Tag Archives: Laois

A long time in politics

Back in 2000 we all went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We were undefeated up that the point while Laois, If memory serves me correct, had not won a match themselves. This was reflected in the crowd as Waterford fans outnumbered the Laois fans by about ten-to-one. What was probably more impactful on the attendance was the Laois Under-21 footballers playing Meath the same day. They lost. It was not a good day for them, although it was as good as our year got as we lost the next day out against Tipp, flopped badly in the National League semi-final to Galway, then went out with a whimper in the Munster championship.

You could understand the eagerness to flock to the Under-21 banner, what with the All-Ireland Minor champions of 1996 and 1997 coming of age. Things are not quite as skewed in Waterford, but the result last weekend was an almighty wake-up call regarding our progress. I don’t feel silly for thinking we were heading towards the ultimate glory in the next few years, or even this year. If we carried on in the manner we were going, it was inevitable. Alas, the beating we took in Limerick is a huge setback. Even if one assumes that Waterford are a lot better than that, and we should still be favourites for the next game against Wexford, Kilkenny looks like a mountain we are still not equipped to climb. Then there is the small matter of Tipperary. I had assumed, and this is the part that makes me feel silly, that they had not made the progress we had made in the last 12 months. Talk about making an ass out of u and me. Okay, just me then. They’ve clearly bulked up a lot since Galway took them out in 2015 and they will be bracing themselves for a collision with Kilkenny on the first Sunday in September.

That was the reality into which we faced on Monday morning, but in 60 wonderful minutes on Wednesday the Under-21’s shaped a new reality. I’m sure there have been occasions on the past where I have cheered for Tipperary – all of them probably against Kilkenny – but never with such gusto as I did on Thursday. Limerick have a bit of a hex over us at underage, with four straight wins at Minor level, and we could do without talk of them getting vengeance for the controversial Hawk Eye incident that directly contributed to them missing out on having another go at us in the 2013 All-Ireland final. All of this pales into insignificance though at the prospect of an evening of hoopla up at the old Sports Field.

This has the potential to be the biggest Waterford game ever staged in Walsh Park. Dungarvan has a storied history with three All-Ireland hurling finals staged there in the early 20th century. (I think it’s telling that when coming up with a convenient neutral venue for Cork to play Kilkenny and London in those three finals, Waterford city seems not to have been taken into account. A garrison town thing? But I digress . . . ) No Senior Munster final has ever been played in the city, and while there have been eight All-Ireland Under-21 finals played there, it’s only natural that none of them have involved Waterford, and it wasn’t until the mid-00’s that all Under-21 matches were played on a home-and-away basis. The first Munster Under-21 final was played in Walsh Park and the 23-point trimming we took to Tipperary was evidence of how the apparatus that had kept Waterford a force to be reckoned with in the previous quarter-century was beginning to fall apart – beating Galway in the semi-final was practically a bye in those days. We played Cork in the final in 2007 and got beaten out the gate. 2009 gave a glimpse of what might have been in Fraher against Clare. They won a thriller and went on to dominate the grade ever since. Could this be our time? Scramble for tickets, traffic jams, packed venue, crowd dominated by Waterford fans, a team in their prime, a shot at a little vengeance of our own . . . it’s going to be epic.

Comfortably numb

It’s early days in Division 1B of the 2015 National Hurling League . . . that’s not true, is it? The shape of the division already looks set with Waterford, Limerick and Wexford making the running for promotion. This is probably what would have been expected at the start of the campaign so 0/10 for originality. Of the three teams, we are the team that probably have most to be pleased about. We’re the ones who are saddled most heavily with the dreaded moniker of being ‘in transition’, a phrase which should mean that we are going from one state to another, in our case that of being good to being bad, yet is invariably bandied around to mean you are going from a position of being good to an indeterminate future.  So to find ourselves with an away draw against the team considered most likely to sweep all before them and the only thumping win out of the six games played so far, we have much to be pleased about.

(I have no idea whether points difference counts this year. In the event of a tie on points, will it be head-to-head that counts? Points average? Playoffs? The answer is probably out there somewhere, but I don’t have the energy to look.)

