Tag Archives: Kevin Moran

Waterford – the least embarrassed team in Munster

I haven’t taken the time to write about the 2012 All Star awards, what with concentrating on the Blues this week and travelling to Liverpool – nope, not going to the derby. In fact I can think of fifty other weekends when I’d rather be here. When Waterford got only four nominations I thought that we’d get nothing, and I wouldn’t have had cause to complain. We won a grand total of three matches all year and while the entertainment value in our last game against Cork was high, last games being a strong indicator of All Star success (the flip side of that being early games are useless, Tiperary’s delightfully demented match with Cork a distant memory), we still lost and it surely wouldn’t be enough to garner the attention of the selectors, particularly after such an exciting and high profile end to the season between Galway and Kilkenny.

Yet here we are, gongs for John Mullane and Kevin Moran, and there is no problem justifying it for both of them. Thinking about it, there’ a lot of method in the All Stars selectors’ seeming madness. Why shouldn’t John Mullane, a man whose labouring in a team not up to his standards should not disguise his magnificence, not be as frequent a natural choice as Henry Shefflin? And why should there not be awards which acknowledge the overall contribution of players who, while never to be feted in the story of our games as Mullane and Shefflin will be, are among the best of their generation? Multiple Tipperary players will have chances in the future. Kevin Moran might not. As for Tipperary, the real story of the awards, last games really do count heavily against teams. The Munster Council, ever sensitive to slights against the province with the mostest, will be aghast at seeing our champions come up blank. But not only was there not one single Tipperary player who came out of their hammering at the hands of Kilkenny with any credit, several were severely diminished by their display that day. Had even one been chosen, people would wondered he managed after the way X, Y or Z from Kilkenny made them look like a slogger on a junior team.

In short, the selectors got it right this year. I shall now go and wash my mouth out with soap.

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Cometh the hour (+ 3 mins), cometh the man

We need heroic moments in Waterford hurling. Instances when a player steps up to the plate, two outs in the bottom of the ninth innings while four runs down but with the bases loaded, then cracks a home run to tie the game. And today saw one of those moments. Having trailed Sarsfields for virtually the entire game, De La Salle found themselves staring down the barrel of a two point deficit two minutes into injury time. Thankfully the free that would have left them chasing a goal was missed and Stephen Brenner sent a huge puckout into the Sarsfields half. Not unreasonably they had withdrawn just about everyone into defence which meant that the clearance came to Kevin Moran standing in acres of space on his own 45. In a moment of ball-busting decisiveness he drilled the ball over the bar and De La Salle were still alive. Utterly inspirational, and I felt as giddy as a Junior Cert girl who has found out that the man willing to buy her a flagon of Linden Village is Justin Bieber’s manager.

Unfortunately it wasn’t so much stupendous as stupid on my part to assume that that was that. I was at a christening and didn’t wait to find out whether there was extra time or not. It would have been shattering to have come home and discovered that Moran’s heroics had all been in vain. Happily they built on the reprieve to squeak into another Munster final. Great stuff, and for the final I’ll follow my usual habit of staying to the very end.

Waterford 3-15 (24) Kilkenny 2-23 (29)

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As the dust has settled in the days following another exciting game involving the Waterford hurlers, I’ve been forced to ask myself whether I am sticking my head in the sand by being relatively pleased with how things turned out. Plenty of people on the intrawebs who are not habitually given to ridiculing Waterford were quite dismissive of our efforts, feeling that Kilkenny had plenty left in the tank and that some criminal wides and bad choices had left the Déise boys failing to fulfil their potential. Was it delusional to be so content after yet another defeat in Croke Park?

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The first point to be made in what is going to be an extensive defence of Waterford’s performance is the usual fatalist one – it could have been worse. Not only was the 23-point drubbing last September hanging over the game like the sword of Damocles, there was also the small matter of the curtain raiser. As we walked along the Royal Canal we heard a roar from the ground and the chant of “May-o! May-o!” went up. Things were clearly going well for the county that I habitually use as a lesson in not getting your hopes up. We reached our seats in the Upper Hogan just in time to see Meath equalise and then watched with resignation as they rattled off five points to put the match beyond Mayo.

If expectations weren’t high before this, now they were lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. But that’s not low enough as an adequate defence mechanism, so it was time to dwell on my wretched record in Headquarters. I hadn’t seen Waterford win there since 1998 against Galway. In the meantime we’d contrived to lose to Kilkenny, Clare, Cork, Cork again and Kilkenny again. The best I could show was a draw with Cork in 2007. Before these thoughts were so overwhelming that you’d feel like ending it all off that convenient drop a few rows ahead, the only other time I’d been in the Hogan Stand had been for that Galway game. Onwards and upwards, eh? Eh?!

