t bother.

What of the game itself?  It’s fair to say that the optimism created by the first three games, containing a close away defeat and two fine wins, has completely evaporated after three soul-destroying defeats. Waterford had started well, rattling over five points in the first seven minutes and looking entirely like they had Dublin’s measure. A goal from a 21-metre free, correctly awarded, kept Dublin in touch but the lead had stretched back to a handy four points thanks to a goal from Darragh Fives, well set up by Seamus Prendergast. With Dublin having hit a string of horror wides while we had been a model of economy with our efforts, it was looking good.

Then came the red card for Shane O’Sullivan. It looked harsh from where I was on the terrace at the Keane’s Road end. He didn’t strike Michael Carton, but caught him as the opponent came at him quickly, so everyone in the ground was surprised when he flashed the red card. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that I was an awful long way from the action. I have no reason to suspect skullduggery on the referee’s part, and presumably he saw O’Sullivan raised hurley catching Carton way too high, in the neck-face area. Fine margins and all that, but if the action was dangerous then he had to go, however benign his intentions might have been.

Could we get lightning to strike twice and win with 14 men again? No, we could not. They kept in touch for the remainder of the half, and a late goal put an undeserved gloss on the scoreline to give Dublin a half-time lead, but it was clear early in the third quarter that Waterford were not going to salvage this. Dublin were amazingly over-elaborate as handpasses and short balls to find men in space were flung about to tantalise their Waterford opposite numbers, but it had the feeling of a team determined to try something experimental in a game they knew they had won. Maybe I’m seeing a plan that wasn’t there, but whatever it was worked out pretty well as two goals in the space of as many minutes gave them the breathing space they needed. Having watched Waterford implode so badly in the second half against Kilkenny last week, it is a small source of relief that this didn’t happen in this game. Dublin would probably have had an extra gear if it were requiredthough, and brains were well and truly scrambled in the Waterford team, something exemplified by the decision of Pauric Mahony to take a point when awarded a free close in with eight minutes left that had goal chance written all over it. All well and good if the intention was to keep the bare look off the scoreline, and there would have been a certain logic to that. But why did they then try to engineer goals in the remaining minutes from much less promising positions? A lack of joined-up thinking from someone in the Waterford panel.

The high-octane nature of each game in the National League these days means we know a lot more than we traditionally expect to know at this stage, and it isn’t good. Three tough defeats means we are behind where we started, and there are no more chances to try and resolve it before the game against Cork at the end of May. Derek McGrath and co are going to have to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Get your rosary beads out.

Caught on the upbeat

I was the subject of a most grevious tweet during the week:

UPBEAT! Them’s fighting words. Are we not meant to dismissive of our chances at all costs? Are we not at our best when we are underdogs, having retreated deep, deep into the long grass?

Well, I would argue that we are not. The sample size of when we are at our best is so small, i.e. when we’ve contrived to win matches, that I would dispute the idea that underdogs status is a good thing. We’re usually underdogs because we’re considered to be the weaker team, and weaker teams invariably lose. In fact, talking teams down is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You could see the pincer effect of one team being burdened down by history while another was buoyed up by the same history in Paris yesterday as a French team that have been mostly a rabble throughout this year’s Six Nations came perilously close to spoiling Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell party. Ireland got there in the end, but it was way closer than an objective assessment of the teams before the game might have suggested.

With respect to the Dublin game, I was upbeat because Waterford were bloody good. Now, I have a tendency to be overly effusive after any Waterford win because they all feel so precious. Anyone who read my report on the thrilling win over Tipperary in the League last year would think Michael Ryan and his charges were poised on the verge of a glorious new era of unending success. It didn’t work out that way of course, and I’m not suggesting that we’re on the brink of a McGrath Reich either. If nothing else, it’s all too close in Division 1A for anyone to suggest they’re on top of the rest. Dublin’s win over Kilkenny last night would have told us that.

