Tag Archives: Michael Ryan

If you break it, you own it

The current standoff in the United States is a source of angst to anyone who doesn’t want to see the world’s wealthiest country implode, not least among them being the President and his supporters. However, the law of perverse consequences means that there is some good news for the Democrats. With the fallout from the clash dominating the headlines, teething problems for the health care reforms known as Obamacare are not getting the attention from the enemies of the reforms (i.e. the people causing the shutdown) that they might otherwise have done. The shutdown is effectively providing a smokescreen under which the law that the shutdown is being staged to prevent can be implemented successfully. The irony is delicious.

Here in Waterford, we should be grateful for the ongoing back-slapping operation created by the thunderous finish in the All-Ireland final replay to what was already the most thrilling season of hurling that I, or anyone else of my acquaintance, can remember. You know something special has happened when even Fleet Street newspapers like the Guardian are piling on the love. Hopefully by the time the fuss has died down, we’ll have papered over the cracks exposed by the need to search for a new manager.

For what an embarrassment it has been. Four names emerged from the process, none of them likely to inspire either the supporters or the players who took such exception to Michael Ryan. We can say this much with certainty about the attitude of the players towards one of those names because he was Michael Ryan. While my sympathies lay with him throughout this, it’s a relief that he has withdrawn his name. No manager can hope to function when the whole world knows the players have no confidence in him, so while you can understand his stubbornness in carrying on it was never a starter.

Then we had DJ Carey. A truly great hurler, enough to get a fawning article about him printed in the Observer back in the day (and speaking of embarrassment, the less said about the writer of the article, the better). But what has DJ done as a manager to deserve being fast-tracked to inter-county management? Little enough that even he wasn’t interested. So names were being bandied about of people who didn’t even want the job in the first place. As I said at the top, thank God this wasn’t all happening during the hurling silly season.

As of today, this leaves Peter Queally and Derek McGrath. They’re both solid choices with lots of coaching miles on the clock and, all other things being equal, being from Waterford is an advantage. But both are coming off the back of frustrating defeats – Queally for the Under-21’s, a defeat that felt like a missed opportunity even before Clare romped to Munster and All-Ireland glory, and McGrath seeing his De La Salle team fall to Ballygunner when everyone was already marking them down as county champions. Neither of these defeats fatally undermines the case for them. It means that neither makes a decisive case for their appointment either.  Passage winning the county title might tip the scales in Queally’s favour, but that’s a huge ask. The County Board have insisted they are not limiting themselves to those two candidates. We should hope this is the case, if only so it doesn’t look like McGrath/Queally won the role thanks to the toss of a coin.

One of the lessons that must be learned from the current pickle is that the business of ‘consulting’ squads on the status of the manager is a fudge. The players effectively have a veto over who the manager is. Spare us any flannel about how they never said they were unwilling to play under Michael Ryan. You can’t seriously ask a group of people for their opinion then behave as if that expressed opinion is enough in itself. Maybe it is a good thing to consult the players. There’s something to be said for getting any grievances out in the open rather than letting them fester. The problem is that the players don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions. You can see people already lining up to lambast the County Board over the new manager even though they weren’t the ones who brought us to this situation.

It’s not something I like, but if we are going to insist on this consultation then we should formalise the players veto. At the end of a manager’s term, whether that be two or three years, the players get the chance to express no confidence in the incumbent. This way, they have their fingerprints all over the decision rather than being able to vote no confidence while at the same time claiming that they weren’t really dissing the current manager. It might soften the players cough if they realised that they are owning their decision in the eyes of the public. And who knows? They might be really good at making these calls and we’re all better off as a result. At least we’d be able to assess this with a proper sample size rather than lurching from one crisis to the next, never heeding the warnings from history. Isn’t that right, Mr Obama?

Failure is always an option


RTÉ interviewer: Art McRory, congratulations on reaching the All-Ireland final, a great achievement.

Art McRory: Reaching an All-Ireland final is not an achievement. Winning one is.

There was a right blast from the past over the weekend as sid wallace (not his real name), formerly of the An Fear Rua parish, popped up on boards.ie and immediately made his presence felt. While it may be tempting to dismiss such a truculent character as sid with the troll label, he never struck me as one during his AFR days. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he saw fools everywhere, but he was never contrary just to wind people up. Michael Ryan is entitled to question the wisdom of players who hit a stack of wides against Clare, and sid is entitled to point out that he was the man who sent out the players and they were playing to his game plan. You can dislike his opinion all you like, and I don’t think it’s the correct way of looking at Waterford’s implosion against Clare. But as far as my experience of the man can tell, it’s a sincere opinion and doesn’t fit the old school definition of a troll. Unless you think it just means someone giving a contrary opinion, in which case the word has come to have no meaning.

You may think this Voltairian line of reasoning might better belong on the boards.ie thread, and thus far you’d be right. However, his question asking why “are we clapping ourselves on the back for not beating them?” deserves a more considered response. Failing that, this one will have to do. It’s a stick regularly used to beat teams that don’t go all the way, i.e. that if you go into a game thinking you’ll probably lose then you definitely will. sid wallace’s opinion is similar to the denunciation expressed to my sister by a member of the Dublin branch of the Waterford GAA Supporters Club when they planned to have a shindig prior to the 2008 All-Ireland final. Have it when we won it, said the denunciator, and they probably thought the scale of the massacre could be explained by the defeatist mentality of having a get-together before we’d got our hands on the Liam McCarthy Cup. The opinions of sid and this man are so spookily similar that you might think they were the same person. You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment . . . Anyway, as Art McRory noted in the above quote that I recall hearing after Tyrone had beaten Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland football semi-final, there’s nothing objectively special about reaching an All-Ireland final – just ask Mayo – and if that’s all you aspire to then you can forget about ever making the final push to glory.

As someone who believes that Waterford teams have to overcome the handicap of history, this is an idea that should appeal to me. But it doesn’t, and for the reason it doesn’t you need look no further than the words of Art McRory and the impact they had on Tyrone. It was all very well Art talking the talk but when Tyrone found themselves seven points clear of Kerry they were unable to walk the walk and it would be another seventeen years before Tyrone reached the promised land. You might argue that  the 80’s was a different time in the GAA, when teams from Ulster were so cowed that they viewed their only hope of reaching an All-Ireland final was in the third year when they were up against the champions of Connacht. Or you could just ask Waterford. So for a more contemporary viewpoint on the pointlessness of talking yourself up, let’s get the words of Joe Dooley. As someone who won three All-Irelands, the third of which in 1998 was the last time a county outside the Big Three won the big one, you think he’d know something about the benefits of bigging up your ability. And while manager of the Offaly hurlers in recent years, he was having none of it:

In my time as Offaly Manager, our mantra always was that we would be as well prepared as we could be to take advantage of any dip in form by Kilkenny who were playing at a different level. I am sure Dublin’s approach was very similar and all their perseverance and hard work has paid off this year.