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Still, every game starts at 0-0 to 0-0 and if everything went Waterford’s way they’d have a chance. And I’m going to state in advance that lots of things went Waterford’s way. They got off the mark with a great score, Shane O’Sullivan curling a delightful sideline cut over the bar. Kilkenny were soon in front but Waterford then got another break, Shane Walsh having the simple task of batting the ball past PJ Ryan after a mazy dribble from Kevin Moran. The goal was a huge boost for Waterford on many levels. Quite apart from the three points – always handy – it showed that we could score goals and provided a swing in momentum towards us at an early stage. When you consider how the match last year was already slipping away from us in the first ten minutes, it was important to put manners on Kilkenny.

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Speaking of putting manners on people, I had been pretty polite in the opening exchanges and would remain quite mellow throughout – with one noteworthy exception. Waterford were competing brilliantly in the breakdown and Kilkenny had even hit a wide or two before they got their first chance to really flex their considerable muscles, Henry Shefflin combining expertly with Eddie Brennan to put the latter clear and bat the ball past Clinton Hennessy. So the Cats were already in front when Eoin Murphy deliberately hauled down Brennan as he powered towards the goal. The free was a long way out and Shefflin is no Paul Flynn or DJ Carey so the logical thing to do would have been to pop the ball over the bar. It’s impossible to know exactly what was going through his head as he teed up the free, but for some reason I got it in to my head that he was fuming at Waterford’s brazenness in Murphy’s ‘professional’ foul and he decided to inflict maximum damage for the insult. Duly he went for goal and a poor effort it was too, easily saved by Hennessy. By the time Kilkenny’s follow-up had drifted wide – another improvement from last year, Kilkenny now had at least two wides – I was foaming at the mouth at such disrespect. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but Shefflin would have a similar chance in the second half when the ball was moved in and he knocked it over the bar. If he had been taught a lesson that he shouldn’t assume that the Waterford bitches would tamely let him lash home any free he liked then this was progress.

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The game was definitely on, and you wonder if John Mullane had been less fired-up whether it might have turned out differently. Twice he received clean possession only for the ball to pop out of his hand like a bar of soap, and he hit one wide that he would normally have put over had he been on his knees. The theme of Waterford not taking their chances has surfaced repeatedly over the last couple of days but I’m inclined to be more charitable. You can’t get every score and we weren’t noticeably more profligate over the 70 minutes than Kilkenny. There’s no doubt though that momentum can play an important part and misses like that followed so closely by scores for the opposition can be a killer. So it proved with Kilkenny’s second goal, a poor clearance being returned back down the field with interest and Aidan Kearney took his eye off the ball for one horrible split-second, allowing Henry Shefflin to have the freedom of the 21-metre area. It wasn’t a gimme, coming over his shoulder at pace, but like all good strikers he had anticipated the error and was able to pirouette and first-time the ball past the advancing goalie.

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The temptation to throw your hat at it after a blow like that must have been immense, and it is to Waterford’s credit that they didn’t let it fester, getting the next two scores including one splendid effort from Kevin Moran. Kilkenny finished the half on the up though, leading by six points at the break. What to expect from the second half? Waterford had competed manfully and the performance was at the upper-end of expectations. And yet they were still six points down. Play any worse and the best we could hope for would be a 13-point defeat. Everyone had to go right in the second half.

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Here’s the thing: plenty did go right for Waterford. The second half got off to an absolute flier as Shane Walsh eluded his marker and booted the ball to the net. My wife, chugging on a train through the north of Britain, got online on her phone long enough to see that it was 2-12 to 2-9, which clearly told her things were going well. Eoin McGrath and Kevin Moran chalked up infuriating misses, but at the other end it was arguable that Kilkenny were doing even worse with one gilt-edged goal opportunity being spurned as it came off Declan Prendergast’s arse, another effort to set up a chance dribbling embarrassingly wide, and yet another hustled out for a 65.  These were all opportunites that would have buried us but were spurned, and Kilkenny were concerned enough for Shefflin to put aside the aforementioned hubris and slot a potential goal-scoring free over the bar.

