Tag Archives: Dublin

Waterford 0-17 Dublin 0-13

The creators of the American football website, Cold Hard Football Facts.com, predicate their amusing and offensive website on a notion called Quality Standings. A team’s chances of victory are based not on their record overall but on their record against teams with winning records. This would work very well in the GAA if we had larger divisions or a Division 1 split into two parts of equal quality. The wheat of beating Kilkenny could be sorted from the chaff of beating Kerry (no offense).

But how different would Waterford’s season have been had we had to meet Dublin earlier on in the year? Dublin’s point difference from their last three games was -2. Waterford’s was -17. Yet we had two points and they had only one, and having speculated before the game that Dublin would not phone in their performance for fear of players taking a hurley to a sensitive area because they weren’t getting stuck in. What I didn’t anticipate – talk about phoning in a preview – was Dublin making wholesale changes to the team. Knowing they couldn’t make any difference to their playoff fate today, why bother putting out a truly top quality team when you could blood a few youngsters?

And speaking of youngsters, you know how you always seem to end up at Championship matches sitting near the fattest, loudest, most obnoxious member of the other tribe? You can usually avoid it at home League matches because the opposition are so thinly represented. But today I realised something was wrong as soon as the clutch of juveniles in the rows in front of me roared for David Treacy’s name. They were from Cualla, you see. Betcha he’d have a stormer of a day.

Waterford once again lined out as per the programme, which once again was refreshing to see. They opened the scoring as Gavin O’Brien juggled a sideline cut and managed to get it to Maurice Shanahan to score. It would say much about O’Brien’s first half that his control here would be the least remarkable thing he would do. A soft free allowed David Treacy to level matters, and it said much about his day that this would be as good as it would get for him. It looked ominous when Niall McMorrow skinned Philip Mahony but his effort was hurried and drifted wide. Brother Paudi had an inauspicious moment of his own when a swift drive through the centre from Waterford gave him a clean shot at goal but he also put it wide. It was a low octane start from both sides, and it took a super catch by Kevin Moran to fire the crowd up. He was fouled and Mahony had a chance to put Waterford back in front. Deep breath – the memories of the Kilkenny match when he had an utter ‘mare are still vivid. But over it went and you could unclench your buttocks a little.

It had been a sluggish beginning for both teams. Everyone seemed to have loads of space yet not be able to do anything with it. So who better to step into such a breach than Tony Browne – ‘Brown’ according to the programme; sheesh – as he stepped on to pass from Shanahan and whipped it over the bar. His effervescence stood in marked contrast to everyone on the Dublin team. In each of their next two attacks the Dublin forward would shoot on the first sight of goal, the kind of nonsense that Anthony Daly must have thought h had eliminated from their play. Waterford now showed them how it was done, Shanahan barging his way out of the crowed then finding O’Brien in space for a score, then Shane Walsh did it all on his own, a fine catch and drive into space to stretch the lead to four.

Even an uber-fatalist like myself could see Dublin were in trouble. When John Mullane earned a free purely on reputation, running into the Dublin back who had nowhere else to go, Mahony’s free dropped disappointingly short and even Shane Walsh couldn’t wriggle his way through. But the clearance was hit to Maurice Shanahan who could have tied his laces before sending the ball back over the bar, so lacklustre was Dublin’s attempt to charge him down. When Dublin did get a chance, Johnny McCaffrey breaking through the middle, the pass went behind the forward and Waterford quickly pounced on the breakdown, Mullane moving into space as only he can then putting O’Brien in space for another fine score. Waterford had gone six points while barely breaking a sweat, and had Walsh been given better support after a great catch on the edge of the score we could have had the first goal, but he had nowhere to go and a free-out followed. Still, with news coming through that Kilkenny were on their way to another cricket score against Galway the vibes were all good.

Eamon Dillon tried to revive Dublin’s fortunes, a good point when he might have put his head down and gone for a goal and a fine point from distance taking the bare look off the scoreboard for them. But in between they gave away a cheap score when O”Brien was chopped down and Mahony did the necessary, and Dublin continued to shot on sight, David Treacy being the culprit this time. Then came the moment of the match – remember, this was a game with no goals or great shot-stopping. A huge clearance from Tony Browne was flicked out of the air by O’Brien and slotted over the bar in one smooth movement. He wasn’t put under much pressure, but it was gloriously precocious and with two points already under his belt it was heady stuff. Treacy added a point after being fouled but it was their last score of the half. Waterford tails were clearly up as they were now harassing every Dublin player and the ball and driving the ball into the corners at every opportunity. It’s easy to do it right when you have the space. Shanahan and Mullane managed to get a two-on-one at one point and when Shanahan passed to Mullane you would have thought it was to go for goal but Mullane took his point. It says it all about how things were panning out that I was disappointed the lead was now a mere six.