No blarney from Joe about wiring into them from the word go or how to not stop believing. You prepare as well as you can, hope that you hit 100% of your potential and that the other lot don’t fire on all cylinders on the day. Don’t insult the intelligence of players by telling them that they’re better than the opposition when clearly they’re not, and hope the innate pride in the jersey will see them through. Anything else is to engage in the magic of self-delusion.

Now, none of this is to say that there are no psychological barriers for a team to overcome. Looking at Dublin come up short against Cork last week, I wondered whether that failure will count against them in years to come in much the way our near misses in the early 00’s began to fester as the decade went on. Rome wasn’t built in a day though, and you’re not going to burst through those hangups by one spectacular win. It’ll be by the accumulation of the little wins, ranging from the Primary game between the Intermediate and Senior game in the Munster championship to Minor semi-finals in Croke Park, that the demons will be slain. sid says that if Michael Ryan is “the best we can get we may throw our hats at it“. So if it were to be demonstrated that he was the best we could do, would sid seriously suggest giving up on hurling? I’d like to think not. We play to win, but more importantly you have to play to play. To not play is the biggest failure of them all.

Another fine mess

10 Waterford v Tipperary 24 March 2013

I had decided in my own mind that I would not comment on the resignation of Michael Ryan until after all the interested parties had made the positions known, but the interview with Ryan on Championship Matters last night has moved the goalposts as a) it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere fast, and b) the silence from the players is deafening. So it’s timely to have a look at where we’re at and where we are going.

The first thing to note is that ‘player power’ is one of those things you either find an acceptable part of the game or hate with a passion, and all the facts of a situation can be manoeuvred to suit those prejudices. I’m in the latter camp. That’s not to say I don’t understand the phenomenon of player power and why people support it. It’s understandable that players on a county panel, who in marked contrast to the past will spend more time together than they would with their club mates, feel a sense of togetherness. I can accept the opinion, honestly expressed, of someone who thinks that their collective viewpoint is valid and should be taken into account when selecting the manager.

I can accept it, but I don’t agree with it. For me, you are a member of the panel because the manager has selected you. If you are dropped, you are no longer a member of the panel. And, most pertinently, the panel ceases to be once the season is over. You often hear (and I’m a great believer in it) that each of the players owe us nothing. When John Mullane retired, he didn’t ‘walk away’ or ‘let anyone down’. He had given over a decade of sterling service and would no longer be available for selection. No problem, so long and thanks for the memories. But this cuts both ways. Please note that I’m not saying he has had any direct influence over what has unfolded in the last week – he has made it quite clear he has not had an influence – and this is the way it should be.

For even if you think that this is a needlessly rigid way of looking at the player-manager relationship which excludes the viewpoint of some very important stakeholders in the fate of the county team, consider this: if the players get their way over who the manager is, yet things don’t improve or even get worse, who carries the can? If the officers of the County Board get it wrong, they are subject to the will of the clubs. We practically had civil war in the late 80’s when Eamonn Murphy was determined to act in a certain manner over the appointment of Joe McGrath. Yet who is to intervene if the players make the wrong choice? As Spider-man said, with great power comes great responsibility, and he never had as onerous a responsibility as taking on Brian Cody.

That’s my manifesto, and I can accept that someone can think I’m being hopelessly naive and still honourably want what is best for the county. People closer to the players will have heard expressions that Michael Ryan doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. Indeed, at the risk of playing the game of dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi, I was reliably informed before the League of a certain player’s dissatisfaction with the management team. If someone chooses to put greater weight on that than my airy-fairy principles, fine. We can agree to differ.

What I can’t accept, especially from proponents of the Realpolitik of player democracy, is the idea that this was in reality an expression of player democracy. The bare facts of the heave seem to be that eleven of the players met in the Ramada at 11am last Sunday. After a ringaround of the other players, it was agreed that the vote was 18-12 in favour of a motion of no confidence in Michael Ryan. Maybe those facts will change, but if not then it’s nothing short of disgraceful. Having a meeting consisting of barely a third of the electorate smacks of Scargill-esque democracy of the committed. I would go so far as to suggest that those eleven had already made up their minds to depose Ryan. They set the agenda, and a series of phone calls followed where they could tell the other players, half of whom were on their way to Dublin or already in Croke Park, that yeah we’ve agreed Scully isn’t up to the job what do you think remember that time he couldn’t pronounce that word he’s only ever won medals with women you want to get rid of him too good thanks see ya enjoy the match. Perhaps this is harsh and it was a much fairer debate, but the optics of the bare facts are absolutely terrible for the players. As things stand, to stand with them is to stand for a coup.

What now? I’m still hopeful we can step back from the abyss. Everyone wants what is best for Waterford hurling. Someone in the County Board should organise a meeting between all the players, a group that can include anyone who has had a sniff of inter-county hurling in recent years, and Michael Ryan. I’m convinced that Michael Ryan is not going to be stubborn in the face of a player revolt in the manner that Justin McCarthy was in Limerick. The speed with which he handed in his cards showed he won’t stick around if he is not wanted. However, subsequent revelations have suggested that the support for his ousting is built on sand. In the manner of the Dayton accords, let’s stick them all in a room and not let them out until they’ve all agreed on a way forward. Just remember not to schedule this meeting for the second Sunday in September.

Fitting a quart into a gallon pot

I hope Dermot Keyes doesn’t think I’m picking on him for using a couple of his tweets as the hooks for this post. I do so, Dermot, because I’m a parasite. I mean, because I care. Yes, definitely the latter. Anyway, the release of the Waterford team for Saturday’s big game – very big game, it seems – had me thinking in the general and the particular. In general, it’s refreshing to see Michael Ryan announce a team in advance that we can be confident reflects his thinking on how Waterford are going to line out. Recently we’ve seen Liam Dunne put out mock teams, leading Dermot to observe:

‘Juvenile’ is the perfect word for it. Liam Dunne’s rant reminded me of an Aprés Match sketch where Risteard Cooper summed up the philosophy of Jack Charlton: “I’ll play who I like, when I like. And if I don’t want to pick a guy, I will, because I can, if I like. I think”. Someone should ask Dunne how many points his exercises in acting-the-maggot are worth to his team because it didn’t seem to do them any good last weekend. The idea that the opposition will be blindsided by a lineup stroke so brilliant that it can be the difference between winning and losing is ridiculous. Pick your 15 and adjust them according to circumstances on the day.