I’ve never claimed to be an expert on hurling matters, and if you want a proper match report then there are plenty of places to find one. There are times though when you wonder whether your small opinion is the most obvious thing in the world yet the people on the sideline can’t see the wood for the trees. At this stage, the Waterford team needed shaking up. All that effort, all those breaks, yet it was proving infuriatingly impossible to wear them down. The Kilkenny backs were on top and Henry Shefflin was having one of those days, shaking off markers with the typical elan that has made him such a legend and keeping their scoreboard ticking over, missed goal opportunites be damned. And yet no activity from the Waterford mentors apart from some perfunctory warming up by Dan Shanahan. Looking up at the scoreboard to see that there was only twenty minutes left, you wondered what any sub was meant to do in the remaining time. The fact that Dan couldn’t make an impact when he did come on, certainly akin to what he did against Galway, was almost incidental. The habit that all sports managers seem to have of sticking with a lineup that has worked well but not well enough is frustrating.

Especially so because Waterford seemed to be having all the luck going, or at least were capitalising on every sniff of a goal chance. Dan and JJ Delaney seemed to get to the ball at the same time and in the ensuing tug-of-war the ball went for a 65. It looked like one to me although both my siblings were doubtful. We also disagreed on what to do with the 65. They thought Eoin Kelly should take the point, I thought he should drop it in – no point in kidding ourselves that anything other than goals were going to win this for us. He must have been listening to me because the ball was lobbed in to the square. To put into context just how crazy what happened next was, can you imagine if it had happened to Waterford? All the talk of bottlers and losers and whatnot would have been overwhelming. As it was, it was PJ Ryan and co who, under no pressure whatsoever, let the ball squirm into the net.

Cue a grandstand finish as the blizzard of substitutions that should have happened earlier took place, not least one Kenneth McGrath. It wasn’t too late, especially with Eoin Kelly having one of those purple patches where everything he struck hit the target. Kilkenny though, led by Shefflin in his pomp, held it together. As the clock ticked down it was clear we were going to need two goals. One of them almost arrived right on the stroke of the end of the 70, Kelly overhead-pulling first-time on a ball that had popped up in front of him. It was a breathtaking hit, but PJ Ryan made up for his earlier gaff with a spectacular flying save. Even the point that resulted from the save was a better result for Kilkenny as we weren’t going to get two more plays in the remaining minute.

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I’m not convinced that Kilkenny had a lot left in the tank had Waterford been able to muster a late charge. It would be generally accepted that Tipperary are the team best equipped to take them down, but their tactics will doubtless consist of hoping that they’re within a few points with a few minutes left then catching them on the hop. Certainly no one will be thinking in terms of running away from Kilkenny. With that in mind, Waterford definitely rattled Kilkenny’s cage on Sunday. As for our own performance, I don’t think there was much room for improvement. There were not that many bad wides, and Kilkenny will have more cause to point the finger at their own players for blunders than we would. And we had all that luck. So despite being close to 100% in terms of output and getting as many breaks as anyone can reasonably – or even unreasonably – expect, we still came up short. Yet I’m still pretty chuffed with how it panned out. It’s the first time in four cracks at the Cats that Waterford can be said to have maximised their potential. On Sunday we played a team who are probably the best there has ever been. In 1998, we lost to a score of 1-11. In 2009, we lost to a score of 2-23. We might not get that close again, and we can be certain that some  players, Tony Browne in particular, will not be there to help the cause. But Kilkenny can’t keep these standards up forever. Some day we’ll be able to match 1-11 from them with 3-15 from ourselves. I just hope I’m there to see it.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Aidan Kearney, Noel Connors, Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan (0-1), Kevin Moran (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-1; Dan Shanahan, 0-1), Stephen Molumphy (Jamie Nagle), Shane Walsh (2-0; Maurice Shanahan), John Mullane (0-1), Eoin Kelly (1-9, 0-6f, 1-0 65), Eoin McGrath (0-1; Ken McGrath)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan, Michael Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, John Tennyson, James Fitzpatrick (0-1; Derek Lyng), Michael Rice (0-1), Henry Shefflin (1-14, 0-7f, 0-1 65), Martin Comerford (TJ Reid), Eoin Larkin (0-2), Eddie Brennan (1-2), Richard Power (0-1), Aidan Fogarty (0-1; Richie Hogan, 0-1)

HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Kilkenny 2-12 (18)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

Waterford 1-13 (16) Kilkenny 3-30 (39)

First things first. To be present at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was an honour and a privilege. When asked in the past whether I had ever been to an All-Ireland final, I would routinely quip that I wasn’t going to go until Waterford were there – and hence I didn’t expect to ever get there. Yet here we were, standing in the midst of the biggest throng I have ever been in, and probably ever will be, soaking up the pre-match atmosphere. I don’t mind admitting that when the team ran out onto the Croke Park turf the wave of emotion was almost overwhelming. The siblings, dotted around various other parts of the ground, would later confess to similar feelings of disbelief. We all simultaneously vowed to gorge ourselves on the heady vapours, armed as we were with the knowledge that this might be as good as it got.