There was some loose play born of overeagerness, but you could forgive that as Waterford generally kept their cool while Dublin occasionally lost theirs, a crude chop on O’Brien allowing Mahony to score another free. It really was O’Brien’s half as he intercepted a clearance and drilled the bar straight back over to the delight of everyone in white in the crowd. Dublin had a few attacks in the last finve minutes but each time were either hustled out of play or hit an awful wide that would have had Daly tearing his figurative hair out. At half-time there could only be one winner. The question had to be how many we’d win by.

The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, Treacy hitting a shocking wide and Kevin Moran given the freedom of the park to stretch Waterford’s lead. This was too easy, and I seriously thought that Stephen Daniels had come on Liam Lawlor to ‘give him a run’. It transpired that Lawlor was injured (uh oh) but Waterford were so effortlessly on top that it seemed plausible. Mullane was now in full bouncing-the-ball mode although his shot lacked oomph and was plucked out from under the bar by Gary Maguire. With Eoin McGrath playing  a lackadaisical to Mahony when it looked easier to keep going the casual play was getting a bit irritating, and with Dublin having made a clutch of changes they began to fight back. David O’Callaghan – I don’t call our guy ‘Brick’ so I’m not going to call their guy ‘Dotsy’ – pegged over a point after the Waterford backs had pushed Dublin out then Ross O’Carroll, one of the subs, scored a cracking point from a narrow angle, Adrian Power having to keep on the ball all the way as it threatened to drop under the bar. Dublin had gotten half their first half score in eight minutes. They couldn’t . . . could they?

Certainly the eager Waterford of the second quarter was gone as the ball was flapped around the pitch to no great effect. Another Treacy free trimmed the lead back to six and he really should have cut it back even more but hit another free badly wide. A fantastic long-range free from Ryan O’Dwyer led to a few more nibbled fingernail, but I can honestly say my overriding thought was that Waterford still had enough in the tank. A careless foul on Maurice Shanahan allowed him to steady the nerves – Stephen Molumphy on for Pauric Mahony at this stage – and when O’Dwyer missed a simple chance you could relax still further. Dublin simply weren’t going to be able to put together enough of a run to overhaul us.

The game had gone completely off the boil, typified midway through the half when Dean Curran was sent off for a second yellow card yet no-one even seemed notice. Dublin could feel aggrieved when Eamon Dillon got absolutely clobbered as he went through the middle. It did look ‘accidental’ but the force of the coming-together was what an ice hockey official might all unnecessary roughness and yet Diarmuid Kirwan was unmoved. The Cualla choir in front of me certainly thought so, chanting that “the referee’s a bastard”. Kids today. Don’t they know the chant is “the referee’s a wanker”? That was about as physical as the game would get (another reason Curran could feel aggrieved) and Dublin were now seeing lots of ball. They managed two scores to cut the gap to a mere four, the second happening when even Michael Walsh found himself overwhelmed and Dublin were able to take the point.

I’m not saying this just with the benefit of hindsight – you still felt Waterford would get enough scores to close this out, especially as Dublin were getting nowhere near our goal. Dean Twomey, who had looked out of his depth in paddling-pool waters of the Waterford Crystal Cup, now came into his own, stiffening Waterford’s resolve with several fine forays forward, one of which gave Mullane to room to stretch the lead to five. He then put Eoin Kelly, on as a sub for Eoin McGrath who didn’t demonstrate that he could turn the clock back with an era of Gavin O’Brien and Martin O’Neill in the offing, into space to score from a very narrow angle.

The clock was running inexorably down on Dublin and pride can only take you through so many flailing timbers. Another wide from Dublin led An Fear Ciuin ar mo dhéis to observe that Dublin had now hit 17 of the things. It is as inevitable as the tides that Dublin will come to dominate hurling, but this was a sobering reminder for them that the bad old days are not entirely eradicated. Shanahan put Waterford seven clear with a free after O’Neill had been around the neck and the game was now well safe – Dublin were not going to get three goals.

