Tag Archives: Kilkenny

Waterford 0-14 Kilkenny 0-10

(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.

Waterford 0-18 (18) Kilkenny 1-21 (24)

Waterford v Kilkenny 9 August 2015 Cover

As the carnage that was Australia’s first innings in the recent Ashes Test at Trent Bridge came to its conclusion, a tweet from Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph – wait, come back! He calls that city on the banks of the Foyle by the proper name! – did the rounds:

Armed with such knowledge, I decided it might be an idea to wait until after the second All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway before posting my thought on our game against Kilkenny.

That’s my story as to why it’s so late and I’m sticking by it.

The first thing to note about the respective games is the wisdom of crowds. I waited until Saturday evening before buying my tickets in SuperValu and the chap there was all apologetic about the quality of the tickets. I was not all bothered – where are these awful seats in Croke Park? – and I was quite pleased at the thought that this might be approaching a sell-out. Arriving in Dublin, it was even more encouraging to encounter traffic jams just past Kilcullen and see signs advising us to avoid the Red Cow park-and-ride. This was going to be a blockbuster! So a crowd of 41,122 was rather disappointing and the contrast with the 58,495 punters at the second semi-final was stark. We did outnumber the Kilkenny attendance but that only went to show how they were confidently keeping their powder dry for a bigger battle. The supporters of Tipperary and Galway obviously felt their game was a toss-up and when even the notoriously travel-shy Tribesmen (for hurling anyway, the big ball game being the pursuit of choice on Corribside) are turning out in such numbers in the aftermath of the trashing they handed out to Cork, you knew something big was in the offing.

And what of The System? Everything was building up to this, and if the measure of its effectiveness was the ability to end a run of seven straight defeats against Kilkenny then – spoiler alert! – it was found wanting. That was certainly how I felt after our game, but after watching Séamus Callanan make hay against Galway, I’m not so sure. The sweeper meant there was no such cutting loose from him against us, and while in practical terms that only amounted to four points (3-16 v 0-21) a more potent attack such as Galway possess could have run away from Tipperary had the sweeper been deployed. If that sounds a little dismissive of Galway again, rest assured that it is not. It took some cojones to recover from the sledgehammer blows of those goals, and it is a compliment to their performance that they were able to overcome the tactical deficit and come out on top.

At the end of the first half of our game it looked like the system was doing just fine. Our first score, a point from Maurice Shanahan, contained an ever-so-slight hint of a goal chance and while we were ridiculously lucky not to concede a goal shortly afterwards when a few ricochets avoided trickling over the line by hitting the unaware Shane Fives on the heel, there were bodies back there and the harassment of forwards that has characterised so much of our play this year was much in evidence. On the flip side, all that space that Shanahan enjoyed for that first score demonstrated how much space there was in the Kilkenny 45 because, well, only a couple of our players were there. One mazy run by Michael Walsh ran out of steam because there was no one to whom to pass the ball. Austin Gleeson weighed in with his seemingly obligatory score from a sideline, and we were going to need more like that if we were to prosper.

It was telling that by the 15th minute there had been only three scores apiece. There was never any danger of anyone cutting loose in the style of Callanan so the first goal was always going to be a proper statement and when a double turn by a Kilkenny player – I really thought those were the kind of thing referees frowned upon in their hopeless quest to spot overcarrying – ended with a ball in to TJ Reid to score a simple goal, you worried it would be a game-changer. With what looked like a one man full-forward line, we were not going to trouble the Kilkenny goal with much. A long-range point from play by Shanahan and a free from him from way out after a stirring catch from Gleeson showed that we had set out a plan to win from the half-back line. When you get in the trenches like that though you are as likely to give away frees as win them and Reid kept things ticking over for them from the place balls. Keep it tight, take your chances. That’s all we could hope for and when Jake Dillon won a cheap free to trim the lead to two and Glesson followed upto make it a one-point game with only three minutes left in the half, you could see the spirits lift around the Waterford crowd. The half ended with flurry of points, Shane Bennett’s point after benefitting from yet more devil-may-care surging from defence from Gleeson being sandwiched by two frees for Kilkenny, one a careless trip from behind and the other a blatant professional foul right on the stroke of half-time to keep the gap at two.