This was much more promising than the win over Tipperary though, or anything else we accomplished in the League last year. While it was great to win close games in the manner we did over Tipp or Clare, or the way we hung in there for that pulsating draw with Cork, this was better because we were so superior to Dublin. The scoreline did not reflect how our 14 men squeezed the life out of them. The frenetic last few minutes were not indicative of what had gone before, and it spoke volumes that the large crowd were streaming towards the exit in injury time despite there only being a goal in it. The expectation was that we would hold out, and we duly did. Had Waterford been expected to do that for another 70 minutes, you’d have been confident the result would have been the same. It was not a win born of being fortunate enough to be a point ahead at the final whistle. They had thoroughly deserved it, hence the upbeat mood.

It could all fall apart today as we take on Clare in their own backyard today. Out of the ten matches played in Division 1A thus far, only one has been won by an away team, and while that is probably not a statistically significant number of games there is also the small matter of them being the All-Ireland Senior and Under-21 champions. For now we’re in a good place though, and have been for the last week. And when you consider all this was done without any input from our own All-Ireland Minor champions, why shouldn’t we be upbeat?

Feel free to blame me personally for jinxing the team today.

Waterford 1-13 (16) Dublin 1-10 (13) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

A marvellous combination of work rate, team work and no little skill saw Waterford carve out a great win over Dublin in Walsh Park today, despite playing over 43 minutes without skipper Brick Walsh who was red carded in the 30th minute of the first half. In fact, the win was a little more comfortable than the final score indicates, as Dublin got their goal in the last minute of normal time and a point in injury time. They did have time to launch one final assault on the Waterford goal but Conal Keaney was penalised for charging with the ball and that was that.

It was a dry, mild and very overcast day with a slight breeze blowing towards the city goal which Dublin played with in the first half. However, the pitch was very soft making it difficult to pick the ball and leading to frequent throw-ins. The official attendance was a decent 4,363.

Dublin started very impressively, with their good interpassing and strong running off the ball causing Waterford all sorts of problems in the early minutes, and allowing the visitors to build up a three-point lead, 0-4 to 0-1. However, the Waterford full back line then established a vice-like grip on the Dublin inner line which they maintained right to the end of the game, and with the half back line getting to grips with the game the Waterford comeback began. They eventually edged ahead in the 20th minute and then four minutes later the vital breakthrough goal arrived. Seamus Prendergast had been causing a lot of difficulty for All-Star full back Peter Kelly, and his persistence set up the opening for Pauric Mahony (who played the first half in the corner) who collected beautifully and surged through to give Gary Maguire no chance.

Waterford were then stunned in the 30th minute when referee Cathal McAllister red carded Brick Walsh after consulting with a distant umpire. Waterford initially moved Jamie Nagle to centre back with Shane McNulty moving to the wing, and managed to get to half time five points in front, 1-10 to 0-8. Pauric Mahony accounted for 1-6 of this (1-1 from play) with Seamus Prendergast weighing in with two marvellous points while Kevin Moran and Ryan Donnelly also registered excellent scores.

At the break, Kevin Moran was moved to centre back with Nagle reverting to the wing and Shane O’Sullivan moving out to centre field. That was the move that probably won the game for Waterford, as Moran put in a powerful second half and completely dominated the middle. Dublin maintained their formation which meant their extra man was in the full back line, which made it very difficult for Waterford to create openings with long balls out of defence.

However, at the other end they performed heroically, and the amount of blocking down they did was unreal. Dublin hit several bad wides, but usually while shooting under pressure. It took them until the 28th minute before they finally raised a white flag from an Alan McCrabbe 65. At that stage Waterford were seven points in front thanks to a Mahony free and a great long-range effort from substitute Brian O’Sullivan. Waterford could have been further ahead but Mahony’s radar went a bit askew after the change of ends, as he missed with three difficult long range frees.