There was time for three scores all right, the first a spectacular effort from Danny Sutcliffe where he sprinted all the way from his own half and struck it over the bar on the run. The second was definitely definitely definitely their last chance, O’Carroll’s effort on goal from a free always rising as a Waterford back flicked it over the bar. The ref chose to ignore chose to ignore a litany of fouls before finally awarding one which was tapped over. A great catch by Aidan Kearney – today, I learned his nickname was ‘Ringo’ – ended the game and the great(ish) escape had been accomplished.

Before the game, I had thought that any Waterford win would show that we had moved on from the insipidness of those first three games. Now I’m not so sure. As against Kilkenny we had a stirring second quarter where Waterford displayed some verve and purpose. There were the predictably good performances from Browne, Walsh and Walsh, and a not-so-expected good performance from Twomey. Then there was Gavin O’Brien. Four points from play, each score better than the last. So much to be pleased about – except Dublin were utterly awful. You couldn’t read anything into this, and now we have ten weeks to twiddle our thumbs. Still, we stayed up. Given the improbability of that less than a fortnight ago, survival will do. Them’s the cold hard hurling facts.

Waterford: Adrian Power, Aidan Kearney, Liam Lawlor (Stephen Daniels), Philip Mahony, Tony Browne (0-1), Michael Walsh (capt), Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran (0-1), Dean Twomey (David O’Sullivan), Maurice Shanahan (0-4, 0-2f), Pauric Mahony (0-4f; Stephen Molumphy), Eoin McGrath (Martin O’Neill), John Mullane (0-2), Shane Walsh (0-1; Eoin Kelly), Gavin O’Brien (0-4)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Ruairi Trainor, Niall Corcoran, Oisin Gough, Dean Curran, Martin Quilty, Johnny McCaffrey (0-1), David Curtin (Danny Sutcliffe, 0-1), Simon Lambert (Conor Clinton), David Treacy (0-3f), Maurice O’Brien, Ryan O’Dwyer (0-1f), David O’Callaghan (capt, 0-1; Ross O’Carroll, 0-2, 0-1f), Eamon Dillon (0-3), Niall McMorrow (0-1; Daire Plunkett)

HT: Waterford 0-12 Dublin 0-4

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)

Advertisements

In the end, it wasn’t that close

[table id=258 /]

I’d like to think that it was a bittersweet win for Kilkenny today as they went medieval on Galway’s ass. Any suggestion there might be a chink in their armour had to be ruthlessly suppressed, and that was done in fine style. On the flip side, the scale of their demolition of Galway must have been very reassuring for the Waterford team at half-time at Fraher Field – a bit too reassuring as Waterford took their boot off Dublin’s throat, but never mind. It was a good day, even if I’m sure Kilkenny didn’t give a crap.

Momentum of the mind

Why is it that there’s always a National Hurling League match in Dungarvan while the footballers never venture across the Colligan these days? Anyway, it’s off to Fraher Field we go and after the doom and gloom of the first three rounds there’s a spring in our collective step, aided in no small part by Ken McGrath and Seán Cullinane being appointed as selectors. There’ll be one ear on events in Nowlan Park but the hard part is going to be beating the Dubs. How hard? Their last three games have seen them lose two games by a point and draw the third. So while it might be nice to think we’re going into the game on the crest of a wave, they’re hardly in a trough themselves. As for the idea that they won’t be fired up because they can’t avoid the relegation playoff, each player must know they’ll be exposing themselves to the risk of serious injury if they take to a hurling field not determined to put in 100% effort. If we can win this, then we know things have changed since the disjointed effort we put in against Tipperary three weeks ago.

You don’t know what you’re doing!

If you thought from the headline that this would be about the Waterford County Board and/or Michael Ryan, you’d be wrong. I’m saving that one for my gig with Tramore Hinterland. This means it’ll be out of date by the time anyone (with the emphasis on ‘one’) gets to read it.

No, this will be about the people who organise the National Hurling League, or the ‘AHL’ as it seems to be officially known – I was watching the score updates on RTÉ’s website last week wondering how they could be so dopey as to label the football equivalent as the Australian Football League. These people rejigged the format of the NHL last year to the near-universal fury of everyone. I wasn’t one of those people, reasoning that the League is inherently messy and since no format is going to be acceptable to everyone you might as well just grin and bear any changes that come along.