The hope was there, it really was. Keep it tight, take your chances. If we were two points adrift with a minute to go, who knows? There was moment for some levity for a Tramore man like myself as the announcer mention the presence on the children’s half-time game of someone from “Fenor NS, Tramore”. Them’s fighting words in the Big Apple Pip. But we’d all be in it together come the first Sunday in September, right?

Alas, no. Midway through the first half Jamie Barron (I think it was) was penalised as he cut across a Kilkenny player as they chased a loose ball. I was instantly annoyed by this and the man beside me, who I got the feeling was not from Waterford but cheering for them in the company of his Déise wife, gave me a gentle smile and opined that it was indeed a free. I sheepishly admitted that he was right but I explained that a season of seeing Waterford players consistently emerge with the ball in those kind of situations had made me feel like they would always win them and some manner of skulduggery must have been afoot. It’s all very well saying we needed to keep it tight, but it’s hard to do when the opposition are so much more robust than you are. A combination of physical conditions and the elixir that is Brian Cody means some of these Kilkenny lads are hewn from granite and as the metres covered and hits taken piled up, it began to tell.

Even taking all that after-the-fact comment into account, the game was nearly up moments in to the second half as Walter Walsh found himself in acres of space but fired his shot across the bows of Stephen O’Keeffe’s goal. Kilkenny tacked on two scores practically from the next two puckouts, and while a cheap free for Shanahan and a well-worked score down the line from Tadhg de Búrca to Kevin Moran kept the gap at two the cracks were beginning to appear. Barry Coughlan had time to clear after de Búrca engaged in his normal mopping-up operation only to hit it straight to a Kilkenny forward who lashed it over, and when even de Búrca couldn’t engage in his normal moping-up operation, finding himself stranded with no support and giving up the free, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing.

We knew that to win this everything had to go right, but how can you get it right when they are in your face so often and showing they had so much more water in the well from which to draw? There was a sniff of a goal chance for Colin Dunford as he cut across the face of the Kilkenny full-back line, and you might wonder whether recent travails in the shooting department made him reluctant to take it on as he took his point. The neutral-ish chap to my left certainly thought this was a chance spurned. Given the iron will so repeatedly demonstrated by Kilkenny under Cody, the game was curiously ragged and when Richie Hogan hit a wide from out near the 45 that he would literally, in the truest sense of the term, have expected him to put over with his eyes closed, you could see a little vulnerability there, if only we could take it. Galway will certainly be hoping they saw exactly that.

We were out on our feet already though. It was painful watching Jake Dillon to wring some more out of his linen, and a push on the back from Austin Gleeson showed tired minds as well as limbs. Most of Waterford’s efforts were hit-and-hope balls into the mix. You wanted to scream at them to move the ball in the manner in which they had being doing in previous games, but the flesh was weak. Another half-chance for a goal from Dunford led to a point and kept the gap at three and is probably the point at which ingénues like my wife and her family/friends would be able to tell me afterwards that we had gone soooo close, but from where I was sitting it would need a red card or a fluky goal to keep us in touch. Instead we got a couple of nervous/exhausted flails from Jamie Barron on which Kilkenny pounced to swiftly stretch the lead back to five.

I’m not saying Waterford gave up. They tried, Lord did they try. Austin Gleeson sent off over a tremendous solo effort from way out and they were still capable of putting up one of those splendid phalanxes across the goal which has served them so well this year. It all felt like it was from memory though, and the gaps appeared again to the extent that Ger Aylward only had to round Stephen O’Keeffe to put the game to bed. He went around him and incredibly somehow put it wide at the near post. It was an appalling miss, followed by two more desperate wides from play for them. One of them was from Richie Hogan and it’s hard to believe he has hit two as bad as as he hit in this game in an entire year in his career before now. Dunford, so effervescent in the third quarter, was now back into the business of wides and Kilkenny were content to play scrappy, burning through a couple of minutes with throw balls and relying on Hogan not being completely off his game with a couple of points from play, both far more difficult than those he had missed. The second saw him leave two Waterford players in his wake. A depressing sight.