All very predictable, and surely a black mark against the much-maligned setup of the National League where one defeat practically ends any hope of promotion. Yet I find myself warming to the setup. Admittedly that might be shaped by the fact that we are in with a decent shout of a quick return to the top table, but I think I can make a decent argument for the idea that this format ticks more boxes for what we want from a spring competition than any of the other suggestions. By only having a handful of games, each of them is more important. Lose one and you have to win the remaining games to have any chance of getting promoted. Lose two and you are in danger of being sucked into a relegation battle. Even if after three of four games you find yourself with no chance of finishing first or fifth/sixth, there is still jockeying to be had to ensure you avoid the teams in the best form in Division 1A. Most importantly, no game is going to be a certain blowout. Sure, Waterford did it to Laois, but we always beat Laois – this was our tenth win in a row against them in the League dating back to 1984 – and that has been the only game so far in Division 1B which has ended up like that. Can you imagine if Laois now had to face high-flying Dublin or wounded Kilkenny? Heck, imagine if we now had to face high-flying Dublin or wounded Kilkenny? I was feeling pretty good after the opening three games last year only to run straight into a couple of awful beatings at the hands of Clare and Kilkenny. It didn’t do us any good and it certainly wouldn’t do any good for a newish outfit in an eight-team Division 1 or two six-team divisions of equal strength.

It has its weaknesses. Only having two home games for half the teams is not ideal, both from the point of view of giving everyone an equal chance on the field and maximising revenue. The divisions are in danger of getting calcified, with Laois, Offaly and Antrim not being able to look forward to clashes with the biggest counties any time soon. But overall it seems to be working well. Now an honest naming of the divisions – let’s stop fooling ourselves that they are both worthy of the number 1 – and we might have something with a chance of lasting more than a few years.

You can look forward to the same column being recycled this time next year.

Waterford 2-22 (28) Laois 1-15 (18)

You could get used to this. Not the result. It goes without saying that that was worth the effort. And not the game. While it was hard-fought, honest contest played at a decent tempo, it was too error-strewn to be called anything other than mediocre. No, what you could get used to was being able to roll up to the ground less than an hour before throw-in and be back home less than an hour after the final whistle. One of the rarely mentioned virtues of the back door is how it creates the sense of a season, a summer of hurling which is available to more than just a select few.

05 Waterford V Laois 28 June 2014

What you’d never get used to is the early loading of gun and discharge in the toe area. Barely a minute on the clock and the first attack saw Stephen O’Keeffe take a step too far under the high ball/get cleaned out by the forward (delete according to preference) and drop it right in the path of Neil Foyle who had the simple task of tapping the ball into the empty net. With Waterford playing with what looked like a strong wind this was a dream start for Laois. They didn’t make much use of it though as Waterford were soon on top. It was obvious from even the first five minutes that Waterford were that bit more slick than their opponents. Passes were going to hand and any loose balls were being invariably mopped up by a player in white. A couple of  frees from Pauric Mahony, one from way out, soothed the early nerves.

Less relaxing was Waterford’s battle plan. The two-man forward line was back, as were the ‘targeted’ puck-outs. The former quickly made its presence felt in the form of Shane Walsh finding himself moving in on goal with absolutely no support and was eventually hustled out of it and it took Michael Walsh, of all people, to take a shot that went wide. The latter wasn’t long in making an impact either as a short puck-out after a free had been scored by Laois was rattled back over the bar so quickly that I hadn’t even the time to lift my head after noting the previous score.

Frustrating stuff, and a third hair-tearing aspect of Waterford’s play would soon become evident, but not before a moment from Colin Dunford to bring the crowd to its feet. Picking up the ball out around the 45 near the sideline, there didn’t seem to be much on but he accelerated towards the endline and turned inside his man like he were on rails before popping it up to Shane Walsh to bat the ball into the net. He followed up that trick with a sensational point from right in front of us in the stand, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to think we’d kick on from there.

08 Waterford V Laois 28 June 2014

But ooh, that two/one/occasionally no-man full-forward line. I can kinda understand the logic of it against a superior outfit like Cork. Operating on the assumption that they’re better than us, it’s not a bad idea to go off piste in order to confuse them. However, there are two problems: 1) it’s a one-trick pony, Cork had us sussed early in the second and took us apart; and 2) it’s really not necessary against this quality of opposition. I’m not normally one for counting wides as I don’t see them all as being equal, If the ball bobbles out on the dry surface after trying to put a man in space in the corner, it’s not as bad as slashing at it from near the corner flag. But as they piled up, most of them of the dire variety, the frustration was getting to boiling point. Watching the Laois goalie carelessly bat a long ball away, safe in the knowledge that once he got it past Shane Walsh it would be safe as no other Waterford player would be within thirty metres, there was a danger of complete meltdown in the stands.