What I didn’t realise until this week  – and I must confess, the information was out there if I’d bothered to look – was that the bottom two teams will play each other in a play-off to see who gets relegated. This is bonkers. Quite apart from the obvious-with-hindsight fiasco that might see Dublin play Waterford in a dead rubber at Fraher Field before having to meet again in a play-off, it should have been obvious-with-foresight in such a small division that you could have a team cast adrift at the bottom playing a team who were separated from a group of teams with the same amount of points by a handful of scoring difference points.  Now that team finds themselves having to face up to a play-off where anything can happen – and usually does.

It’s not as if there’s no precedent for this kind of thing. Clare ‘won’ Division 2 in the 2010 League only to have to turn around and play Wexford for the right to play in Division 1 the following year, and duly lost. That same year Waterford ‘won’ Division 4 of the NFL but lost to Limerick in the final. It didn’t matter much to Waterford though as we still got promoted. Can you imagine the rage there would have been in the county had Waterford been told that sorry, butyou haven’t done enough to have a shot at Division 3 because you lost one match at the very end? It’s not right, and I say all this while fully cognisant that the county most likely to benefit from this year’s setup is Waterford. It’s imperative that we show how broken this system by winning that play-off. It’s the decent thing to do.

Let’s party like it’s 1998

The 2011 All Star awards were a dreary exercise in predictability. Expressions of hope that the selection committee might shower infinite indulgences on Shane Walsh were just that – hope. In the end John Mullane’s fourth award was as much as we could expect and hope for. What needs to be set against miserabilist online comments about how Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh (Edit: and DJ Carey; h/t to @DeiseHurling) have won more All Star awards than everyone from County Waterford put together is how Mullane has won as many awards as everyone from the county before 1998. For the umpteenth time I’d like to say this is our golden age, and you wouldn’t use the same criteria to measure the expectations of the respective rugby teams of Argentina and New Zealand

Speaking of 1998, the most interesting outcome of the All Stars was how Dublin’s fate panned out. Given the rage that greeted our paltry return of one award for Tony Browne in our breakout year, I was expecting more grief within Dublin over only getting two gongs while Tipperary got four despite having a comparable year – both won a trophy, both won their finals decisively, and the gap between the two in the All-Ireland semi-final was minimal. It didn’t materialise, and not just because two is twice as good as one. The goalkeeping position has been the lone source of controversy in recent times as Kilkenny folk bristled at the repeated ignoring of James McGarry. The default reaction at the time was to rub your index finger and thumb together in the style of the world’s smallest violin. But seeing Gary Maguire (goals conceded: 7) win the award ahead of Brendan Cummins (goals conceded: 3) was a bit of a joke. Had Dublin started bleating about other positions then you can be sure people would have been all over that choice like a rash, so the collective attitude in Dublin would have been to stay silent and move on, stoking up any resentment for next year. There’s always next year . . .

The fact that the goalkeeping position is the one place which can stimulate debate about the awards could possibly point us to a way of doing the same for the rest of the pitch. Once upon a time, a player was nominated in a particular position rather than as a goalkeeper, back, midfielder or forward. This led to some unpalatable choices being made as there would be three heavyweights in one position while a non-entity might pick up an award in another part of the field. The rules were changed with the best of intentions, but the law of unintended consequences means the selection committee don’t have to make any hard choices any more – except, that is, in goal. So when faced with having to choose between Richie Hogan and Lar Corbett in the corner, they just shuffled Corbett across to full-forward at the expense of, and totally irrelevant to my article, Shane Walsh.

There needs to an acceptance with the All Stars that there isn’t a place for everything and everything in its place in sport. They’re as much a promotional tool as a reward for outstanding performance in the field of excellence. Indeed, when they started out sponsored by Carrolls, they were probably more a vehicle for the sale of coffin nails than for acknowledging talented amateurs. And Henry Shefflin winning his 1,057th award (approx) doesn’t promote anything.

