(Fógra: I’m dispensing with the old-school match report. You can get far better ones from the various sources below. This, and future editions, will be impressions gleaned from memory of the match day experience and therefore just as useless as before.)
Déise defiance too much for sloppy Kilkenny – Irish Independent
Wasteful Waterford still ease by subdued Kilkenny – Irish Times
Waterford’s defiant roar puts Kilkenny to the sword – De Paper
Waterford show greater appetite in win over Cats – RTÉ
Wasteful Waterford trump Cats – HoganStand.com
I’m not a local so I don’t mind if people view this as an epiphany that no ‘real’ Liverpool supporter would experience. With that in mind . . . this incident was the first time that I was able to imagine a life without Liverpool FC. Not the incident itself, which just made me roll my eyes at how juvenile it all was. It was in the match that followed against Barcelona, when Bellamy celebrated his equaliser by imitating a golf swing. I should have been overjoyed but instead I was enraged by this colossal prick thinking the whole thing was a joke. What the fuck was I doing, putting so much of my mental well-being in the hands of these revolting men-children who didn’t give a shit if I lived or died? The moment passed, but the memory remained. I don’t know where my limit for the shitness of modern football lies – but I know I have a limit.
The above comment, which I originally posted on The Liverpool Way website, got a gratifyingly positive reaction. With the Premier League money speakers about to be turned up to 11 it was refreshing to immerse oneself in the acoustic surroundings of the National Hurling League. And it seemed a lot of people agreed with me as a large crowd turned up to the League champions take on the winner of some knockout cup competition.
I’m being facetious of course, and not just about the standings relative to each other of the respective teams. Had some organisational re-jigging – not unheard of in the GAA – saved Waterford from relegation at the end of the 2014 League and we were playing Kilkenny in the first game of the 2015 campaign, there would not have been this kind of attendance. This time last year I was entertaining the possibility that we might be passed out on the way down by Laois on the way up. Now we were going toe-to-toe with Darth Cody’s Stormtroopers and coming out on top while Laois were being caned at home by Kerry. What a difference a year makes.
Dispensing with the fiction that you are reading this while oblivious to the result, what to make of the win? It reflects a surprisingly robust record against Kilkenny in Walsh Park, the eighth win in 24 games at the venue, and the fifth in the last ten. Perhaps all that time the pitch has been a quagmire which has played into the hands of our more agricultural hurlers versus their great artisans of the game. I didn’t think much of the pitch to begin with, reasoning that every ground is going to suffer from the same problem thanks to such a wet winter. But as Galway and Cork racked up a cricket score in their game, it does suggest a problem particular to Walsh Park.
For make no mistake, Kilkenny did not make the adjustment to the conditions as well as Waterford did. That will be taken as self-evident by those in the know, a snide smirk at Waterford folk getting notions from such a result. For this benefit, please be assured tgat we already discount the fact that Kilkenny will be operating to a different timescale to the rest of us. Still, it was mildly shocking to see the extent to which they were operating as if they were on a summer pitch, frequently misjudging the bounce of the ball, or at least doing it a lot more than Waterford were doing it.
The flip side of such a coin is that Waterford made the adjustment, and that can’t be a bad thing, right? Perhaps it can be. At half-time my brother wondered whether Waterford were a team of winter hurlers, perhaps the most grievous insult you can level against a team. It was something I was pondering myself in the first half as Waterford, bolstered by The System, swarmed all over Kilkenny. This business of playing a sweeper was a success this time last year, propelling Waterford to a historic eight-game winning run. It was clear by the high summer though that it could only bring you so far.
Or maybe it’s not clear. Derek McGrath has forgotten more about the game than I have ever known (not that that would be hard, sez you) and you have to have faith that he knows what he is doing. Does The System only need a tweak to catapult us to September glory? Is it more important to establish a winning habit in these months? Laois people could certainly vouch for the value of such a concept as they survey a season that looks wrecked before it has ever left the slipway. Either way, it’s clear you have to trust that he knows what he is doing.
Or maybe it’s not clear. For while it’s fair to dampen down expectations on the basis of Kilkenny’s level of preparedness for this game, it’s also fair to be excited by the quality of player we have to work with. There were some really fine performances from Waterford, and it was the best of them that demonstrated that we still have some slack with which to work. It’s not too strong to say that Austin Gleeson was unplayable. Watching him get the ball inside his own half after 63 minutes on an energy-sapping pitch and proceed to storm past half the Kilkenny team into their 45, it made me want to weep with joy that he is one of ours and is, injury and passion permitting (touch wood), going to be traumatising opponents with that kind of run for the next decade. Incredibly it was a performance that had room for improvement as he slashed the ball wide on six occasions with unnecessary Hail Mary efforts. Factor in a horrible free-taking performance from Maurice Shanahan, which can surely be put down to one of those days with the oul calibration – it’s not as if he hasn’t done it before in much more pressurised circumstances – and with Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran both looking like they belong in this kind of company, I can say with a straight face that we should have walloped Kilkenny out the gate. Indeed, I’m certain that if were to play Kilkenny again next week we’d do exactly that.
I can’t believe I just said that. That’s those stream-of-consciousness ramblings for you, leaving you all manner of hostages to fortune. I’m going to be cocky about it though. Yes, Kilkenny will be primed to peak at a different time to us, with all the experience they have doing that to rely upon. It’ll be a cold day in Hell though before Kilkenny send out a team to phone it in against Waterford. A wild shoulder charge right at the end from Colin Fennelly on Kevin Moran, which could have resulted in a straight red had the ref not had the soft option of giving him a second yellow, exemplified their frustration. We have a game next week against a team – Cork – who have to be up to speed, seeing as they can’t afford to be aiming to peak in the Championship lest they find themselves completely short and nowhere to go like they were last year. We’ll probably know better where we stand after that game, but let’s enjoy the Kilkenny-beating moment now rather than waiting for a time which might never come.