It needed the half-backs and midfield, completely dominant as they were, to take charge and run at the Laois backs and when they did it reaped the necessary reward. Kevin Moran and Dunford combined to put Laois on the back foot and overwhelming numbers finally told, the ball ricochetting to Shane Walsh to smack in goal number two. Now kick on, please?

Nope. Cue wide number nine, and there wasn’t even 25 minutes on the clock. Darragh Fives did hit over one long-range effort and Mahony slotted over another free to move the lead to five, but the pointlessness (pun unintended) of the tactics were so obvious that a change was finally made, Ryan Donnelly withdrawn for the target man that is Seamus Prendergast. There’s been a lot of stink on boards.ie over this, and it’s fair to say that it must have been chastening for Donnelly, especially given he never had a chance because of the tactics that were employed. He should get over it though. Hopefully there’ll be other opportunities, and the management showing the willingness to make changes rather than sticking to their spiked guns raises the likelihood of more chances for everyone in the future.

Waterford ended the half on the up, a couple of good points from distance on the run and a score from a soft free leaving the half-time score at double figures, but the reaction from the crowd at the whistles was far from jubilant. Had we been told before the game, or even a minute in when already a goal down, that we’d be eight points ahead at half-time I doubt if anyone would have turned their nose up at that. So what explains the grumbles? Normally I’d until the end of this to say where each team was at, but  to understand the dismay in the stand/terraces  you need to get straight to the spoilers. Laois were, to put it kindly, not the team that I had imagined them to be after the near miss against Galway. Not one of their players stood in the way that an established name like Kevin Moran would do, or even a young tyro like Colin Dunford did. Sure, they were well-drilled and kept their shape throughout, which is an advance on previous Laois outfits. But there wasn’t one moment in the game where I expected a Laois player to burn off his Waterford marker or a scramble for a loose ball to end with anything other than a Waterford player emerging with possession, and for a fatalist like me to feel that way is revealing. With that foundation, to be only eight points down was extremely flattering  to Laois and everyone was rightly concerned, not only for what it said about how we’d fare against stronger teams, but also about possible late pileups in the square ending in disaster.

Laois made a couple of changes at half-time and they looked to be paying dividends as they got the first two scores, each completing the sandwich of yet another shocking wide which put the kibosh on any notion that the sun was distracting anyone shooting towards the Keanes Road end of the ground. It proved to be a short-lived spurt from Laois as Seamus Prendergast slotted over from a narrow angle then Shane O’Sullivan did well to draw a foul and give Mahony the chance to restore the eight-point lead. It didn’t ease the tension in the crowd though and when Tadgh de Búrca thought about taking a quick sideline cut the hysterical reaction from the Waterford support spoke volumes.

12 Waterford V Laois 28 June 2014

Anyone reading match reports from neutral observers, laden as they are with bland assurances of the inevitability of Waterford’s eventual success, may wonder what all the fuss is about. The source of the fuss is twofold. By trying to keep things tight, Waterford were only succeeding in making it messy. Playing a possession game, whether via lots of short puckouts or hand passes, created so many working parts that the chances of one of them failing increasingly approaches 1. When it works, it works well as some neat approach work between Seamus Prendegast and Michael Walsh produced a goal chance, the Laois goalie managing to deflect the danger away for a point. When it doesn’t work though it’s horrid as the next attack broke down when Darragh Fives opted to play a hospital pass out wide to the helpless Shane O’Sullivan that bounced apologetically out for wide.

The second concern was the fitness of the Waterford team and, potentially, that of their opponents. We have shown an alarming tendency to implode about three-quarters of the way through games in recent years, and with suggestions that Laois were prepared preceding them any Laois surge was going to give everyone a case of the heebie-jeebies. So it proved midway through the second half here as, having swapped a couple of points, one of which from Waterford the result of Shane Walsh scoring from a sideline ball when Darragh Fives simply walloped it up the field rather than trying anything funny, Laois suddenly went nap. An 11-point lead was reduced to six in a handful of minutes. When you see a puckout being intercepted and drilled back over the bar for the second time, then the goalie gets penalised for timewasting on the puckout and the next move sees him carry it out for a 65 that is duly converted, it was not unreasonable to fret that everything was about to go completely Pete Tong.