Micro-management

I try not to be critical of players, management or the officials of the Waterford County Board. Not just in a don’t-mind-as-long-as-it’s-constructive way, but try to never criticise them at all. There was a remarkable image in Monday’s Indo of Davy Fitz umpiring at the All-Ireland camogie semi-final between Wexford and Cork in Nowlan Park. You’d think given all the brickbats that have been thrown in his direction over the years, not least in recent weeks, that the last thing he’d want to do in his me-time was gorge on more hurling. Yet there he was, mucking in for the greater good. It’s humbling for a keyboard warrior like myself to see that kind of commitment, and everyone I see or write about displays a degree of devotion far in excess of what I provide to the association. If I see something being done wrong, it’s incumbent on me to get off my arse and do something about it. And spare me the idea that the dinosaurs in charge are preventing fresh blood from having their ideas implemented.  My father once mentioned to a committee member of 52 years standing in Tramore GAA that our family were only ‘blow-ins’, a comment that brought a startlingly furious reaction. “I hate that phrase!”, he thundered. “It only puts people off coming down and helping out”. Not that such a statement encouraged me to chip in. It sounded too much like hard work.

So believe me when I say that what comes next is not uttered lightly or with any sense of malice. But the evidence of the last couple of weeks suggests that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong in Waterford hurling. The woes at Senior level are well-documented, but it was the performance of the Minors that was a real wake-up bomb. Aertel may have thought it was a ‘classic’ and a 60 minute match that has a combined score of 11-32 is certainly memorable. Let’s be blunt though. You can admire the courage of the Waterford team in putting respectability on the scoreline yet not pretend that the ultimate margin of defeat was anything other than flattering to Waterford. Just as in the Munster final we were utterly horsed out of it by a physically superior team. A good big ‘un beats a good little ‘un, and we have a lot of good little ‘uns.

When I started going back to hurling matches in 1997, one player who stood out in club matches was Ballygunner’s Tony Carroll. He looked so slick at such a tender age, effortlessly pirouetting past opponents and slotting the ball over from the silliest of angles. In my youthful ignorance – gosh, I must still be young – I eagerly anticipated his promotion to the county team. When that moment arrived, it was immediately obvious he wasn’t able for the step-up to the majors. A handful of appearances in the South-East League and a brief cameo against Cork in the NHL when the match was already lost seems to have been the sum total of his Waterford inter-county career at Senior level. Imagine a nine-stone weakling taking on the likes of Brian Corcoran or Seán Óg  Ó hAilpín. Bears and rag dolls spring to mind.

And looking at Waterford on Sunday, we seem to be adept at producing rag dolls. What are we doing wrong? Much has been made of how much has been invested in underage hurling in Dublin. We had our own master plan in Waterford back in the day when Colm Bonnar was brought in to whip young Déisigh into shape. Boy, was it needed. I recall the delight when he came to our school. To be in the presence of a person who had won a Munster championship medal was inspirational – this was 1988, he hadn’t even won an All-Ireland yet he seemed like a colossus. On a more fundamental level, there was no coherent plan for bringing through talent. How do you expect to get decent hurlers when a right-handed young fella can play all his life with the left hand on top of the hurley? Where was the coaching to pick up on such a grotesque flaw? While living in Galway, a work colleague who was sufficiently good to have played Fitzgibbon Cup hurling and have been on the fringes of the Galway Minors was aghast. “That’s impossible!”, he said when I noted my handicap. It’s certainly impossible to be any good, that’s for sure.

Oh yes, the person with the gammy grip was me. Did you not guess?

Bonnar brought a fresh impetus to coaching in the county, and while it would probably be a leap to suggest the burst of underage success that characterised the early 1990’s was down to him – too soon –  Waterford hurling was on a consistent upward trajectory from the nadir of the 1980’s. Hurling has burrowed its way into the collective psyche to a remarkable degree. When RTÉ’s Monday Night Soccer programme came to town to do a feature on the Blues’s run in the 2009 FAI Cup, they conducted a vox pop on what sport you associate with Waterford and the response was unequivocal: hurling, hurling and hurling. To be able to say that in a traditional bastion of the garrison game is something of which Waterford GAA can be immensely proud.

Yet watching us over the last couple of weeks, it seems clear we’ve plateaued. It’s not just Dublin. Clare have flattened us in successive Munster Minor finals and now we have Limerick roaring back from the brink. 100,000 people watched them win the Munster Under-21 title on TG4, an absolutely stupefying figure for a minority contest in a minority sport on a minority channel. God knows how many hurleys were picked up on Shannonside in the aftermath of that game. You could argue that underage success doesn’t necessarily translate into Senior level, and no-one could testify to the truth of that better than Limerick whose three All-Ireland successes in the early 00’s did not translate into a single bauble for the grown-ups. Still, it can’t hurt, and it might be said that while it is not a sufficient condition for Senior success it is a necessary one. And a necessary one that we’re struggling to accomplish.

