Tag Archives: Munster

The deep breath before the plunge

I think Derek McGrath must have had a barnstorming interview. And you know what? That’s great! I hope he went in and wowed the interview panel with a stunning vision for the future of Waterford hurling. A panel of selectors with a judicious combination of learned wisdom and disruptive genius. Fitness coaches and physios capable of keeping the panel in tip-top condition and able to peak at just the right time. Sensible ideas for blending the undoubted talent at underage level…into the Senior panel. Peter Queally was good. Derek McGrath was better.

Known unknowns, 5/11/2013

The paragraph should not (and won’t be) treated as an I-told-you-so. If nothing else, I abdicated the right to be smug when I booked a holiday months ago, focusing all my thoughts on my wife’s unspoken wish to get away as early as possible to minimise the length of time we would be away from her garden during the peak growing season, and neglected to check the date of our opening match in Munster. In the end, I found out the result via the medium of Twitter:

Thanks, Mary!

I was surprised how nervous I was in the build-up to the game. Part of that was a sickening premonition that a defeat here would lead of to all manner of eyebrow raising and sly winks from the usual suspects about how they knew Waterford wouldn’t be able to cope with pressure of Championship hurling and you can’t bayte tradition. As it happens, the game was a positive indicator that the League was not a flash in the pan. It was a repeat of the Tipperary game to see Waterford calmly reel their opponents in after giving them a decent head start and it was a repeat of the Cork game to hold them at bay in the second half while they flailed away at us in the fashion of Scrappy Doo demanding we lemme at em. There was also the bonus of Waterford hitting a team with a couple of quick-fire goals, and top-notch goals they were too. It would have been seen as a potential weakness in Waterford’s arsenal so it will give a few of the more considered eyebrow raisers something to consider to see Waterford deploy that particular weapon. Cork were flattered by the ten-point margin of defeat in the League final. To put in so much better a shift in the Munster match and only get to the stage where they were flattered by a four-point margin of defeat augers well for the future for Waterford.

It is to that future that we can now look, and to do so we must first look at the past and the paragraph at the top of this post. Speaking positively about the rationale for appointing Derek McGrath didn’t amount to much more than an elaborate way of saying ‘give the guy a chance’ but events seem to have proven the hypothesis to be correct. I had said in a prior post that McGrath would have access to the services of Conor McCarthy, the physio of the Irish boxing team, as productive a conveyor belt of talent as exists in Irish sport outside of County Kilkenny. This was questioned on boards.ie, but I saw Conor on the sideline in Thurles – this was an improvement on the last time I saw him in a GAA context, after the Battle of Tramore – and a few days later I got the chance to congratulate him on his efforts. His demeanor was exhilarating in its matter-of-factness. Job done in the League, now on to the next one. I joked that McGrath must be very single-minded. There wasn’t a flicker of reaction to this. EVERYONE was focused on the next one, he said.  Everyone was definitely in block capitals.

Now, you can dismiss this as a load of hokum if you wish. Mind games might not survive the matter games of some of the teams lying in wait. Conor grew up in the same milieu for Waterford hurling as I did though, one where defeatism was in the stony grey soil. Here was a prepared mind, and we all know how chance views the prepared mind.

Having felt surprise at the tension that coursed through me before the Cork game, there can be no surprise at any tension in advance of the Munster final. We are not in bonus territory. We are in it to win it.

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Waterford 0-16 (16) Tipperary 1-14 (17) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

Missed goal chances, the concession of silly frees and various other unforced errors cost Waterford what would have been a famous, and deserved, victory over prematch favourites Tipperary in tonight’s Munster minor hurling championship game in Thurles. If you were told before the game that the starting Tipperary forwards would manage just a single goal from general play between them, and that their overall total from play would be 1-3, you would surely have expected Waterford to win this game.

And, in truth, they should have won comfortably. While Tipp had their moments, Waterford were the better team here and were a credit to their mentors who had their charges well prepared, well drilled, well focused and on top from the word go. They led for most of the first half, fell behind to a fortunate Tipp goal just on half time, went ahead again immediately after the restart, were still ahead after 50 minutes and had enough possession in the closing stages to close the game out.

That Waterford failed to win can be put down mainly to their failure to convert four clear goal-scoring chances and the needless concession of frees in scorable positions which were routinely punished by Tipp sharpshooter Daragh Cary who nailed eight in all, assisted by centre back Brian McGrath who converted two 65s and one long-range free.