At the other end, Stephen O’Keeffe brought off a marvellous save from Dublin substitute Eamon Dillon while a fantastic last-ditch block by Noel Connors denied Conal Keaney as he was about to pull the trigger. Amazingly, with loads of free possession around their half back line, and 6-7 points down, Dublin kept sending low probing balls into their forwards which were repulsed time and time again by the Waterford rearguard. Ironically, the one time they tried route one, it worked for them. A high ball into the goal area was brilliantly fielded by Jamie Nagle in the 70th minute, but his intended hand pass was blocked in heavy traffic with Keaney finishing to the net. With Dillon adding a point there was only a goal in it, but Waterford were not to be denied. Conor McCormack, a late Dublin substitute, was red carded just before the end when he pulled across Jamie Nagle as the ball ran away from them over the sideline.

By now, Waterford must have the tightest defence in Division 1A of the league, with an average of 1-12 conceded in the three games thus far. The entire sextet were immense today. It is hard to believe that Tadhg Bourke was playing just his second senior game today, so assured was his display. His abilities to block opponents and stop them getting possession are extraordinary, while his own skillset on the ball is sublime. Shane Fives followed up with another authoritative display, repeatedly winning possession and bringing the ball out of defence, while Noel Connors was, well, Noel Connors.

Apart from Kevin Moran’s second half performance – and accompanying leadership – Jamie Nagle turned in another masterful performance while Philip Mahony was little behind on the other wing. Things didn’t really go right for Shane McNulty at midfield and his inexperience showed, but he did a lot of good things and he is definitely one for the future. Up front, Pauric Mahony and Seamus Prendergast were the main men. Mahony shipped a heavy tackle in the middle of the second half but recovered to win some great ball in the closing stages. Stephen Molumphy also won some good ball in the first half but faded out a bit after the change of ends. Ray Barry’s lack of physique told against him at times against the hard-tackling Dubliners but he still put in some good work and I was surprised when he was substituted halfway through the second half.

The ball did not run well for Ryan Donnelly (although he took the one chance he got) while Shane O’Sullivan put in a typical hard-working 70 minutes. All five Waterford substitutes did their bit when brought on. Brian O’Sullivan carved out three scoring chances but only nailed one of them.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadhg Bourke, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Philip Mahony, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane McNulty; Ray Barry, Stephen Molumphy, Shane O’Sullivan, R Donnelly (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-2), Pauric Mahony (1-8, 0-7 frees).
Subtitutes: Brian O’Sullivan (0-1) for Donnelly (46); Stephen Roche for McNulty (46); Eddie Barrett for Barry (56); Barry Coughlan for Molumphy (58); Gavin O’Brien for Prendergast (63).

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Cian O’Callaghan, Peter Kelly, Niall Corcoran, Shane Durkin, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton; Colm Cronin (0-1), John McCaffrey (0-1), Joey Boland (0-1), Ryan O’Dwyer, Alan McCrabbe (0-3, all frees), Dotsy O’Callaghan (0-2), Conal Keaney (1-1), Mark Schutte.
Subsitutes: Eamon Dillon (0-1) for Schutte (44); Seán McGrath for O’Callaghan (59); Conor McCormack for Cronin (59).

Waterford 1-13 (16) Dublin 1-10 (13)

023 Waterford v Dublin 9 March 2014 Cover

This match was truly a red-letter day in the history of the GAA. For the first time ever, I was in the possession of a ticket for a National League group game! Unless you count those grubby little stubs as tickets. If nothing else, it showed someone in the GAA having the ability to think outside the box when it came to the ticketing arrangements for the Association’s hidden-in-the-attic child. Not only do the committed types who plan ahead get a discount on the price of their ticket, while slyly locking them in should the weather on the day prove to be off-putting, it was a good example of positive marketing (yeah, I know) as SuperValu/Centra advertised the games and the games brought people into SuperValu/Centra. Add in the horror for Superquinn-types as the GAA was brought into the shopping experience, and you have a winner all round. Kudos to whoever came up with the idea.