With that in mind, the continued competitiveness of the Waterford Seniors for the last decade is nothing short of miraculous. The Waterford panel is stuffed with players who are routinely found wanting by the demands of summer hurling, yet they linger on like zombies because there’s no-one to replace them. An Moltóir does a fine job on his website analysing why Waterford came up short, but there’s no sense of what could be done differently apart from ‘don’t do stupid things’. Watching the Minors against Limerick, it seems the skill is there. But what separates the merely good from the great is the ability to make the right decision in the handful of picoseconds you have before the opposition get in your face. Nothing buys you a few more picoseconds better than having the physical chops to resist the first assault. And when you look at the lightweight nature of even successfully introduced players like Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, you fear that the robustness isn’t there.

What is to be done? I have no idea. Surely we can’t have genetically inferior stock in Waterford (although I’ve seen online Kilkenny know-it-alls make claims along those lines, sturdy Norman yeomanry and all that). Are we the only county not juicing it? The aforementioned Galway lad told me how a college room-mate from <county censored> had a regular regimen of, uh, vitamin pills. It’s not likely, but something has to account for the disparity between our scrawny pool of hurling talent and the seeming leviathans around us. If we don’t find out what we’re doing wrong we’ll be needing anti-depressants.

A Minor inconvenience

Alas, work commitments mean I won’t be able to see the Minors take on Dublin tomorrow in Croke Park. Were I not working, I would have thought nothing of spending half of my precious weekend traipsing up to Dublin and paying €40 to see a team of kids. No, it’s the work thing all the way. No doubt about it.

There seem to be two schools of thought as to why the GAA chose to schedule the Minor match with the Dublin Senior semi-final rather than that of Waterford: utter contempt for the Déise or utter devotion to the Jackeens. The first one is easy to dismiss. Come on, why would the GAA authorities hate Waterford? There may be a few embittered Kilkenny folk who would happily lose both their legs if they thought it would deny someone from Waterford a wheelchair, and with two of the last ten Uachtaráin hailing from Kilkenny they seem to have a disproportionate status in the Cumann. My father always cackles with delights at the heartbreak constantly endured by Paddy Buggy who once bewailed how, as a resident of Newrath, he went to bed one night in Kilkenny and woke up in the morning in Waterford. But the rest of Gaeldom yearns for a Waterford All-Ireland triumph as reward for all the entertainment over the last decade or so, even if only at Minor level.

The other idea, that the GAA loves the Dubs, has more merit. Colm Keys, writing during the week about the €6 million that has been spent on development of the sport in Dublin, referenced the idea that Dublin is ‘different’ to everywhere else:

Yet the perception away from the capital is that Dublin hurling is the GAA’s ‘pet project’ and that anything that can be done to make it succeed will be done. The money issue rankles in places like Wexford, a county which has felt the heat of much stronger Dublin teams across all levels in recent years.

Their argument is that if the same resources were put into Wexford hurling that have been put into Dublin over the last number of years, the same results might accrue.

But that ignores the wider argument that every GAA member must embrace. If the GAA loses the battle in Dublin, where almost 30pc of the country’s children are now born, then it could eventually lose the war.

It seems plausible then that Dublin are indeed treated as a special case, and the scheduling of their Seniors and Minors adds to this idea. Considering the difficulties they had finding their way to Thurles for the football quarter-final a few years back, we don’t want to make it too hard for the little darlings, eh?

Despite all that, I’m inclined to believe there’s a third factor at work which tipped the GAA’s hand. Everyone commenting on the outrage has taken it as self-evident that making Waterford travel twice trumps all other considerations. Yet there are other considerations. Dublin fans will be expected to pony up for not only the football semi-final in a couple of weeks – don’t sneer, if Waterford were there we’d be bringing it up too – but for the Under-21’s as well. How many seperate matches are we expecting the hardcore Dub to pay for? Then there’s the fact that of the four teams playing from Waterford/Dublin/Senior/Minor, only one are the provincial champions. Making the schedule suit them makes sense, as to do otherwise would be to effectively punish them for winning their province.