As the team who served so much classic fare in the Noughties with our freewheeling style of hurling, I’ll say that I don’t miss it that much, even after watching the thrill-a-minute stuff of the second semi-final a week later. Those games where the lead see-saws constantly and the spoils go to those who happen to be leading when the ref blows the final whistle are wonderful for the neutral but ghastly for those involved, even when you win. Then again, this was pretty ghastly fare at the other end of the spectrum, the only consolation being that it could have been much worse as Kilkenny failed to get our jugular. A few more bodies went into the forwards to try and get those goals but they never looked like coming. About as much satisfaction as we got was seeing sub John Power stick his arse into Stephen O’Keeffe as he came to clear a ball. Hey, at least we didn’t resort to that kind of nonsense in defeat, right?

After the game, everyone I spoke to seemed profoundly depressed. My father thought it was the worst effort at getting over the semi-final hump he had seen from Waterford. On the Luas I encountered a former work colleague, the type who works diligently for his club and attends loadsa games, so for as robust and knowledgable a supporter as him to be so maudlin was a sign that this had not been a good day at the office. Looking back on it, it wasn’t great. The incoherence of my writing above about the second half mostly reflects the incoherence of my writing, but it was a disjointed display from Waterford. Shorn of so many of the members of the hurling pantheon who have graced their team over the last 15 years, Kilkenny are not the force of old. Galway will have seen the sloppiness of their overall display and will be confident they can take on the lessons of the Tipperary game and apply them in the final. Would we be able to do the same if we got a second bite of the cherry? I don’t think we would. They horsed us out of it in the end, and no amount of systemising would have been won that game.

Remember where you read that slogan first.

I refuse to be downbeat though. At the end of last year I was worried we might be overtaken by Laois. Now, we’re meant to be despondent because we couldn’t overtake Kilkenny? The gap between where we were and where we are is gargantuan, and we even have some silverware  to prove it. We weren’t close to the ultimate prize, but I still think it was a year worthy of a cigar.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-3, 0-1 s/l), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Darragh Fives, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane Bennett (0-1; Stephen Bennett), Jake Dillon (Patrick Curran), Maurice Shanahan (0-9, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Michael Walsh, Colin Dunford (0-4)

Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast, Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley (0-1), Michael Fennelly (0-1), Conor Fogarty, Walter Walsh (John Power), Richie Hogan (0-5), TJ Reid (1-9, 0-7f), Ger Aylward (0-4), Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin (0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-10 (10) Kilkenny 1-9 (12)

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Only the Little People serve suspensions

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few weeks on boards.ie about the looming absence of Séamus Callanan from the Tipperary team to play Waterford in the League semi-final. The consensus opinion was that it would be a better test of Waterford’s mettle if the free-scoring Tipp forward was present, particularly given the seemingly eternal concerns over our full-back line in the face of goal scorers. While I would be of the opinion that anything that enhances Waterford’s chances of success is a good thing, even in the much-maligned League – a day may come when we are so flush with success that can afford to look on it with disdain, but Sunday is not going to be that day – I could understand the logic of the position. It isn’t just a question of whether we have the personnel, it’s whether an entire system, one with the potential to transform our prospects and even the entire game of hurling, is really what we hope it is. Better to find out now that dream of making the Donegal-style tactics work in hurling is a pipe dream rather than later on when there is no chance to rectify it.

A lot of people will be satisfied then to see Callanan has been successful in his appeal against the red card, and there will be a lot of overlap with the subset who thought he didn’t deserve to get sent off in the first place. But while I can understand the position of the former, seeing the latter makes my blood boil. The issue at stake isn’t whether Callanan deserved to get sent off. The only question that should be considered by the authorities in any appeal is whether the rules were correctly applied. If the referee judged a player to have struck an opponent with the hurley and a review tells us that the player struck an opponent with the hurley, even with minimal force, that’s a red card. This includes the marching orders given to Michael Walsh and Shane O’Sullivan in the League last year, and the mild tap that resulted in a red card for John Keane in the 2012 Munster club final. Yes, they were harsh decisions. But as long as the referee is applying the letter of the law, you can’t claim you were hard done by. Let that be a lesson to you to show more care next time. That big piece of wood is for hitting the ball, not your opponent.

So how did Seamus Callanan get off the hook while the aforementioned Waterford* trio did not? I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suggest that there is one rule book for the Big Three and one for the rest of us. Recently we were all united in acclamation of King Henry. It was probably understandable amidst all the hosannas that no one saw fit to question why he felt the need to refer to the red card he received against Cork in the 2013 Championship. As with all of the red cards I have mentioned here, it was a hard call. But there was nothing substantively wrong with it, so the hysteria which greeted it could only be explained in the context of who it had happened to, not what had happened. The idea that it was a blot on his reputation was ridiculous. Countless players have been sent off over the years and no one bothers mentioning it come retirement. Yet not only did Henry feel the need to bring it up upon his retirement, he managed to make us aware of the fact that he had been sent off before in an obscure Minor game, so his reputation was well and truly in the toilet anyway, right?