21 Waterford V Laois 28 June 2014 Action 1

Thankfully for us, Laois couldn’t make it stick. That cardinal sin, a foul committed on Darragh Fives after the ball has gone, allowed Mahony to restore the three-score cushion, and when a chance for a point for Laois from a free went wide and was immediately punished by Waterford, first with a free of our own then a stunning score right from the puckout by Kevin Moran, Laois’s resistance was finally broken. The game petered out with a couple of points exchanged to leave Waterford winners by an unflattering ten points.

I’ve already given Laois the once-over, so what about Waterford? It was a desperate performance. Michael Ryan couldn’t resist putting the boot in to the effect that he can’t do anything once players cross the white line if they then can’t put the ball between the sticks, and he was right – but only up to a point. To hit so many wides, really bad wides, becomes a fault of management, especially when the strategy involves denying players the outlet of corner-forwards to pick off points. Is this a repeat of Davy’s plan in 2008 of sticking with a plan that wasn’t working – persisting with Ken McGrath at full-back – in the hope of perfecting it? It might be, but it’s an extraordinarily high-risk strategy so it’s surely it’s best to just trust in the players we have to get it right.

And there’s the positive from the Laois game. Before it, I was concerned that we were on the way down and our path was about to intersect with theirs on the way up. Well, they haven’t caught up with us yet. If hurling is a game of fourteen mini-battles then we, despite abdicating a few of them, came out on top in most of them here. The manner in which Kevin Moran swatted over the point that finally ended things showed we still have some players of the highest quality. Not enough to be winning things – but enough to keep us ticking over until the future arrives.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor, Paudie Prendergast, Darragh Fives (0-1), Michael Walsh, Tadgh de Búrca, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane O’Sullivan (Jamie Nagle), Jake Dillon (0-3), Pauric Mahony (0-11, 0-10f), Austin Gleeson (0-1; Gavin O’Brien, 0-2), Ryan Donnelly (Seamus Prendergast, 0-1), Shane Walsh (2-1; Martin O’Neill), Colin Dunford (0-1)

Laois: Eoin Reilly, John A Delaney, Brian Campion, Brian Stapleton (Darren Maher), Joe Fitzpatrick, Matthew Whelan (0-2 65), Tom Delaney, Dwane Palmer (Ciarán Collier), Paddy Purcell (John Purcell, 0-2), Joe Campion (0-1, James Walsh), Willie Hyland (0-5), Stephen Maher (0-2f; Ross King, 0-2f), Neil Foyle (1-0), Charles Dwyer (0-1), Tommy Fitzgerald

HT: Waterford 2-10 (16) Laois 1-5 (8)

Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)

Waterford 2-22 (28) Laois 1-15 (18) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

I cannot get my head around what reasoning (if any) underpins Derek McGrath’s tactics and player selection and placement. Here we were playing Laois on our home pitch with a strongish wind behind us and we employ a sweeper (Tadhg de Búrca) behind our own half back line and a two-man (and frequently a one-man) full forward line. What was this about?

De Búrca got an ocean of free ball inside the Waterford 45 metre line but what was he supposed to do with it? There was little point hitting it long into the full forward line because time and again it came straight back, but with few other options this happened repeatedly.

Given that Laois only played with five forwards, I would have had de Búrca playing in his left half back position where he would have provided an added scoring threat (he is a fine long-distance ball striker) or been more constructive with his use of the ball.

To cover the area where de Búrca would normally be playing (left half back), Austin Gleeson – possibly our forward with greatest scoring potential – is brought back to occupy a position and play a role that is totally foreign to him, and from where he poses no scoring threat. His frustration and desperation were obvious with the two snatched second half shots which led to his substitution.

What role did McGrath envisage for Ryan Donnelly when he picked him? He has come to prominence as a goal-scoring danger man picking up ball around the goal and then using his strength and pace to get into scoring positions. Yet he spent most of his time out the field, again in a role that was foreign to him.

Replacing Donnelly with Seamus Prendergast made no sense at all. Shane Walsh had already done twice what he is very good at – scoring goals from the edge of the square. Yet the introduction of Prendergast meant that Walsh was displaced to the corner or further out the field.