Even the late converted 65 which gave Tipperary victory in the end was a result of an unforced error in the Waterford defence. Corner back Darragh McGrath, under pressure, passed the ball back to unmarked full back Conor Prunty. However, Prunty (who otherwise had an excellent game) failed to control the ball which allowed the Tipp forwards to surge in on goal. Some desperate defence managed to keep them out, but the ball was deflected out for the converted 65 which gave the home side the narrowest of victories.

On a beautiful evening, before an official attendance of 2,821, Waterford quickly got into their stride, driven on by captain Darragh Lyons who lined out at centre back. They had their first missed goal chance after just two minutes, when a poorly struck shot from the edge of the square was hit straight at the goalie. They were having some problems against a strong Tipperary half back line who were very good in the air, but with their own defence dominating proceedings, they were getting enough ball into the inside line to force Tipperary into conceding frees which were unerringly converted by full forward Jack Prendergast. Meanwhile in the right corner Aaron O’Sullivan was having a dream game, nailing four points from play by half time, with Glenn Waters in the other corner also landing a lovely score.

Another goal chance went abegging in the 12th minute when Waterford got the ball into the Tipperary square but no one could get the vital touch to send it over the line. One of O’Sullivan’s points should also have been a goal, as he drove the ball inches over the crossbar from point blank range in the 28th minute. That would have put Waterford four points ahead and really in the driving seat coming up to half time. They were to rue these misses when, as often happens in these situations, Tipperary managed to find the net with their first goal-scoring attempt one minute later. After a shot had been blocked out to the left, the ball was returned to the Waterford goalmouth where a defender crucially failed to keep possession and in the ensuing melee, which looked like an old-fashioned rugby foot rush, the ball was eventually forced over the line leaving Tipp ahead, 1-7 to 0-9, at the interval.

Two quick points after the restart put Waterford back in the lead and, with their defence continuing to do well, they reached the 50th minute still ahead, 0-14 to 1-10. However, they were unable to extend their lead beyond the bare minimum. JP Lucey, with an easy tap-over point at his disposal, decided to take on the Tipp defence looking for a goal and was eventually forced out over the end line and I think it was the same player who, some minutes later, missed the fourth goal chance when his point blank shot was stopped on the line when he should have done better. If either of these chances had been converted, I reckon there would have been a different result to the game.

Tipp eventually drew level before going ahead with the aforementioned 65. The referee played four minutes of added time which gave Waterford ample opportunity to get the equaliser. However, nothing went right (or was done right) in those four minutes. Peter Hogan’s hurried shot went wide of the post. Darragh Lyons, running onto a lateral pass in midfield, failed to control the ball and was then adjudged to have handled it on the ground. Substitute Eoghan Murray, attempting to round his man on the right, was forced out over the sideline.

Big-hitting goalkeeper Billy Nolan, instead of letting the ball down the field, attempted to find Darragh Lyons out on the right but overhit his puck. Then, in the dying moments, Conor Prunty did well to gain possession and pass the ball out to Jordan Henley. However, instead of driving the ball up to the forwards, inexplicably he attempted a lateral pass to Darragh Lyons which again was overhit and went out over the sideline. The ensuing sideline was followed by the final whistle.

Apart from conceding unnecessary frees, the Waterford defence gave an excellent account of themselves. Apart from the scrambled goal, they conceded just two points to the opposing forwards, both scored by substitute Lyndon Fairbrother shortly after he was introduced late in the first half. However, the defence quickly got to grips with this new threat and little was seen of him afterwards. Tipp’s only other score from play was landed by midfielder Liam McCutcheon.

I thought that, apart from his late error, Conor Prunty did very well at full back, using his height and reach to repeatedly bat away high incoming ball. Darragh Lyons played some marvellous hurling at centre back, but was in trouble in the air against his marker. However, this threat was well countered by the judicious switch of Jordan Henley to the centre after half time.

Calum Lyons did well at midfield and notched two excellent points. However, his partner, JP Lucey, never got into the game and, having been moved to the forwards, was eventually substituted after his two second-half misses. The Achilles heel of the Waterford team was the half forward line, which always struggled against strong opponents who were very good in the air. Andy Molumby did some good work, but Peter Hogan made no impression and, while Eddie Meaney looked threatening when he did get possession, his lack of physicality and failure to compete for ball were key problems throughout.