And speaking of ideas, the decision to retain the much-derided six-team divisional format was looking sound as Dublin rolled into town with everyone having a record of P2 W1 L1. Waterford had the less extreme pair of games, with a narrow but decisive result in both the win and the loss column. The Dubs, on the other hand, experienced a savage beating at the hands of Galway only to turn over Clare, the All-Ireland champions cock-a-hoop after a thrilling win over Kilkenny, in the following round. We would all have been conscious of the need to maintain the 100% record of home teams thus far if we are to continue making the six-team divisional format such a bone of contention by refusing to vacate the top table for one of our betters.

03 Waterford v Dublin 9 March 2014

The team sheet looked encouraging for Waterford, with a lot of new faces. Three of the names – Tadgh Bourke, Shane McNulty and Ryan Donnelly – were complete unknowns to me so getting to know them was something to anticipate. Dublin are a familiar sight at this stage – including their thrilling game against Cork after the Minor game last August, I’ve seen them in each of the past four years – and they seemed to be straight into their stride. Waterford were playing a two man full-forward line and the initial high balls into Seamus Prendegast were not giving us much joy. Dublin won most of the early exchanges and gave the Waterford goal a few scary moments, one of them seeing Stephen O’Keeffe pulling off a great block only to over-elaborate on his clearance and was fortunate only to concede a point on the return. A 65 and a free from Pauric Mahony, both won by Prendergast making a nuisance of himself, were all Waterford had to show as Dublin cruised into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.

That was as good as it got for the Dubs though. Perhaps it took Waterford time to adjust to their style of play, perhaps the boggy pitch – it looked awful; had the footballers played in a curtain raiser it would have been a complete quagmire – took its toll on Dublin more than us, or maybe the opening period was simply too short to be indicative of the wider game, but Waterford would boss the remainder in what is hopefully a harbinger of things to come. The half-forwards, perhaps boosted by the extra body, now got on top, winning lots of dirty ball and racking up the frees which were put away with aplomb by Mahony. Prendergast managed to make use of the extra space to fire over two great scores, and it was from some very dirty ball that Waterford managed their first goal of the season. Prendergast should have earned a free but from the scramble that did arise Stephen Molumphy – great to see him back – emerged from the scrum and put Mahony clear though on goal where he rifled an unstoppable shot past Maguire. When Ryan Donnelly popped over a tremendous effort from way out wide, we had outscored Dublin 1-7 to 0-1. Dublin might still be winning high balls but Waterford were pouncing on the breakdown and passes were sticking to palms. Carry on like this, and what could possibly go wrong?

09 Waterford v Dublin 9 March 2014

A red card, that’s what. I could tell something had gone wrong for the incident which saw Michael Walsh connect with Alan McCrabbe, but the hue-and-cry from the Dublin contingent was more concern over McCrabbe’s welfare than rage at the atrocity which had befallen him. No free was awarded and the game carried on for a good half-minute before it stopped and attention came on for McCrabbe. I was so unconcerned that I wasn’t watching when Walsh was red-carded. Had the linesman spotted something? Did a hole appear in the space-time continuum that allowed Cathal McAllister to see the incident? Whatever it was, Walsh was off and we were shorn of our captain. We possess a top-drawer replacement for centre-back in Kevin Moran, but there isn’t a team in the country that wouldn’t be diminished by the absence of the Brick. No, not even them.

The game petered out strangely in the lead-up to half-time. It was almost as if both teams were in shock at the absence of such a giant of the game. There was time in the interval to look at a possible future giant as a young Ferrybank tyro put in an entertaining shift in the primary game, what with scoring a goal, lashing out in frustration by picking up the ball and throwing it, and generally putting him (her?) self about to the delight of the crowd.