Walsh and Prendergast are useful ball winners but both lack pace. In my view you can only afford to have one of them on the field at the same time. Furthermore, when they are on the field they should be located close to goal with a speedy forward always in close proximity to feed off passes or breaking ball. Pat Horgan got most of his points from play in the replay against Waterford by picking up breaking ball around the D in front of the large square and popping it over the bar. Last Saturday when high balls came into Shane Walsh he was almost always on his own apart from having two markers in close attention, one to knock the ball down and the other to clear it away.

At one stage in the first half last Saturday, Shane Walsh got the ball out near the corner flag and attempted to make his way in along the end line. There was no other Waterford player inside the 45 metre line with whom he could link up. More worryingly, there was no Waterford player busting a gut to get into the goal area to help out. And this is with Waterford playing with the wind?

McGrath’s use of Colin Dunford to mark the Laois sweeper also made little sense. With his pace and close control, Dunford should have been flitting around into space or looking for passes, and then using his great strength i.e. running at defenders. It would have made more sense to me to use Jake Dillon in the sweeper-marking role (if there had to be one).

It seems to me that the key ingredient in McGrath’s tactical approach is fear. His prime concern is to guard against perceived weaknesses rather than play to the players’ strengths. We have players coming out of successful under-age teams being presented with this negativity and inflexibility and being asked to perform roles that are foreign to them and making no use of their capabilities. We should be building up their confidence rather than telling them that they are not capable of slugging it out, man for man, with other teams (including Laois).

Besides, McGrath’s negative tactics have not prevented us from shipping several hidings already this year. Furthermore, Waterford are now totally predictable and easily targetted by other teams, as Cork showed in the replay. In any case, I believe that one of the key ingredients of a successful team is the ability of their forwards to play defensively i.e. stop the other team’s defenders from hitting free ball. It is hard to do this when the other team has one (if not two) free defenders to pick up loose ball or take passes.

In terms of playing to our strengths, I think we should be employing both Fives brothers further out the field. If/when Noel Connors comes back we should place Paudie Prendergast in the other corner, move Shane Fives out to half back or midfield and move Darragh Fives into the half forward line where we desperately need more ball-winning ability.

And what’s the story with Stephen Molumphy? He seemed to be back to full fitness when he came on as a second half sub in the Cork replay. He is a player that I would always have first in the team sheet for his work rate, ball winning ability and sheer cussedness. At first glance, in bringing on both Richie Foley and Jamie Nagle with five minutes to go, I thought that Derek McGrath was just making a token gesture. On reflection, was he sending out a message to Molumphy that he is not part of his plans? If that is the case, then my estimation of McGrath’s managerial abilities sinks even lower.

Waiting for a star to fall

Fans of hurling and Test cricket may not seem obvious sporting bedfellows, apart from a love of the putting of wood to ball, but what they share is that they not only have an abiding passion for their sport, they pity any fools who do not love their sport and endlessly tell them how much they are to be pitied. The fools are usually followers of soccer, and not even the splendour of the World Cup currently taking place in Brazil can cause them to moderate their enthusiasm. If anything, it spurs them to even greater heights of snobbery. You can see ample references to the superiority of the long form of cricket here as England and Sri Lanka played out a thrilling draw in the first test, and hurling fans having a pop on the back of the Kilkenny-Galway game yesterday spurred Jackie Cahill to make the following observation:

Well said, and let’s be blunt about this: it stems from an inferiority complex. Quite apart from the dominance of soccer, hurling and Test cricket have siblings (Gaelic football and the shorter forms of cricket respectively) who cast very long shadows over the game. So any time something really exciting happens in either sport, you have to shout it off the online rooftops for fear of it not being heard at all.

It has to be said though that hurling has a lot to shout about at the moment. After what was near-universally acclaimed as the best Championship year of the lot in 2013, there was a fear that 2014 wouldn’t – couldn’t – live up to those standards, but it’s shaping up nicely with some great matches already played exciting fixtures coming up. With Kilkenny showing some vulnerability against Galway, it would be a brave person who would predict the ultimate winner. All that’s needed to really set things alight would be an up-and-coming teams to beard one of the established favourites.

And lo! what should we have here but Waterford, reeling from the loss of too many old stagers and still waiting for the young Turks to replace them, meeting up with Laois, buoyed by the knowledge that those who are there are an improvement on what went before and eager to get a scalp after a couple of near misses against Galway in the last couple of years.