In particular, and as for our starting 15, Dermot had some exciting news:

How intriguing! What stroke was Michael Ryan going to pull that would have us all talking?

Stephen O’Keeffe
Shane Fives Liam Lawlor Noel Connors
Jamie Nagle Michael Walsh Darragh Fives
Paudie Prendergast Kevin Moran (capt)
Jake Dillon Seamus Prendergast Shane O’Sullivan
Jamie Barron Maurice Shanahan Brian O’Sullivan

Oh. Maybe I’m missing something here, but either they have backed away from a truly radical selection or they never intended to put one into place to start with.

The only selection here that is a surprise is that of Stephen O’Keeffe in goal. What did Ian O’Regan do so wrong in the Clare game that it invalidated the decision to select him for that game? There is no coherent strategy in this position, and Ian O’Regan really must love his county (© John Mullane) to put up with these slings and arrows and never rise up against them. As for the rest of the team, there can’t be many quibbles. Shane Fives is fit, so he comes in and we can be certain Darragh Fives won’t be faffing around in the corner.  Jamie Nagle is fit and will probably be fit to burst now that his status as a Championship hurler of choice has finally been cemented. So the injury news is positive in the backs, but further up the field it’s all negatives. Anyone who watched the Clare game in isolation would think it makes perfect sense for Maurice Shanahan to replace Pauric Mahony in at full-forward, but they’d want to be very isolated not to hear the howls of frustration that echoed around the county when Shane Walsh picked up another injury last Sunday. You can argue the toss over whether Brian O’Halloran or O’Sullivan is a better choice, but we are definitely weaker for the absence of Walsh.

Not that the absence of O’Halloran is insignificant, because it shows how we’re running on empty. It’s hard to see where Michael Ryan could have been radical, even if he were inclined that way. Pick Gavin O’Brien, perhaps? The team is picking itself for the most part, and the hope must be that, as Tomás McCarthy suggested in his Clare report, that we were a lot closer to victory that day than the final quarter suggested. If we’re not, I fear the knives are going to be out.

Waterford 1-15 (18) Clare 2-20 (26)

34 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013 Cover

Here comes the summer! We’d all like to see crowds of 50,000 in Thurles on a Munster championship Sunday, but it has its costs. Where’s the pleasure in parking out by Thurles Golf Club, wading your way through rivers of vomit, taking a seat in a completely different part of the stadium to other members of your family, and being stuck in amongst a group of people who don’t know the game/incessantly bellow for the opposition/both? Last year I saw something deeply wrong with a relatively poor attendance. This year? How could you feel churlish when we felt confident enough to leave jackets in the car? Here comes the summer!

35 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013 Ticket

All the pre-match speculation about the lineup of the teams proved to be accurate as Waterford rejigged positions with Maurice Shanahan going in full-forward and Paudie Prendergast popping up in the corner. For Clare, both Cian Dillon and Darech Honan had made miraculous recoveries. Someone really should tell Davy that a surprise is something that no one sees coming. A good example would be him keeping his cool over a free given against his team only ninety seconds in as the referee missed Jamie Barron picking the ball off the ground. Had Davy waited even a picosecond longer he would have seen the linesman agreed with him and was furiously waving his flag to that effect and the ref, to his credit, admitted his mistake and changed the decision. What are the chances of Davy ever doing that?

What was surprising was how quickly Clare were out of the blocks. When my wife asked me beforehand what I thought would happen, I had opined that if anyone was going to run away with it, it was Clare (if this feels like preparation for a spot of reverse ferreting after my intemperate comments before the game, you’re probably right) because they were clearly a less well-known quantity than Waterford. But you wouldn’t expect such a new team, with so few Munster championship wins to their name,  to take flight as easily as they did as Clare raced into a four-point lead. A 65 from Colin Ryan, awarded after his free from Barron’s foul went out off a Waterford back, opened the scoring. There followed two quick fire points from John Conlon, the first after he had pilfered the ball from between two Waterford players who managed to get in each others way, and the second from the subsequent puckout as he eased onto the ball and slotted it between the posts. Colm Galvin then had the freedom of the park to give Clare a four-point lead after only five minutes and you began to wonder whether Davy had produced alchemy of a type that would have had Isaac Newton bowing in admiration.

31 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013 Action 1

Everything looked awful, right down to a short puckout to Jamie Nagle who, with all due respect (and there’d be plenty due over the next hour or so), hasn’t got the most monstrous puck himself, thus leaving Waterford no further up the field than most poc fada goalies could manage. What we needed was a moment of carelessness from a Clare back to soften their collective cough. So props to the Clare back who hit a hospital ball to a teammate that was pounced upon by Jake Dillon. With the entire Clare defence on the front foot there was only thing on his mind even at a good 45 metres out from goal, and he got into position and struck a delightful bouncing bomb into the far corner. Had this happened at the other end, we’d have been passing out the sick bags. Great stuff.

Ship steadied, we now began to motor. Dillon could have had another goal when he had the room behind from an error by a Clare back in which to move but he had already decided he was going to flick the ball up and bat it over the bar and that’s what he did to level matters. A free from Ryan after Honan had been fouled put them ahead again but he also sent one from further wide. Still, that wasn’t an easy one and you could only wince as Pauric Mahony mis-hit a free from inside the 45 to drop it into the lap of the Clare goalie. It was not an auspicious day for the art of the dead ball as Waterford cleared a dreadful sideline cut from Ryan to Seamus Prendergast who scored to take the edge off Mahony’s earlier miss.

A soft free allowed Ryan to restore Clare’s lead but the remainder of the half would belong to us. Kevin Moran teed up Pauric Mahony for a fine score to level matters again, then Shane O’Sullivan and Jamie Nagle combined to romp down the right wing and give Maurice Shanahan the chance to put Waterford ahead for the first team. Unfortunately Pauric Mahony’s score had not eased his stage fright as he missed another relatively easy free but it didn’t seem to matter that much, so on top were the Waterford half-backs and midfield. One run from Kevin Moran saw him flick the ball over a Clare player and release Mahony who was fouled to give Maurice Shanahan the chance (ahem) to stretch the lead to two from the free. Another botched sideline cut from Ryan was given the a proper punishment by Waterford as we swept up the field and Mahony earned another free to give Shanahan the chance to put us a full goal ahead. The backs were winning oceans of possession and using it well, and even when Clare were getting in behind us we saw Honan being pushed shepherded out wide where he could only drift a shot wide of the posts. An over-the-shoulder effort from Jake Dillon saw us go four points and Clare felt sufficiently spooked to bring on Peter Duggan. Right from the start he was clearly in the mould of a fixer, sent to lift the crowd and soften up the Waterford players. His first contribution was to pluck the ball salmon-like from the air . . . then be hustled out of it by four Waterford players. Spare us all from hurling’s Great White Dopes.