Maybe Dublin had been too busy watching him/her because they didn’t seem to have worked on how to make use of the extra man during the break. An early dopey challenge gave Pauric Mahony the chance to stretch the lead to six, which he took with reassuring ease. Dublin meanwhile looked hopelessly adrift. Shoulders seemed to drop a little when the ref gave them an advantage that they promptly screwed up and he failed to bring the ball back like he should have done. They hit two horrible wides and got themselves in a complete tizz when they had a chance to bear down on goal leading to a third wide that was the worst of the lot. The Waterford half-backs were completely on top and while much to the ball was ostensibly wasted as they drove it into the stripped back forward line, the energy-sapping conditions meant Dublin were not getting it back up the field with the speed you’d normally expect from a top hurling team, thus eating up more valuable time.

14 Waterford v Dublin 9 March 2014

Whether this was the function of one of those fabled occasions when a 14-man team is inspired by the fate of their fallen comrade or Derek McGrath et al have mixed up a winning formula remains to be seen, but the tenacity of Waterford was awe-inspiring. Now boy Tadgh Bourke in particular was a treat, one incident where he refused to be shaken off by Eamon Dillon before brilliantly blocking a shot out for a sideline (end result: wide) being a stand-out moment. As the game ticked into the final quarter there was no sense that Waterford were going to get this wrong or Dublin were going to get it right. When Dillon did manage to evade the Waterford backs his shot from a narrow angle was well save by O’Keeffe and Noel Connors put his body on the line to pick up the rebound leading to a free-out that raised the roof in the ground. The confidence almost turned a bit cocky when Kevin Moran was a bit loose with his handpass after yet another dominant piece of mopping up, but once again Connors was on hand to fling his body in the way of the attack and push the ball out for a 65, leading to a bear hug from O’Keeffe. It was intoxicating stuff, and the clearing of the 65 seemed almost predictable, so dominant were the Waterford backs. The bench was emptied without any loss of intensity. The Dubs were licked.

21 Waterford v Dublin 9 March 2014

Incredibly Dublin did not score a second-half point until the 64th minute, and Mahony promptly knocked over another free, albeit after a slight wobble as he lifted the ball, to keep the gap at three scores. It seemed appropriate that the referee should ‘atone’ for his dismissal of Walsh by brandishing a red card for substitute Conor McCormack, again to the general bemusement of everyone in the crowd. There was almost an olé feeling to the crowd as the game entered the last couple of minutes and Jamie Nagle came out with yet another tremendous display of ball-winning, and the ebullient atmosphere in the crowd of 4,363 may have influenced him as he ran into a clutch of Dublin forwards and decided the way out was to pass the ball back to the goalie. The ball dropped horribly short and Conal Keaney managed to stab it past O’Keeffe to get a goal that they was scandalously undeserved. Nagle crumpled to the ground in disbelief at his act of madness and a point from Dillon a few moments meant Dublin were going to get a chance at redemption. Sport is full of stories like this, but to the credit of the Waterford backs they held their nerve, sticking every body in the way and daring Dublin to try and find a way through. A free-out signalled a thunderous whoop of relief and finally led to the final whistle.

I know in my head I’m being too gushing here. It’s only the League. The pitch made quality hurling difficult – early in the second half I opined that Waterford’s strategy would be to turn every encounter into a throw-in and at times it felt like that is exactly what they were doing as each restart took an age to sort out. Dublin are still prone to brain-fart performances like this. But my heart tells me to screw the nay-saying. How else are you meant to measure progress if not via the League? Both teams played on the same pitch, and surely a team with a man advantage for two-thirds of the game are the ones who should benefit in such limb-curdling circumstances, yet at no stage did Waterford look like relenting. Ultimately it was that unrelenting pressure that led to Dublin’s implosion. All this was done without throwing a clutch of Minors onto the bonfire. It was great, and shot through with the prospect that it can get even better.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh Bourke, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh (capt), Philip Mahony, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane McNulty (Stephen Roche), Shane O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (1-8 0-6f, 0-1 65), Stephen Molumphy (Gavin O’Brien), Ryan Donnelly (0-1; Brian O’Sullivan, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-2; Barry Coughlan), Ray Barry (Eddie Barrett).