Yes, to be there was a splendid thing. Arriving in Dublin around midday, the city centre was mobbed by people donning the white and the blue. Despite this, the only two people I encountered who I knew were Kilkenny folk, one a soccer man who was wearing a shirt from the 1993 Leinster final – Mahon McPhillips were probably sponsoring his trip. All through the summer I’ve forlornly noted how few people I recognise in the crowd shots that populate the Munster Express and the News & Star after a big match. A stranger in his own land if ever there was one, and these incidents only add to the sense of disconnection that nearly five years abroad brings.

Not that I was thinking that at the time, because the atmosphere was enough to banish any negative thoughts. Waterford people were everywhere, and our usual haunt – Molloy’s on Talbot Street – seemed to be the epicentre of this ubiquity. Standing there with all my nearest and dearest – not always the same thing, ho ho – watching images of the heroes of 2008 flitting past on the big screen, it felt so good to be alive. Nothing was going to ruin this day.

There must have been some portion of the deepest part of my psyche, the part which still can’t watch horror movies and in which memories of Arsenal’s title win over Liverpool in 1989 are entombed, that gazed upon all this miracle and wonder and thought “if this is the effect it’s all having on me, how must the players be doing?” The only article that I read from the voluminous match supplements in the local rags – nice souvenirs if you win; rabbit hutch liner if you don’t – was an interview with Brian Whelehan where the Offaly player, twice a winner but twice a loser on All-Ireland final day, confessed that he never really enjoyed the occasion for itself. The nerves were so shredded that it was impossible to savour anything. The fans can enjoy the presentation of the players to the President or the parade or the performing of Amhrán na bhFiann – having it performed by a singer was surprisingly moving; it allowed the whisperers (ahem) to really belt it out – but the players must hate every minute of it. How you cope with these moments must contribute to your overall performance. Is knowledge power or ignorance bliss?

The match got underway, although not before my ever-alert wife had noted Eoin McGrath shipping some timber from his marker. Kilkenny opened the scoring with a free only for Eoin Kelly to respond in kind, then Eoin McGrath carved out an opening and put Waterford in front. In front in an All-Ireland final! Or had he? The crowd on the Hill, usually a good barometer of these things, were convinced he had scored as had the scoreboard operator, but the umpire waved it wide and the scoreboard was duly corrected. Dark thoughts rose up unbidden that this might be decisive in the endgame.

It soon became clear that Kilkenny were not leaving decisions like that in the lap of the umpires, opting instead to send each and every ball over the middle of the crossbar. Points were casually pinned on with only the odd Eoin Kelly free keeping Waterford ticking over. It is not an exaggeration to say that I looked up at the scoreboard when it was 0-10 to 0-4 and could not believe that only fifteen minutes had passed. Ten scores in fifteen minutes? It didn’t seem possible, and already you could see the match was slipping away from us. We were competing well enough under the dropping ball, with Tony Browne and Eoin Murphy in particular having some success, but what was happening when they moved to clear the ball was that a tsunami of Black and Amber was bowling them over.

The astonishing thing about Kilkenny was their power. Speaking to my Laois ticket contact the evening before the match, he suggested that Brian Cody was adopting a football tactic of a swarm defence, and this was perfectly believable as Waterford’s players found themselves surrounded at every turn. Much effort may have been expended in the latter half of the summer by Davy Fitzgerald in getting the players to concentrate on acquiring space before attempting to clear, but this seemed moot when any movement along any compass point led to you running into two more Cats. Never have I seen so many attempted clearances charged down, and each failure must have eroded the already fragile confidence further. The most chilling vignette was an echo of an incident that I picked up on the League match back in the spring. Back then, Michael Rice held off the challenge of Ken McGrath with ease before knocking the ball over the bar. This day it saw Aidan Kearney racing along the endline to try and get space to clear only to be sent flying out for a 65. You watched it live and thought that it must be a foul, but the replays on the big screen showed how clean a hit it was. You barely had time to dwell on the shock of a defender being mown down by a forward before the 65 sailed over the bar.

Even in games where the gulf in class is so wide, the fact that you start level means that it takes a while for the gulf to become obvious. So you could cling to the notion that Kilkenny might ease up, that Waterford might shake off the fog and get back into it. Such thoughts were rudely disabused soon enough as Eddie Brennan rattled in two quickfire goals to finish the game as a contest. The second goal was particularly painful, Clinton Hennessy saving brilliantly at Shefflin’s feet only for Brennan to rattle ball along the ground into the net.