That same summer, we had a similar ho-ha over Pat Horgan’s red card in the Munster final against Limerick. The result was the same – red card rescinded. You can see the pattern emerging. Maybe you don’t think that’s fair, the suggestion that players from the Big Three are getting treated more leniently than those from the other counties. There are plenty of examples out there of harsh decisions against Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary players that were not overturned, and perversely the pattern would suggest that referees are happy to hand out cards to the biggest names without fear nor favour. After all, they don’t come any bigger than Henry Shefflin. But how else can you explain the strict support for the final word of the referee in the cases of Keane, Walsh and O’Sullivan and the after-the-fact undermining of them that took place in the cases of Horgan, Shefflin and Callanan? At best, it’s too small a sample size to be significant and the authorities are making it up as they go along. At worst, they are so starry-eyed by the big names from the big counties that the entreaties about shure he’s a grand lad who would never harm a fly gain traction. Whatever the truth, it’s not good when it comes to a supposedly rule-based endeavour.

*I believe John Keane is from Tipperary, but if you are playing for a Waterford club you are not representing Tipperary.

Too Gentle by half

Mount Congreve 22 March 2014

Last Saturday we did something we have been long planning: we went to Mount Congreve. I’ve seen and heard a lot of hype about it over the years so my expectations were high and am happy to report it was even better than I could have hoped. We’ve been to many stately piles in these islands with grand gardens attached over the years and this was a match for any of them, a perfect marriage of nature and artifice in a glorious setting, I couldn’t help but feel a shiver of local pride as I gazed across the Suir at the relatively uninspired countryside opposite. This was what Tolkien must have envisaged when he pictured Aragorn looking from Caras Galadhon at the lands surrounding Lothlórien.

Unfortunately that was as good as the weekend got for Co Waterford as the hurlers sank to a crushing defeat at the hands of the denizens of the aforementioned uninspired countryside. Like Orcs they are, Orcs!

Worst NHL results 1926-2014

The numbers tell their own tale. The 20-point defeat slots comfortably into the top ten of hidings we’ve ever received in the National League, and you have to go back to the 1988/9 season to find the last time we shipped beatings of ten points or greater in two successive League matches. You often see Waterford supporters bemoaning narrow defeats as if they are as bad as batterings – no more moral victories etc – but these last two results demonstrate the folly of such nihilism. If you consistently keep the scoreboard tight then occasionally you’re going to come out on the right side of results. When the opposition are regularly able to run up scores in excess of thirty points, you can forget about snatching games every now and again with a late surge or a last minute goal.

And the numbers don’t even tell a fraction of the tale. I missed the first half – I know, I’m a jinx – and was treated to an absolutely ghastly second half on TG4. On a couple of occasions early on a Waterford forward managed to put the head down and set off towards goal only to be easily dispossessed by the Kilkenny backs. At the other end the goals had a horrible inevitability to them, forwards pirouetting around backs and leaving Stephen O’Keeffe totally exposed. By the time the third goal went in heads went down all around the pitch, and if Kilkenny had been so inclined it would have been far worse than the NHL nadir back in 1957. At least it wasn’t a 23-point defeat to Kilkenny. That would have really got tongues wagging.

It can get much worse too. Again, you’ll probably have people saying that Division 1B isn’t so bad, that we could regroup and notch up a few victories a year against weaker teams, and I think it’s fair to say that, in itself, life in Division 1B isn’t that bad. There are enough decent teams in there that it isn’t the dropdown that falling into an eight-team second division might be, and it might be nice to freshen up the array of teams that we play each year after several years of painting-the-Forth-Bridge efforts against the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. There’s a potential pincer movement at work here though. After several near misses you can imagine Limerick would be well up for showing us who was boss, Wexford seemed to have bottomed out, Laois are definitely on the way up . . . in fact, they’d all see us as vulnerable. There probably wouldn’t be any 20-point massacre, but we can forget about a quick return to the top table. Thankfully we’ve snatched a home draw against the Dubs but there are testing times ahead for Derek McGrath and company. Perhaps a soothing trip to Mount Congreve in advance of the game is in order?