32 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013 Action 2

Through all of this Waterford’s wide count was beginning to stack up, Jamie Barron having slashed at a decent chance and Shanahan hitting a free from a goodly distance out wide, but the dominance of the backs and the precise nature of  their play, all effortless creation of space and precise balls into space was music that was lulling my senses. O’Sullivan and Nagle in particular were outstanding, easily matching and even exceeding the efforts of Moran and Walsh, and there can be no higher praise than that. Even a drag by O’Sullivan on an advancing Clare forward to give away a free from which Ryan scored to trim the gap to three felt planned – don’t give them a sniff of a goal chance. When Shanahan failed to get a free for an obvious drag and was instead penalised for overcarrying, it felt like justice when the free dropped short and Tony Kelly failed to take advantage of a decent chance when Ian O’Regan’s clearance was blocked. A long-range effort from Moran went for another wide but any sense of frustration was quickly nipped in the bud as he strode onto a careless puckout and smashed it straight between the posts to get us all punching the air with delight. There was a mild moment of panic at the other end when Curran made space for the Clare forwards with his mullocking ways but Kelly ending up taking the point, and the half ended with Shanahan knocking over another free after he had been clothes-lined to leave us with an eight-point swing at half-time from those scary opening five minutes.

It’s very important to emphasise at this stage how satisfied everyone was with what had unfolded. The Waterford team got a standing ovation as they came off. The full-back line had stood firm in all cases and the half-backs and midfield were cleaning up. Yes, the forwards had been a bit wasteful but six different players had scored from play and with Shanahan firmly in the free-taking saddle it was looking very good indeed. They looked so well coached. If they kept playing like this and stuck to the game plan, what could possibly go wrong?

In retrospect, the game would be lost in the first ten minutes of the second half and there were moments that, even at the time, you could see would lead to the quailing of the stoutest of hearts. An early snatched-at effort by Barron was followed up by an even more dispiriting effort by Mahony, his effort coming on the back of a quite brilliant piece of play by Nagle where he deftly batted the ball off the hurley of an advancing Clare player and played Mahony in for what should have been a tub-thumping score. A third awful wide of the first eight minutes of the second half, this time a hasty effort from Seamus Prendergast of all people, had me making a despairing contemporaneous note – MULLANE. Had we made hay in those opening minutes of the half, gotten seven/eight points clear, forced them to start going for goals, our heads kept in the air . . . who knows?

22 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013

We didn’t though, and maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference because the turnaround we were about to see was total. A great score on the run by Tony Kelly showed the Waterford forwards how it was done – eight minutes in and the first score of the half – and the gap was halved when Ryan stroked over a free after Paudie Prendergast had despairingly fouled Shane O’Donnell to prevent something worse happening. Shanahan looked to have stopped the rot with a fine long distance effort after a pirouetting Moran had been clipped by his opposite number. It looked nasty and surely hurt like hell, but the ref correctly recognised there hadn’t been a shred of malice in it and no card was issued. Overall, Mr McGrath had a very good game. Meanwhile Waterford were now firmly on the back foot, exemplified when Jake Dillon was giving away frees in scoring range for Clare. Ryan popped this one over the bar, and when the ref mysteriously whistled up for some off-the-ball action in the Waterford right-corner – terrible officiating! – Ryan had the simple task of taking the score and reducing the gap to one. Nagle was harshly penalised for a push on Duggan and yet again Ryan was on hand to level matters. Clare seemingly could only score in five minutes spurts.

Darragh Fives gave Waterford some relief with a rampaging run which ended in him being fouled to give us back the lead from Shanahan’s free but it didn’t last long as Honan got the freedom of the park to level matters. You can see another seven letter word on my notes at this point – FITNESS. People who climb mountains may only be good at climbing mountains, but Clare had really scaled the one we had put in front of them in the first half. All the dominance we had shown in the half-back line was now a distant memory as Clare rammed every ball back down our collective throat. A great run by Ryan ended in another none-shall-pass foul and it spoke volumes that this time Clare felt sufficiently pumped up that Kelly decided to go for a goal. Personally I think you’re asking for trouble with this kind of gambit. With about ten backs between you and the goal the odds are pretty low and should the opposition clear it then it can be a tremendous boost for morale, effectively a very bad wide. And thus it initially proved as someone in the square got a stick to it and Kevin Moran went to clear. However, note the words of Rod Laver. He said that a break in tennis wasn’t truly a break until you had held your serve. This was much the same scenario as Moran’s clearance was blocked by Duggan – damn these mullockers – and the ball pinged to Shane O’Donnell who couldn’t miss from point-blank range.

33 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013 Action 3

What a disaster. Waterford were completely rattled, Mahony demonstrating this with a crazy pull out on the 65 that was never going anywhere near the posts. A similar effort from O’Sullivan reinforced how badly Waterford were struggling, the deft creating of space by half-back and midfield before leaving the ball was ancient history. Clare were having no such problems, first to every ball and finding space with ease, Honan getting a fine score with no Waterford player within five yards of him. O’Sullivan showed there was some individual life in the Waterford dog, drawing a foul and allowing Shanahan to keep the deficit down to a single score, but collectively we were clearly a beaten team. When Seamus Prendergast tripped his marker as he emerged with the ball, it proved how the Waterford players were a step behind the mountain climbers, and the subsequent free-out was galloped onto by Conor McGrath and he had no problem batting the ball past the exposed O’Regan. Game as good as over.

Gavin O’Brien had come on for Jamie Barron and showed the benefit of fresh legs in these circumstances with a nice score, but the strength of the Clare players was overwhelming, Tony Kelly reacting with his third point of the game straight from the puckout. Jake Dillon managed to get a decent score on the run although in the circumstances he might have been better off putting the head down and going for goal. We weren’t going to win this picking off points and when Shanahan was given a charitable free about 30 metres out he was probably in two minds about whether to try and drill the ball towards the goal. Whatever it was, he flicked the ball up and completely missed striking it. It surely should have been a free out when he stabbed the ball along the ground towards goal  – if not, what’s to stop a player gingerly lofting the ball several yards in front of them then striking it as it came down? – but the play carried on and could have been a crazy goal which might have undeservedly revived our fortunes. Instead O’Brien’s Seamus Prendergast’s pull seemed to be deflected over the bar and the chance was gone.