I had visualised a range of possible outcomes from this match beforehand, ranging from Waterford nicking victory with a late surge having kept pace with Kilkenny against the odds, to Kilkenny piling on the style in the second half and running out handsome winners by 15-20 points. Never in my worst nightmares had I contemplated this, having to settle for damage limitation midway through the first half. It’s not just that we’ve not had to face the prospect for a long time – one double digit championship defeat in 12 years. Even counties like Offaly and Wexford, who we scoffed at for failing to put it up to Kilkenny, had kept in some kind of touch for the first half. The range of positive options available to us now was almost too ghastly to envisage. Avoid a 31+ point beating. Not have a player lose the rag and get sent off. Score a point from play! When Eoin Kelly got a free just outside the large square, you almost wondered whether he should take the guaranteed point. As it was, his shot was saved and the rebound should have been buried by Eoin McGrath. You know a player at the other end would have done so, in the manner that Brennan had done.

The euphoria of the build-up meant that leaving early was never an option, and everyone else seemed to agree as the crowd stayed robust. The Kilkenny fans generally kept to themselves, the tulip who nearly caused a riot early in the first half by repeatedly asking a Waterford woman with a child whether she wanted to open her whatsit for him being mercifully the exception. Stubborn to the last, people only had to wait ten minutes into the second half for Waterford to register that blessed point from play, John Mullane finally doing the business after a build-up that might have ended in a goal. It was as if such an affront enraged Kilkenny so much that they decided to weigh in with a goal of their own, Eoin Larkin being given the freedom of the inside of the 45 to saunter in and smash the ball past Hennessy.

The 31+ point beating was not to materialise, for reasons only some of which do credit to Waterford. Nor did the feared sending-off, although Kevin Moran could probably count himself lucky late on. They did keep trying as individuals, with Mullane in particular grinding away to some effect. But the ease with which Kilkenny were stroking over points meant they never had to go for the goals that would have heaped a few more aftershocks on to the earthquake. They definitely eased off the gas, although this wasn’t entirely patronising to Waterford – as stated, the Waterford players did keep trying, and there isn’t much point in busting a gut or risking an injury when the game is already in the bag.

The one truly head-patting moment had an ironic coda. James McGarry came on for PJ Ryan to much applause from the Kilkenny faithful. It was all very nice, and I suppose Waterford hadn’t earned the right to be outraged at such a gesture. At this point I wasn’t aware that Kilkenny hadn’t shipped a goal all Championship, so it was only afterwards that I was able to chuckle at the sight of McGarry providing a firm touch to an Eoin Kelly shot on its way into the net. Not that it made any substantive difference as Kilkenny finished with a trio of quick points which said it all about the way they could have toyed with us had they been so inclined.

The worst part of it all is that the feeling is only going to get worse. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, it wasn’t so bad. It had been obvious from a loooong way out that we were doomed, which at least had the virtue of not getting our hopes up. Had we lost having come agonisingly close, in much the manner we did against Cork in 2006, it would have been sickening for days afterwards. But you’d have gotten over it before too long. This, on the other hand, is going to reverberate for ages. Quite apart from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that will be talking about GAA online for the forseeable future, the prospects for Waterford hurling suddenly look rather bleak. The All-Ireland, the only thing that will satisfy us after the success of the last decade, looks further away than it ever did.

Still. This is what it means to be in with the big boys. To have half of the mightiest stage of them all, for those heavenly twenty minutes when anything seemed possible . . . it was totally worth it.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast (Tom Feeney), Aidan Kearney, Tony Browne, Ken McGrath, Kevin Moran, Michael Walsh (capt), Jamie Nagle (Shane O’Sullivan), Dan Shanahan (Dave Bennett, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast (Jack Kennedy), Stephen Molumphy, Eoin McGrath (Paul Flynn), Eoin Kelly (1-9, 0-9f), J Mullane (0-3)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan (James McGarry) Michael Kavanagh, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney; James Fitzpatrick (capt,0-2), Derek Lyng (0-3), Martin Comerford (TJ Reid, 0-4), Richie Power (0-2), Eoin Larkin (1-4); Eddie Brennan (2-4), Henry Shefflin (0-8, 0-5f, 0-1 65), Aidan Fogarty (0-3)

HT: Waterford 0-6 (6) Kilkenny 2-16 (22)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)