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 /]

Waterford 2-12 (18) Kilkenny 0-16 (16) – Minor

Early in the second half of this game, I gave up trying to put together any meaningful record of events. The first half had featured a harum-scarum performance from Waterford, so lacking in a plan that even the thought of just getting the ball into Stephen Bennett at every available opportunity, an unimaginative plan but one that would have at least been coherent, seemed beyond them. I put my camera down and waited. The narrative would come to some kind of conclusion without my intervention.

02 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

With all that in mind, here’s a meaningless record of my day in the smoke. I had been determined beforehand to just enjoy the experience. A combination of our dire record in All-Ireland semi-finals (one win in twelve attempts at Senior, Minor and Under-21 since winning two against Antrim in 1992) and my record in Croke Park (one draw and eight defeats since seeing us beat Galway in my first ever visit to Headquarters in 1998) meant I wasn’t filled with optimism. We were going to head up and support the boys then enjoy the second game, which looked rather tasty. Such feelings of bonhomie were aided by a picaresque scene on the Luas as a lovable Dublin gangster went about his day. I say ‘lovable’ as he spent a good two minutes talking to a Cork supporter about last week’s football game while she was talking about the hurling match that day. I say ‘gangster’ as he then got on the phone to advise someone that while he was sorry about the way things were going with the person at the other end, he had to talk to some third party who had grassed him up. He didn’t want to fight with anyone but this needed to be ‘sorted’. This line of conversation went around three or four times to increasingly broad grins from the overhearing culchie contingent. I must remember to check whether there were any gangland shootings in Dublin on Sunday evening.

Arriving at Croke Park before the gates had even opened, I got a little emotional upon seeing a couple with their Waterford jersey-clad children. They were aged somewhere between 7 and 9 (the children, not the parents) and had the wide-eyed look of those on their first trip to Jones’s Road. It struck me that there was no guarantee that when my son is their age (six weeks old at the time of writing) he will be able to experience this kind of outing. The man on the loudspeaker in the kids area under the Davin Stand wondered whether there was anyone left in Waterford while also spotting a lone Carlow jersey. Not much call for Carlow folk to be in Croke Park in August. Despite the woeful records I referenced earlier, these are still days to be treasured.

04 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

We took up our seats in the Canal End Davin Stand and opened the programme I had unthinkingly purchased. Oh. Four pages on the Minor game. Who knew there was so much more emphasis on the main feature? Still, it was noted by one of my siblings that the Waterford player from Bonmahon on the starting lineup (Micheál Harney) and from Tramore on the bench (Barry Whelan). It was likely both of those players had been on the field during the Three-Minute War. A long way from there to here.

The match began and it was clear that Waterford fans outnumbered those from Kilkenny by a multiple of several. This was good, but it would be remiss not to doff a cap to the Kilkenny people who made the journey. This was my first All-Ireland Minor semi-final. Your average Kilkenny supporter will have had double-figure opportunities to see the Kittens (groan) so the people who were here on this day for Kilkenny really do care about the game. And they had more to cheer about early on. Waterford, to be frank, were crap. Kilkenny players were first to every ball and promptly winning frees which were slotted over with considerable élan by Alan Murphy. There was some grounds for irritation in Waterford circles at the ease with which the referee was blowing his whistle – if you got ahead of your man, all you had to do was hit the deck and you had the free – but there was no doubt most of the frees were justified as Waterford struggled to get going.

As I said earlier, there seemed to be no plan, not even one of getting it into Stephen Bennett post-haste. And when they did, lo! he worked the oracle, breezing past two Kilkenny defenders before drawing the goalkeeper and lobbing the ball into the onrushing Adam Farrell to bat the ball into the empty net. Great stuff, and Waterford could have had another goal moments later but Farrell went for a point from a narrow angle when he really should have made the goalie work and the ball went wide.

It was better from Waterford, even if they kept on giving Kilkenny too much space, space which ended in a free and a score from Murphy. It made for frustrating viewing, but while there were signs that while Waterford were struggling to win clean possession they were having no such problems winning the loose ball. I’ve fretted on a previous occasion about how midget-like Waterford players are at this level, but this team looked much more robust and it was by a demonstration of teak-tough play and no little skill that Waterford got their second goal, DJ Foran bursting onto a loose ball out on the 45 and zipping through the Kilkenny back lines before cracking the ball in off the stanchion – it rebounded out but was tapped in anyway, just in case.