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Niall Corcoran, Peter Kelly, Cian O’Callaghan, Shane Durkin, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton, Joey Boland (0-1), Johnny McCaffrey (capt, 0-1), Alan McCrabbe (0-3, 0-2f, 0-1 65), Colm Cronin (0-1, Conor McCormack), Ryan O’Dwyer , David O’Callaghan (0-2, Seán McGrath), Conal Keaney (1-1), Mark Schutte, (Eamon Dillon, 0-1).

HT: Waterford 1-10 (13) Dublin 0-8 (8)

Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)

National Hurling League fixtures 2014

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the League format is settled for 2014. The provisional fixtures are out and using the magic of the intrawebs we’ll be able to update them as more information emerges (translation: at the time of writing, apart from the opening game under lights in Thurles, I’m guessing about the venues).

[table id=264 /]

The Big Three – in a League of their own

[table id =263/]

Miracles never cease. For once, the National Hurling League finds itself not having to defend itself against charges of unfairness/irrelevance/pointlessness/boredom/all of the above as the fate of nearly every team went down, quite literally, to the last puck of the final round of matches. Had Waterford or Cork conjured up late goals in their respective games then the table would have spun like a top. As it was, there is some slight irritation to see the All-Ireland, Munster and Leinster champions in the top three places, giving an unfair impression of as-you-were. But overall it has been a rollercoaster contest, and given the usual denunciations of the League format for being all of the above, the authorities have much to be pleased about.

Sadly for them, and happily for those of us who like to be disagreeable for the sake of it, it’s never that simple. Each team’s performance will only be properly assessed in September. No doubt there was some pundit somewhere who wrote a preview of last year’s All-Ireland final and opined that Galway’s playoff torment last year when they only got past Dublin after a replay was really a blessing in disguise as it toughened them up for what was to come. Clare and Cork will be hard pressed to see those advantages from their current perspective. Then there’s Waterford, the only team without a game between now and the Championship. Will we be better off for coming into the Clare game fresh, or worse off for not having another game in which to iron out the kinks? No sod knows, but that won’t stop experts rushing in to fill the vacuum of knowledge with their considered opinions.

While I may scoff at the meanderings of pundits, all the while hopefully giving off a sense of awareness of the irony of a blogger scoffing at the meandering of pundits, there is ultimately no damage done by their retrospective know-it-all attitude to the League. More serious is what happens next. Not at the top of the League where Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway will trip over themselves to downplay its significance, all the while skirting around the challenge provided by whoever emerges from the Limerick-Dublin promotion playoff, a team that will be as high as a kite from the relief of escaping the abyss that is Division 1B. No, the serious business is the result of the Clare-Cork relegation playoff.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. It’s always amusing how people rub their chins in a told-you-so fashion about how they predicted the draw for the Championship, particularly the qualifiers, before it happened. Note that these predictions are never revealed until after the draw was made. It’s not as if you would need to put your prediction in a sealed envelope with a postmark on it or take a photo with the newspaper from the day the prediction was made for it to be a verifiable vision of the future. All that’s needed is to put it on a message board and viola! the corruption of those in positions of power is laid bare. Maybe those making these self-evidently foolish accusations of corruption are plants designed to distract from the true seers and their plaintive cries, lost in the wilderness of obfuscation. It’s genius, I tell you, evil genius!