The odds are still in our favour. Laois will be pleased to have avoided Clare and Tipperary, the other teams they could have drawn once Antrim were placed in with the Munster teams, and Waterford are famously the team everyone thinks they can beat. On the other hand, and don’t tell anyone lest we get accused of arrogance (it’ll be our secret), Laois are the team least likely to freak us out, You have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last time we lost to them in the League, a run of nine straight wins since. To put this into context, Wexford last beat us in 2008, Offaly in 2007, Antrim in 1994, Mayo in 1986, and Kerry and Roscommon in 1985. Yes kids, you read that right – Mayo and Roscommon. They can be encouraged by those performances against Galway, but we showed some form against Cork ourselves. Add in home advantage, and you have to hope the Ken McGrath benefit the night before gets people in the mood, and we can afford to be confident. With improvements evident at all levels of Laois hurling in recent years – Leinster Minor finalists last year, Under-21 finalists the year before – you sense their time is coming and hurling fans will be able to blow our collective trumpet at the latest step in the predestined final global triumph of the greatest game on Earth. Sorry, Test cricket fans, that’s the way it is. Let’s just put if off for one more year.

What goes up, must come down

Fourteen years ago, my siblings and I went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We went in anticipation of a thumping win having won four-from-four up until that point, and Laois were in a pretty sorry state. I’m not sure if my suggestion in the match report I wrote at the time, that their Under-21 footballers were playing that day, was correct. My memory tells me they were playing a challenge match in preparation. But what I can say with some certainty is that we outnumbered their supporters by anywhere from five- to ten-to-one.  As it happened, that day is as close as they have come to beating us in the last thirty years, a run of ten straight wins across League and Championship. Things were bad for Laois. And they were about to get worse.

Five years ago, the first of the next generation arrived in our family and he happened to be born in Laois. This gave me cause to consider their place in the GAA firmament again. Would my nephew have cause to support his father’s county, like we had done in our youth when Waterford were a complete mess and Cork, the land of our forefathers, were bossing it in both hurling and football? Things can change. After all, in the time it had taken us to reach adulthood we had gone from being stuffed by Cork at every opportunity – three defeats in the early-to-mid 1980’s averaging a 24-point loss a game – to a level where we have won as many games as we have lost against them since the turn of the millennium. But it didn’t seem likely in the case of Laois. Could they turn it around from a point where they had lost to Carlow in the first Championship season in which my nephew had been on this planet?

Looking back on those two memories now gives one a hollow feeling. The lack of hoopla in the county in the lead-up to the game on Sunday against Cork – I’ve only seen two cars flying flags, and that may have been the same car twice – testifies to the lack of confidence. The parallels with Laois all those years ago are stark. There were no more than 5,000 Waterford supporters at the Championship opener against Clare last year, so there’s not going to be any more than that this year. Cork fans will likely be cock-a-hoop after a year which saw them come within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland. How close were Cork? Had James Owens, who notoriously blew the final whistle right at the end of injury time in our match against Kilkenny last year, been in charge of the drawn game against Clare and done the same thing, Cork would be All-Ireland champions. That’s how close. As with the Laois fans on that day in O’Moore Park, we’re going to be outnumbered by a factor of several on Sunday. As with the Laois fans on that day in O’Moore Park, the underage team are likely to get a bigger following when the Minors take on Clare in the Munster semi-final than the Seniors will get this weekend.

I fear a battering, the like of which we haven’t seen against Cork in a generation – literally; the last time we took a proper beating from them at Senior level was in 1990. Are we on the cusp of a crossover,  on the way down while Laois, Leinster Under-21 finalists two years ago and Leinster Minor finalists last year, are on the way up? Will I be living vicariously through the happiness of my nephews in the way I thought they would be doing through their father only a few years ago? I’m probably being overly pessimistic. In case you haven’t heard, we’re the All-Ireland Minor hurling champions. Still, everything changes. Might as well brace ourselves for the possibility.

Voices of reason

I was in Galway over the weekend to see Mumford & Sons and was treated to a cosmic snarl-up of traffic as the crowds for the gig and the Galway-Sligo match at Pearse Stadium tried to squeeze into Salthill. How could this clash have been avoided? Obviously the GAA should have rescheduled the match. If ever there’s a clash between a GAA match and the Heineken/Ryder/Tiddlywinks Cup, it is the GAA who must give way. This is because . . . well, it just is, okay?