It was to be our last score of the game. It pains me to say it, but for the last seven minutes we were a rabble. I’m not saying they didn’t try, but heads were firmly between knees at this stage. Colin Ryan could have had a goal of Mickey Sheehy/Paddy Cullen standing when Ian O’Regan’s clearance having gone walkabout dropped into his lap but his shot drifted wide. Fergal Lynch also could have had a goal but took a point to guarantee himself on the scoresheet. Colm Galvin scored a tremendous point from distance and Ryan added another free, then another score from Galvin with nary a Waterford player in sight truly twisted the knife right on the final whistle. Those last few scores breezed by in a blur – that’s the polite way of saying I hadn’t clue at this stage, please don’t treat my scorers as gospel. Given the extent to which Waterford had been on top for large periods, those scores flattered Clare – but not by much.

29 Waterford v Clare 2 June 2013

I’m not angry or bitter at Waterford for what happened. The feeling is one of resignation. I don’t think I was being unreasonable for questioning where the evidence of Clare’s progress under Davy Fitz was to be found. I have to admit that those who read between the lines got it right. He has some very talented players and has whipped them into shape in the way he does best. For Michael Ryan, the drawing board must look more like the writing on the wall. The backs gave the forwards a platform to win this and they failed to take it. The best that can be said now is that the back door might give them an opportunity to put it right.

Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Darragh Fives, Liam Lawlor, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Paudie Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran (capt, 0-1), Maurice Shanahan (0-7, 0-6f), Seamus Prendergast (0-2), Brian O’Halloran (Ray Barry), Jamie Barron (0-1; Gavin O’Brien, 0-1), Pauric Mahony (0-1; Martin O’Neill), Jake Dillon (1-2)

Clare: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O’Donovan, David McInerney, Cian Dillon, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan (capt), Patrick O’Connor, Colm Galvin (0-3), Seadna Morey (Peter Duggan; Fergal Lynch, 0-1), John Conlon (0-2), Tony Kelly (0-3), Colin Ryan (0-8, 0-7f, 0-1 65), Darach Honan (0-3), Shane O’Donnell (1-0; Padraic Collins), Conor McGrath (1-0)

HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Clare 0-8 (8)

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)

All the players that are fit to play

I think it’s a good idea to nail your colours to the mast before the first Championship as to what team you think should take to the field so that I can’t be accused of being wise after the event should the team that does line out bellyflop in a spectacular manner, and that’s what I was planning to do. Imagine my surprise when Michael Ryan gazumped me by releasing the team on Tuesday rather than the Friday before the game that seems to be the norm these days. This is a good thing. Spare us the mind game nonsense and allow us to have a natter about the choices made before the event.

Ian O’Regan
Darragh Fives Liam Lawlor Noel Connors
Jamie Nagle Michael Walsh Paudie Prendergast
Shane O’Sullivan Kevin Moran (capt)
Maurice Shanahan Seamus Prendergast Brian O’Halloran
Jamie Barron Pauric Mahony Jake Dillon

Although you could argue that there wasn’t much in the way of ‘choice’ available to Michael Ryan and co. The most obvious place where he had to make an either/or decision was in goal, where we see Ian O’Regan make a Lazarus-style return to Championship hurling after a nine-year absence. I’m normally one for saying that the only objective measure of performance is how you did in the League. This isn’t because I think the League is a crucible in which legends are forged – it clearly isn’t – but because there’s no other measure that makes any sense when dealing with unseasoned players. Stephen O’Keeffe has only played two more Championship games than O’Regan and is hardly an undisputed choice (nor would Adrian Power be if he were still in the mix), so why not stick with the incumbent who kept two clean sheets in the last two games after O’Keeffe has been to blame for the loss to Kilkenny? To which I respond that I find it hard to believe that those two games were enough to answer the questions that have always clung to ‘Iggy’ since that wretched day against Kilkenny in 2004. If we are going to maximise our potential, it has to be with players who have the capacity to be good rather than good enough, and I still think O’Keeffe is the former and O’Regan the latter.

At least in this case Michael Ryan had a choice, because the rest of the team has the alarming appearance of being output of a check on who were the last men standing.

The spine of the team looks good.  Liam Lawlor has staked a decisive claim at full-back and what a relief it is to be able to say that after all these years (no disrespect intended to Declan Prendergast). Brick Walsh is the best centre-back in the country, Shane O’Sullivan and Kevin Moran are a top midfield pair, and Seamus Prendergast is a reliable ball winner who also invariably weighs in a couple of scores in each game.

For the rest of the team though, it’s a question of looking at who is not there. The lack of goals was a feature of Waterford’s play throughout the League and a lot of the satisfaction from our performances would have been underpinned by the idea that Shane Walsh was likely to make a return for the Championship, scorer of 3-11 in his last six outings. Yeah, this was good but it was going to be better come the summer! How deluded can you be? The presence of Pauric Mahony in the full-forward line does not inspire confidence. I don’t know which thought is more depressing – that he might not start there and the team sheet is purely notional, or that they’re going to give him a few minutes to see how he gets on. In Championship terms this is an entirely new full-forward line. A lot seems to be riding on Jamie Barron and Jake Dillon making a smooth transition to the biggest stage. Maybe they will, but it’s going to be a white-knuckle ride for all concerned.

At least the absence of Shane Walsh is not a surprise. More alarming is the impact the recent injury to Shane Fives has had on the team. Thanks to his excellent form, it all looked very neat after the League with him in one corner, Noel Connors in the other, and any permutation from Moran, Jamie Nagle, Darragh Fives and *genuflects* Tony Browne as wing-backs. Then Shane Fives comes a cropper and suddenly it all goes wrong. Darragh Fives is slated to go into the corner, and you have to admire his stoicism in the face of once again being asked to make do (he could probably get some pointers on this from Declan Prendergast) but remove one piece from the Jenga tower and suddenly it looks precarious. Again, you wonder whether that’s how they’ll line out – Prendergast in the corner instead? – though the best that can be said for such jiggery-pokery is that they hope it might confuse Clare. Good luck with that.

We have had rotten luck with injuries – you can add Stephen Daniels to the tale of woe as well – and any county would struggle to cope with the loss of players of the calibre of Stephen Molumphy and John Mullane. We saw against Cork last year how shallow the pool of talent is, and it hasn’t gotten any deeper in the intervening period. So I’m very nervous about Sunday.