Okay, that paragraph went off on a tangent too far. The concern from the Clare-Cork game is simple. If Cork get relegated and they change the format of the League then all suggestions that the GAA is hard-wired to bow to the needs of the Big Three will have found a solid example from which even the loopiest of conspiracies can claim validity. Despite the thrilling 2013 season, the current League format is not without problems. Tom Dempsey got a lot of stick from Waterford supporters for blithely talking around us on RTÉ’s Sunday Sport programme as if we don’t exist, but anyone who listened to him a lot through the spring will have heard his repeated objections to the one-up-one-down format of Divisions 1A/B, and he’s right. It’s simply not fair that Limerick should have to enter a playoff against Dublin to see who gets promoted, just as it was unfair last year that Galway had to playoff against Dublin last year despite winning two games to Dublin’s none, and finishing ahead of Waterford on points difference but losing on the head-to-head – they might feel some small sense of satisfaction that it was us who lost out to them on the head-to-head this year.

It’s unfair, but no one in authority cares as long as it’s only the grunts who count their All-Ireland successes in single figures that fall into its clutches. So you can well imagine the hysterics that will erupt in Croke Park should Cork find themselves in Division 1B next year. When Cork failed to fulfil fixtures in the 2008 NHL, their only penalty was to have the games awarded to the opposition, one of which happened to be against Waterford. There was understandable fury in Wexford as Waterford were effectively gifted two points while Wexford played and lost to a full-strength Cork. Had it been the other way around, and Waterford ended up losing to Cork in a playoff to see who got into the knockout stages, it would have been Waterford who ended up in Division 2 for 2009. Every action that was taken was designed to accommodate Cork – God forbid that they might be penalised for distorting the competition in the manner they did – and we were the lucky beneficiaries of those actions. With all that in mind, can you see the GAA accepting the status quo should Clare beat Cork and the Rebels find themselves slumming it with Antrim and Laois/Westmeath next year? Yerra, the League will seem ripe for another restructuring and the success of Division 1A in providing so many thrills and spills in 2013 be damned.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Headquarters will be pleased to see that no one is safe. Maybe they’ll respect the integrity of the process. I’m happy to be proven wrong, and it’s why I’m hoping Clare beat Cork. If this happens and Cork are banished to the quicksands of Division 1B, I’ll be delighted to hold my hands up and say I misjudged those who run the association and their motivations. Should Cork lose though and the League is rejigged to keep them in the standards to which they are accustomed, I may find myself donning a tinfoil hat with all the other kooks claiming that those making the Championship draws don’t rattle those balls/hurleys in the pot with sufficient vigour.

UnLaoised

That was a curious old affair in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday night between Tipperary and Cork in the Munster Under-21 championship. For 55 minutes it seemed rather bloodless and despite never stamping all over Tipp, Cork always seemed to be in control. When they took an insurance-score four point lead with seven or eight minutes to go it looked like that was that.

Then suddenly Tipp went nap. Five points in the last five minutes and the only time in the match they were in front was the only time when being in the lead mattered. It was to Ger Fitzgerald’s credit in the post-match interview that he managed to remain so calm in the face of such a collapse. Having lost both matches in the Minor championship we can all anticipate a bout of Corkonian navel-gazing at their woes at underage level, and that can only be a good thing.

Result of the night thought had to be in Port Laoise where Laois knocked out the defending Leinster champions Dublin. When the results came around near the end of the programme it took me a few second to take the news in. This was partly because the word  ‘Toradh’ at the top of the screen hit my synapses not as ‘Results’ but as ‘Fruit’. Which makes sense, when you think about it. Once I’d gotten past that piece of Pythonesque farce the enormity of the result sunk in. My nephews are from Laois and while they are too young to understand – 3½ and 1½ respectively – they will be brought up to support Laois. It suddenly looks like a less grim prospect than before. Maybe when they reach their teens I’ll be vicariously living off their happiness rather than the other way around.

One final thought. I’m all in favour of the back door, but the decision to leave the Under-21 championship as pure knockout is a stroke of genius by the GAA. I’d go so far as to say that the do-or-die nature of the competition, combined with the grown-up nature of the competitors, makes the Under-21 championship more prestigious these days than the National Hurling League. No pressure on our Under-21’s next month . . .