While trapped in the traffic, we were treated to the previews of the match on Galway Bay FM where the voices of reason were quite explicit in their belief that Sligo need not bother turning up. All was well in Galway football, they were heading in the right direction, Alan Mulholland was the man with the plan and Sligo wouldn’t be able to cope. Later on in the evening one of the Mumford boys would react to some soccer-style olé-olé-oléing by asking whether Galway had won. Bless him for his attempts at ingratiating himself with the crowd, but the answer (not that he received one from the crowd) was a resounding no.

What struck me was that I’d encountered such cockiness before, and also its antithesis. My brother says that analysis of Laois inter-county games on Midlands Radio, both in hurling and football, strikes a similar tone. The Laois hurlers could be playing Kilkenny and the talk would be of how with the hop of the ball Laois would stand a fighting chance. Nothing is impossible for the mighty O’Moore men.

Note that these attitudes stand in marked contrast to similar discussions on WLR. The Waterford footballers could be playing Kilkenny and we’d be warned by the voices coiling their way out of the wireless that we must treat them with the utmost respect lest we be caught on the hop. We’re always at our best when we’re the underdog. God forbid that we might get thoughts above our station and expect to win a game!

So what does all this tell us? I’ve always believed that Waterford teams take to the field four or five points down because of the baggage of history and the defeatist mentality on WLR has always contributed to that feeling. But if the experience in Galway and Laois is anything to go by, talking teams up doesn’t make a jot of difference. The Galway hurling team of the late 80’s and the football team at the turn of the century were good enough and didn’t need smoke blowing up any orifice to be able to win multiple All-Irelands. Although what that means is that we’re not doing the same because we’re not producing the hurlers, and blaming the ghosts of the past is an easy excuse. Who would have believed it?

At least we can rely on Mumford & Sons to produce the goods. Take it away, lads:



That was a curious old affair in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday night between Tipperary and Cork in the Munster Under-21 championship. For 55 minutes it seemed rather bloodless and despite never stamping all over Tipp, Cork always seemed to be in control. When they took an insurance-score four point lead with seven or eight minutes to go it looked like that was that.

Then suddenly Tipp went nap. Five points in the last five minutes and the only time in the match they were in front was the only time when being in the lead mattered. It was to Ger Fitzgerald’s credit in the post-match interview that he managed to remain so calm in the face of such a collapse. Having lost both matches in the Minor championship we can all anticipate a bout of Corkonian navel-gazing at their woes at underage level, and that can only be a good thing.

Result of the night thought had to be in Port Laoise where Laois knocked out the defending Leinster champions Dublin. When the results came around near the end of the programme it took me a few second to take the news in. This was partly because the word  ‘Toradh’ at the top of the screen hit my synapses not as ‘Results’ but as ‘Fruit’. Which makes sense, when you think about it. Once I’d gotten past that piece of Pythonesque farce the enormity of the result sunk in. My nephews are from Laois and while they are too young to understand – 3½ and 1½ respectively – they will be brought up to support Laois. It suddenly looks like a less grim prospect than before. Maybe when they reach their teens I’ll be vicariously living off their happiness rather than the other way around.

One final thought. I’m all in favour of the back door, but the decision to leave the Under-21 championship as pure knockout is a stroke of genius by the GAA. I’d go so far as to say that the do-or-die nature of the competition, combined with the grown-up nature of the competitors, makes the Under-21 championship more prestigious these days than the National Hurling League. No pressure on our Under-21’s next month . . .

Front foot for the back door

Those who have trouble with [the qualifiers favouring strong counties] might be better off coming up with fresh ideas. A handicap system as used in horse racing, perhaps. The best players carrying lead weights in their shorts or, if that is too uncomfortable, maybe the Gooch could play blindfolded or the Cork midfield forced to play with their bootlaces tied together. Leitrim could select their entire stock of able-bodied men under the age of 35, allowing them to field 20 players instead of 15.

I’ve often been an advocate of the backdoor, ploughing at times a lonely furrow in the face of authoritative solutions to the woes of the system, usually between one ridge wanting to return to the old ways and another wanting myriad variations on a Champions League-style format. And the horror show in Port Laoise yesterday will no doubt give fresh impetus to those who have all the answers. So it was refreshing to read John O’Brien giving a robust defence of the status quo in today’s Sindo. It may be specifically about football, but it applies just as well to hurling. The Laois motor is knackered and no amount of tinkering with the potholes on the September road will help the county that have managed to eclipse even the Waterford 31er’s. In the meantime, people need to sit back and enjoy the ride.