You have to be fatalistic if you are going to survive as a Waterford supporter, and even amidst the pleasure of the goals was the worry that this is what this Waterford team were about – goals keeping them in the game, just like in the Munster final replay. The self-belief was beginning to show though as Patrick Curran added a couple of frees and another effort from Stephen Bennett, this time a fine individual point, kept us ticking over at the same rate Kilkenny were doing. A two-point half-time lead felt slightly flattering, and there were numerous horrifying moments as they frequently played first-time balls which may be in the spirit of our hurling forefathers but is enough to give you a coronary in this age of defences hunting in packs. Waterford were on the ascendancy, struggling to win the ball first time but mopping up any loose play. Maybe the plan is to play to the strengths of players – in this case, their strength?

17 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

Whatever it is, they hit the ground running in the second half, two fantastic early scores stretching the lead to four and causing me to put my camera away. I couldn’t pretend any more that I could be blasé about this. If we failed to win this one, it would be more sickening than several previous losses in HQ, low expectations that I had in those games. Kilkenny quickly hit back with two scores of their own and while it could hardly be said that the teams were now keeping it tighter the pattern was clear. Kilkenny were more of a unit but Waterford had the standout individuals, with Bennett, Foran and Patrick Curran making life very difficult for Kilkenny whenever they got the ball, the latter hitting the post with a 65 but showing no ill-effects by popping the ball over the bar when it was played back to him. The backs weighed in with a couple of great scores courtesy of Harney and the ever-industrious Austin Gleeson, and if we could match them score for score, we’d be home and dry. Easy!

It’s been a summer noteworthy for the furore over red cards, and for a horrible few minutes it looked like that was going to be the case in this game. Flicking through match reports, I’m still not sure what happened to Shane Bennett as he picked up a second yellow card midway through the half.  At the time I was right confused as it looked like the second yellow card had instead gone to a different player and Bennett had been given a straight red card for what could only have been giving the referee a bit of lip. The confusion was a by-product of the surreal surroundings. You’d normally hear a reaction in some section of even a tiny crowd at a decision, but when the red card came out, there was…nothing. As we fumed at what seemed like complete foolishness on his part, as opposed to the partial foolishness of picking up two yellows in this card-happy season, Waterford lost their way. Crucially though Kilkenny, unlike Cork a few hours later, failed to ram home their advantage. A few bad wides and suddenly the clock was against them. It’s probably a bit harsh to assume that a group of boys are potentially lacking characteristics of the adult teams that have ruthlessly put the boot in when a team was down. That’s not going to stop me thinking it though, i.e. that this group of Kilkenny hurlers lacked the characteristic of previous generation in ruthlessly putting the boot in when a team was down. Wishful thinking? I’m in a buoyant mood.

Whatever about the future, the present saw Kilkenny fail to expolit the extra man and when Eoin Kenny also saw double yellow for them – referee evening things up, perhaps? – and DJ Foran got a spectacular point from distance to stretch the lead to three, once again pouncing on secondary ball and shrugging off the attention of two backs to score from distance, you felt we just had to keep them away from the goal to clinch the win. Kilkenny managed one point from distance, but there were three subsequent plays where you thought ‘if we can only win this ball, we’ll be fine’. And yes, I realise that makes no sense. Waterford duly won each of them to keep Kilkenny on the back foot and when Shane Hourigan blew up after a minute of injury time, Croke Park erupted.

Okay, it didn’t. We did though. It was great. I had really thought I could school myself to be casual about the Minors, but this had been a plan of battle that had not survived contact with the enemy. They had taken on the Evil Empire and triumphed. For only the third time in my life, we can look forward to seeing a Waterford hurling team play in Croke Park in September. There are no words for the feeling. It was just great.

23 Waterford v Kilkenny 11 August 2013 - Minor

And so we sat back to smugly enjoy the second game, passing all manner of arch comments about the Jacks and the Langers, confident that nothing could mar the splendor of the day.

Hoi, weren’t you listening? I said nothing could mar the splendor of the day! For crying out loud . . .