For all of that, what is it with Clare? I know they’ve got a number of underage titles from recent years but it’s a long time since they did anything worth talking about at Senior. The notorious 1998 Munster final was the last time they won anything at this level yet you’d swear it was only yesterday, the way some pundits are blowing smoke up their collective arse. You might argue that Davy Fitz will make all the difference, but based on what? Promotion from Division 1B and a mediocre run through the Championship last year, and coming within a whisker of getting relegated this year? It’s strange how Davy Fitz’s management style was seen as an impediment to Waterford yet is such a perfect match for Clare. The predictions seem to be based on alchemy, surely a meaningless metric by which to measure excellence as opposed to ‘results’. Maybe we’ll see some of that alchemy from Waterford on Sunday. Jamie Barron and Jake Dillon to be the bestest corner-forward pair since Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill took on a team of Scottish giants at hurling/shinty. Their team captain? Tony Browne. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

1B or not 1B?

[table id=243 /]

At the start of the 2012 National Hurling League campaign, Waterford had lost only one more match than we had won in the history of the competition. There is a slight wrinkle in that statistic in that it looks like we gave walkovers to three counties in the first year of the League, which would count as defeats, but I’ve not been able to confirm that the games did not take place. It’s a moot point now though as the scales are firmly moving in the direction of the Lost side. The 31 points we shipped yesterday to Tipperary, quite apart from being the number of the Beast  to Waterford supporters, is the fourth highest total score we’ve conceded in the NHL . . . .

. . . and the highest amount of scores ever conceded.

(Click on the row heading in this table to sort the matches by points or total score.)

Another wrinkle in these statistics is that League matches were only 60 minutes long until a few years back, but it’s a bad stat whatever way you cut it, made worse by Tipperary scoring an eye-watering 26 points from play.  So it’s not surprising that some people are wondering whether dropping down a division would be such a bad thing. There’s some merit to the idea that we’d be better prepared if we could play in a few matches where we had a hope of victory. The absolute worst thing Michael Ryan could do now would be to ‘blood’ a few more youngsters as their confidence would be in bits before they ever had a chance. Just as being massacred when they made their infrequent forays in with the big boys never did the likes of Derry or Down any good, maybe a few matches against Clare or Limerick would build up our reserves.

It’s a superficially attractive idea, but wrong. As the Offaly contributor dotsflan points out, playing at what is meant to be their own level has done a lot of harm to the Faithful County’s prospects. The game is simply too ‘plodding’  to be any kind of preparation for the move up in the ranks. And besides, I want Waterford to be playing Kilkenny and Tipperary. It’s an extension of the idea I’ve being banging on about recently with the League of Ireland – you want to see the big teams, and with hurling you have the added bonus of knowing this is the best that the sport has to offer rather than just being the best this island has to offer. We still have a clear path to survival. Hope Dublin lose to Tipperary then jam it against the Dubs in Fraher Field. Oh, and we could beat Galway too, right?

Waterford 4-9 (21) Clare 3-17 (26) – Giveitfong’s view

Not only was this game a farce, from a Waterford point of view, but it is beginning to look as though our new selectors are a farce too. If they weren’t bothered about winning this game (and that’s the way it looked) they could have told us in advance, so that the thousand or so people who turned up could have saved themselves the €10 admission fee and cost of getting to the game.

There has been no apparent sense of purpose in the selection of teams in the Crystal Cup and pre-season challenges. There has been no systematic rotation of players so that all available players on the panel could get a decent chance in their best positions. Instead, some established players have played in all the games, while some squad members have hardly figured at all.

Several players are on the panel and getting games although it should be obvious by now that they are not fit for championship hurling. Michael Ryan has been criticised for having a number of Fourmilewater players on the panel, although we have seen very little of them. Yet it seems to me that there are a lot of Mount Sion and De La Salle players in the squad who have no business being there.

What has Eoin McGrath done to deserve a place on the panel, never mind on the team? What particular function is he supposed to perform? He played the entire game today, first at corner forward, then at midfield, then at left half forward – all to no effect, while young players with potential were left on the sideline.

From what I have seen, Dean Twomey is nowhere near the level required in terms of technique or ball control. He was eventually replaced by another De La Salle player, Paudie Nevin, who in my view is not up to intercounty standard either.

I have nothing against Mount Sion or De La Salle, but there are much better players than those mentioned who are not getting a look in. Clare had four of last year’s minor team playing today, and all played well. Waterford have had three good minor teams in the last three years, yet only one player from these teams (Martin O’Neill) played today. Why, when the team was doing so badly today, were only two substitutes used (and even then, one was an enforced substitution) while Clare used four substitutes?

Some of the tactics employed today defied comprehension. Waterford used a three-man midfield in the second half, even though they were chasing the game. This left them with a two-man full forward line of Shane Walsh and Martin O’Neill, neither of whom is blessed with pace. They were being marked by three pacy defenders, so predictably most of the ball that came in came straight back out again.

Waterford eventually reverted to an orthodox forward layout with Seamus Prendergast moving to full forward and, hey presto, they scored three goals and brought two excellent saves from the Clare goalie. And this without any presence on the left wing, where the Clare right half back was cleaning up on Eoin McGrath. At least Maurice Shanahan was winning loads of ball on the other wing, and he worked his socks off, even though his use of the ball wasn’t the most productive.

A couple of statistics from the game. Waterford got two points from play (both by Shane Walsh); Clare got thirteen. Three Waterford players scored from play (Martin O’Neill and Seamus Prendergast got two goals each); the corresponding figure for Clare was ten.

Tony Kelly came on for Clare wearing No, 25 and scored a peach of a long range point.

Finally, congratulations to Dungarvan CBS, who beat Clonmel CBS in the semi-final of the Munster Colleges Senior B competition on Saturday, despite being short a lot of players due to injuries and suspensions.

Update: My apologies, I was wrongly informed. The Kelly who came on for Clare yesterday was Patrick, not Tony. My information now is that Tony, who was the star of the Clare minor hurlers over the last two years, was invited onto the senior panel but opted to return to school to repeat the Leaving Cert. This means that Clare only had three of last year’s minors on the team yesterday.

Waterford 4-9 (21) Clare 3-17 (26)

An Spailpín Fanach recently made the point that the Irish Independent, in the guise of Phil-Space-in-Chief Martin Breheny, routinely comes up with scare stories about the effect other sporting events have on GAA attendances and what a nonsense this line of thought usually is. “You only get proper GAA people at League games” he wryly observed. How right he is, and you wonder how many people came to this match with the intention of demonstrating just what an authetic Gael they are. It certainly can’t have been for the thrill of manly competition because this was as bloodless as a game played with metal-tipped pieces of wood gets. And for 10 yoyos there would not have been a single casual person at this game.