I wouldn’t totally dismiss the possibility that there’s a committee of moustache-twirling fiends in HQ laughing maniacally at the misfortune they are visiting on the denizens of the Gentle County. Actually, I would. The GAA found themselves with a scenario where someone had to disappointed and in this case we were the unlucky ones. Their reasoning was sound though and it would be better for our long-term sanity if we did something we’ve done quite well in recent times – building a bridge and getting over it.

A new power is rising in the East

At half-time in the match against Dublin back in February, it looked like a case of the same ol’ Jackeens. Plenty of huff and puff but were being outfoxed by the greater wiles of Waterford. And if Waterford were being too cute for them, what chance would they have against Kilkenny?

Now we know. I’ve said it in the past, I don’t understand the contempt in which Dublin is held by the rest of the GAA and it should be a day for all of us to rejoice. Much of the talk recently has been what can be done to make the League better – Martin Breheny’s most recent cooker-cutter gripe about the format claimed that the GAA lose out on €1.25m by only having a final; note that should they have quarter-finals and semi-finals he’ll complain that most of the group games are meaningless as a result. All of these complaints are honest – yes, even Breheny’s! – attempts to make the League more meaningful, but they are predicated on the assumption that a format can be magicked up that will overcome the underlying lack of parity between teams. Does Dublin’s win now make the current format the best one? Hardly. What it shows is that when you’re good enough the format doesn’t matter. And Dublin now look good enough.

Suddenly the Championship looks like a shining light ahead in a silver sea. Hurling’s last Golden Age was so because the likes of Clare, Limerick, Offaly and Wexford were routinely rubbing Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary’s noses in the dirt. Dublin gave us a glimpse of such a future today. Hopefully we can be there alongside them. Congratulations, Dublin.

Could it be magic?

Dublin beat (yep, pronounced ‘bet’, BBC-accented Mrs d) Kilkenny yesterday in the final of the Walsh Cup. Much effort will be expended to minimise the significance of this victory, not least in Dublin where no one will want to be getting their hopes up too high. But I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in a few years time we will look back on this win as the tipping point from which, looking back from that imaginary point in the future, we will be able to say ‘so that was when Dublin went from being whipping boys to winners of the National League / Leinster title / . . . ” (okay, let’s not get carried away with the last part of that series).

As supporting evidence for this theory, I present Waterford’s win in the South East League, what is now the Waterford Crystal Cup, in 1998. Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but even given it’s lowly status in the hurling hierarchy it felt significant at the time. It was standing room only in Walsh Park as the muintir iománaíocht of Waterford sensed something was afoot. Presumably Cork would be trying to win the game too, and when Waterford eventually staggered over the finishing line in dramatic fashion, it felt great to be able to put even this small one over the Auld Enemy. It wasn’t just the win in itself. We had had a decent run in senior hurling in 1997, beating Galway in the League quarter-final and putting in a good showing against Limerick in the Championship. At long last, it seemed as if we were building on the achievements of the Minors and Under-21’s in the early part of the decade. And it looked certain there would be more to come.

The same sentiments seem applicable to Dublin thirteen years on. There can be no firmer feeling-in-yer-waters than Shane Ryan and Conal Keaney choosing to spurn the big ball game in favour of hurling. It’s not as if Dublin are less likely to win the Sam Maguire, but they clearly are sensing great things from the current Dublin setup. As for performances up to now, Leinster Minor championship wins in 2005 and 2007 have been supplemented with Under-21 wins in 2007 and 2010. Senior triumphs on which to hang their collective hat have proven harder to come by – they were none-too-impressive in squeaking past Wexford in last year’s Leinster championship and the loss to Antrim was sickening – which makes their recent League win over Tipperary and now the Walsh Cup look all the more important.

Dublin really need to do something spectacular in the next few years. I’m skeptical about the suggestion of culchie Jonahs who fret that Dublin’s gargantuan population base would make them unstoppable should they ever get their act together. The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist in Dublin GAA to turn them into a rival to other dual counties like Cork and Galway. Besides, that’s a bridge we should cross when we get to it. For now, a successful Dublin would enliven a hurling championship that is in serious need of enlivening. And it would just be nice to see the efforts of Dublin Gaels bearing fruit. Oliver J Flanagan – it’s hard to get away from Blueshirts in the week that’s in it – once said that “there is no better Catholic than an English Catholic”, by which he meant it was easy to be a Catholic in Ireland, hard to be one in England (one wonders whether he’d ever been to Liverpool). If a time comes when I’m hoping Dublin crash and burn in every game, it’ll be a good time for the GAA.