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)