There was one thing that made this a worthwhile exercise though – seeing a Waterford man prowl the sidelines in charge of our senior team for the first time in nearly two decades. Could anything long-term be divined about Michael Ryan’s plans for the team? About the best that can be said is that he doesn’t look like a man given to tinkering. Not only did the Waterford team line out as on the clár oifigiúil, they even took up their positions as per 1-15. This isn’t just useful from the perspective of the amateur hack. It suggests the man knows his mind, is willing to give his experiments a chance, and not going to change them willy-nilly.

That’s the positive spin from this game. All of it.

It started pretty well. After a couple of quick scores from Clare, one a fine effort from midfielder Patrick Donnellan where he rammed a long Adrian Power puckout back down our throats with interest, Waterford settled down. Martin O’Neill could have had an early goal for us but wanted to turn onto his good side when the trigger needed pulling instantly, and Shane Walsh picked up where he left off on 2011 with two quick scores, the second an excellent over-the-shoulder effort. A foul on Eoin McGrath gave O’Neill the opportunity to open his account from a free which he duly took. The best player on the pitch at this stage was Donnellan, his rampaging run nearly putting Aaron Cunningham in with a goal-scoring opportunity but the forwarded opted to take a point. Waterford folk will have great hope for the positioning of Michael Walsh at centre-forward this year and a soft foul on him gave O’Neill the chance to put Waterford back in front before Seamus Prendergast swatted off a few challenges after some great approach work from Walsh to score the first goal of the game.

So far so good. Waterford looked neat and tidy at this stage, Jamie Nagle in particular impressing in the half-back line with some robust play. There was a moment of concern when Adrian Power and Declan Prendergast got their wires crossed under a dropping ball and and full-forward Colin Ryan should have done better with his booted effort as Power struggled to get across. You have to wonder when Prendergast will be put out of his full-back misery. But that seemed out of character with the performance thus far from Waterford, a point emphasised as Maurice Shanahan landed a long-range free, Kevin Moran went close with a typically butch effort from way out the field and O’Neill notched another free after a Clare back had taken too many steps under pressure. Yep, so far so good.

How bad was it about to get? Not scoring for another twenty minutes bad. Outscored 2-12 to 0-2 over the next forty minutes bad. in short, real bad. Tony Carmody scored for Clare, then was professionally fouled by Aidan Kearney to give Clare another score from a free. Clare’s number 25, unnamed in the programme, lobbed over another long-range effort to cut the gap to three, and Jamie Nagle was relieved that Cunningham was too hasty with his effort when Nagle attempted a daft over-the-head clearance right in the endline. At the other end, Martin O’Neill took a free way out on the left of the field despite being a left-handed striker of the ball, which suggests that he was advised to get some practice in. His free was only partially cleared but Seamus Prendergast flapped horribly at his effort to scoop the ball back into the mix and a free-out was awarded. He did something similar moments later, shooting widly when a point was definitely on, and Clare extracted maximum beneift from those let-offs as Carmody slipped away from Kearney again – worrying – and slotted the ball past Power.

Clare didn’t rest on their laurels, uimhir a Fiche Cúig continuing with his Cúilín Fada crusade and a colleague showing enough commitment to a lost cause that he nearly got skewered by the flag on the 65 in a effort to keep the ball in play. Some splendidly alert play by Colin Ryan as he charged from his line out to meet a short free from inside his own half gave him the chance to stretch the lead to two and he then drew enough players to himself to allow him to give the ball to Fergal Lynch in space to make it a three-point lead. Waterford ended the half with a score, Michael Walsh intercepting an attempted clearance and getting chopped down for his efforts and allowing O’Neill to land another score. But Waterford were an unholy mess and were grateful for half-time so they could change things around.

At least you thought that’s what was about to happen, but the only change I could observe as the second half swung into gear was Eoin McGrath coming out the field. Even a hurling klutz like myself would express skepticism at such a move and not fear ridicule, and it made no discernible difference as Clare serenely went on their way. One noteworthy feature of their play was their ability to keep the ball in hand, thus negating the need to try and pick the ball up off the muddy surface – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mankier set of sliothars. It helped that Waterford didn’t seem able to even compete for the ball, Maurice Shanahan being a particular culprit as at one point he saw himself horsed off the ball with shocking ease. Paul O’Brien showed him how it was down by drawing a foul and allowing Waterford to get a point back, but it was cringeworthy watching such a tall man being brushed aside by relative midgets.

Shanahan’s performance was symptomatic of a beaten team. It is at this point that you would expect a flurry of subs or switches, but there was so little activity on the sidelines that Michael Ryan might was well have gotten out his fiddle. Daire Keane scored another point for Clare, and with that the dam burst. Eoin McGrath saw himself dispossessed in the middle of the field and ‘No 27’ swept the ball over the bar from distance. Ryan had a tap-over after Carmody had taken on the entire Waterford back division and come out on top. Cunningham sent over another great score, entirely unmolested by anything in a white shirt. Then we saw O’Neill miss a free on the left and have the puckout be deposited in the lap of the player in his corner of the field. It as all part of the plan, see? Stick with it to see if was working. The problem is that it clear wasn’t working. When Cunningham was able to tap over the bar after a wonderful sweep out of defense from Clare where the ball passed through a half-dozen hands, then scored a goal after shrugging off some half-hearted challenges, it might have been more productive to have changed everything. We’re not going to get many more chances to experiment.

If you’re of a nihilistic bent, and after this game it seems like a more attractive philosophy, the gradual improvement from Waterford for the remainder of the game was frustrating as it might give the impression that things are not as bad as they seem. Clare surely stepped off the accelerator because little changed on the Waterford side of things. A charity free from the referee allowed Waterford to register Waterford to get only their second score of the half, then Waterford nearly benefited from Shanahan showing what he was capable of, a fine run allowing him to tee up O’Neill but a Clare defender somehow (luckily) got a stick on the ball and it went out for a 65 which was duly wasted.

Clare struck back with two quick points, one of which was a free that looked wide all the way from where I was sitting. It would have been difficult for the umpires or the referee to judge it, but the linesman would have been right in the same line as mine so why he didn’t interfere, I don’t know. Another arcane rule? Michael Walsh then found himself surrounded by four Clare players, a depressing indictment of the lack of wag in this particular 15. Somehow he managed to get it away clean and when Waterford earned a free abit further up the pitch O’Neill went for a goal from a silly distance. Perhaps he was only getting his eye in because moments later a sideline cut went all the way through to O’Neill and he rattled the ball to the net. It was the sort of defending that probably had Davy Fitz foaming at the mouth on the sidel . . . actually, where was he? Perhaps Michael Ryan could get away with his Anthony Gormley subject pose because Davy wasn’t lepping around beside him.

Either way Waterford managed to shake off their torpor, Donal Tuohy being forced into a good save from Seamus Prendergast. O’Neill then got his second of the game thanks to some more woeful defending, somehow allowing him to get away a strike despite him letting the ball elude his grasp on numerous occasions. The gap was now down to five – could they pull off a crazy win? They might have done, two more goals were scored. Unfortunately one of them was when Adrian Power couldn’t pick a speculative effort from Colm Galvin out from under the bar and we only knew it was a goal because the umpire rather shamefacedly had to wave the flag. The next time the ball came in he batted it out in true David De Gea fashion. Maybe there was something in the air because at the other end Tuohy let a shot borne more out of frustration from Seamus Prendergast slide between him and the near post.

Five points in the end. It flattered us mightily. I’m clinging forlornly to a notion that Michael Ryan was determined to try certain people in certain configurations, and he’s entitled to some slack at this stage. But the beating we’ve taken at the hands of the Clare minors over the last two years overrides any sense of optimism. With only five matches to play we can’t afford to be going into the League cold. It might be an idea to encourage people to get out for this year’s League because if you had to pick a whipping boy from Division 1, it would have to be us, and we might not see the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary in the spring for 2013 and beyond.

Those white shorts looked good though.

(NB even more guesswork than usual in the teams this time around. I won’t miss Davy’s opaque team sheets)

Waterford: Adrian Power, Stephen Daniels, Declan Prendergast, Aidan Kearney, Jamie Nagle, Kevin Moran, Shane O’Sullivan, Dean Twoney (Paudie Nevin), Paul O’Brien, Maurice Shanahan (0-1f), Michael Walsh, Seamus Prendergast (2-0), Martin O’Neill (2-6, 0-6f), Shane Walsh (0-2; Thomas Ryan), Eoin McGrath

Clare: Donal Touhy, Domhnall O’Donovan, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney (Stephen O’Halloran), Seadna Morey, Enda Barrett, James McInerney (AN Other/27, 0-1), AN Other/25, (0-2), Patrick Donnellan (0-1), Colm Galvin (1-2), Daire Keane (0-1; Ross Horan), Fergal Lynch (0-1; Cathal Chaplin), Tony Carmody (1-1), Colin Ryan (0-6, 0-4f), Aaron Cunningham (1-2)

HT: Waterford 1-7 (10) Clare 1-9 (12)

Referee: John Ryan (Tipperary)

My Captain, My King II

[The] captaincy should be viewed as a reward for services rendered, not the kind of decision upon which a team’s fortunes can be made or broken. Give it to Hyypia, because he’s given us back a sense of self-respect in defence. Give it to Owen because he’s a genuinely world class player. Give it to Gerrard because he’s Scouse. Give it to Carragher because he’s our longest serving player, and Scouse. But don’t give it to someone because they’re not a goalie or a winger or young or ineffectual in the tackle. To do so just wouldn’t be football.

My Captain, My King, 20 September 2002

When asked what was the biggest difficulty faced by any government, Harold Macmillan was supposed to have said “Events, dear boy, events”. Disappointingly it now looks like he probably never said it at all, but when the legend is better than the truth, print the legend (a quote I always ascribed to Samuel Goldwyn, but can’t find a reference for now on Google). And even if he didn’t say it Macmillan’s ‘comment’ still rings true for all manner of professions, not least journalism. So when De Paper announced that John Mullane had quit the Waterford team ‘indefinitely‘, the focus of the article was on how he had been overlooked for the captaincy. This nugget of information was offered up apropos of nothing, but the implication was clear – Mullane had flounced off in a huff over yet another snub.

Alas for the man who had Ger Loughnane buried while still very much alive, the truth about John Mullane has proven to be much more mundane, i.e. that he’s taken some time out from the regular panel to spend more time with his young family. In case you think I’m being unduly mean on John Fogarty, who did point out that Mullane only played two League matches last year, you only have to see how HoganStand.com put much greater emphasis on that fact to see how Fogarty was being economical with the actualité. This isn’t a case of being wise after the event. It’s a case of needing to wait until the event happens before commenting on it.

There is a broader context to this latest example of hacks putting legs on a story, one that has been put into stark contrast by the shenanigans engulfing the English FA. As noted in the article linked above  . . . whaddya mean you haven’t read it?! Ahem. As noted in the article linked above, the English take the issue of captaincy way too seriously. They invest a mystical power in the armband, reasoning – not that there’s any ‘reason’ to it – that the wrong man can transmit his negative waves throughout the entire team while the right man can use the power of the armband to lift his teammates up where they belong, verily even unto where the eagles fly on a mountain high. It’s utter tosh, but it’s an attitude that seems to have even gotten to Fabio Capello. Okay, his prime reason for walking away now was that he knew he had little hope of whipping the team into being contenders for Euro 2012 and now he can walk away before the xenophobic crap – “wop a disgrace”, anyone? – hits the fan in the smouldering central European summer heart. But if Capello has any knowledge of English soccer history he would know that when Don Revie jacked it in because things weren’t working out he was pilloried forever for his treachery. Incredibly Capello can now claim to have walked away on an issue of principle and not have anyone laugh in his face, and all because disputes about the captaincy in England are treated with the reverence of the pronouncements of 12th century Archbishops of Canterbury.

Yet for all of that scoffing at such nonsense, it seems to have infected our supposedly Anglophobic selves. Suggestions that John Mullane is upset that he didn’t get the captaincy are endlessly recycled because no one is likely to say that he couldn’t give a monkeys about such a modest bauble. Worse still, you have to wonder why he isn’t getting it. The link between the captaincy and the county champions was severed by Justin McCarthy several years ago, the eminently sensible logic of such an action being to give it to someone who is bound to be in the team rather than being faced with the dilemma of trying to ram a player in just because he’s the man nominated by the county champions. Only Michael Walsh and Tony Browne approach John Mullane’s standing in the team in terms of ability and longevity, and they’ve each had it in the past. At the very least Buggin’s turn should have seen the captaincy fall on Mullane. The fact that he didn’t get it gives the impression that Michael Ryan is concerned about Mullane’s past ‘reputation’, exactly the sort of thing that exercises our neighbours across the water. As always in Irish life, we can cheerfully blame all our woes on baleful influence of the Brits.