In the full forward line, Aaron O’Sullivan failed to repeat his first-half heroics after the change of ends (due, in no small part, to a reduced supply of good ball). While unerring from frees (he scored six in all, some from difficult angles), Jack Prendergast was unable to contribute further from general play, while Glenn Waters’s impact was also limited. Ballyduff Lower’s John Kennedy, who missed this game due to injury, should certainly be able to strengthen the forward division if he is fit for the next game. This will be away to Limerick on May 6 and, with the latter shipping a heavy defeat in Cork tonight, Waterford must have a good chance of qualifying for the semi-final which would be in Walsh Park against Cork, as far as I am aware.

Waterford: Billy Nolan (Roanmore); Darragh Lynch (Passage); Conor Prunty (Abbeyside); Darragh McGrath (Abbeyside); Jordan Henley (Tallow); Darragh Lyons (Dungarvan, 0-1 from free); Cormac Dunphy (Ballyduff Lower); Calum Lyons (Ballyduff Lower, 0-2); JP Lucey (Shamrocks); Peter Hogan (Ballygunner); Andy Molumby (Cappoquin, 0-1); Eddie Meaney (De La Salle, 0-1); Aaron O’Sullivan (Cappoquin, 0-4); Jack Prendergast (Lismore, 0-6, all frees); Glenn Waters (Dungarvan, 0-1). Substitutes used: Michael Roche (De La Salle); Eoghan Murray (Cappoquin).

Other substitutes listed: Donagh Looby (Ballinameela); David Cullinane (Ballygunner); Jake Beecher (Tallow); Cárthach Barry (Brickey Rangers); Mikey Daykin (Mount Sion); Mark Mullally (Ballygunner); Andrew Casey (Ballyduff Upper).

So many, many ways to feel miserable

It’s been a good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA, what with Modeligo and The Nire reaching their respective provincial finals, and Cappoquin winning theirs. It might not seem like much in the grander scheme of things but if the tweet I referenced last year was correct, i.e. that Ballysaggart’s three wins in the Munster championship were more than all previous entrants managed in the Junior competition’s entire history, then it’s definitely been a good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA. It’s an article of faith that the Intermediate and Junior competitions are far less competitive in Waterford than they would be in the larger counties, so any evidence of broadening the base of talent in the county is to be welcomed. As for the footballers, it’s always been a curious anomaly that a county with a robust infrastructure for the big ball game cannot even take on the best that Clare, Limerick and Tipperary have to offer with any confidence, let alone those hailing from Cork and Kerry. Add in a savage, if shameful, delight at The Nire taking the wind out of the sails of the supposed Invincibles of Cratloe, thus gaining a measure of revenge for their hurling win over Ballygunner, and it has been a very good couple of weeks for Waterford GAA.

I hope the fundamentals have changed. When Waterford teams of the past were going down like dominoes as soon as they crossed the Suir/Blackwater, it didn’t really matter because the first I’d know about it was reading a headline in the local papers or, if I was feeling particularly energetic, a single line in tiny font in the results section of the Monday national paper. In the days since Twitter went supernova (see top of post), it’s incredibly easy to keep tabs on the adventures of Waterford teams against mysterious rivals like Bruff, Ballylanders, Feohanagh-Castlemahon or Castlemartyr. Okay, not all rivals are that mysterious. Hammering away at the refresh button on my Twitter feed to see how The Nire were getting on against Cratloe was a surprisingly tense affair. It’s not The Nire I care about, it’s the Waterford team, and there are going to be six of the them at the various levels in each code to concern myself with. If this becomes habit-forming, and the fundamentals have not changed – the anomaly is the current run of competitiveness and we will soon see a reversion to the mean with frequent 20-point beatings for each of the respective county champions – then there’s going to be many a cold winter on Twitter ahead.

With inexperience comes wisdom

When De La Salle had ‘3-3-1’ sewn onto their training tops during the 2012 county championship, each number respectively being the target they had set for the club to have won the county, Munster and All-Ireland title by the end of the season, it drew widespread scorn, scorn that seemed justified when they came up short in the Munster final. There was another story to that loss, but for lots of people the message would have been clear – after hubris comes nemesis.

After yesterday’s loss for Ballygunner at the hands of Cratloe in the Munster championship, I wonder whether we need to reappraise De La Salle’s cockiness. The Gunners are the undoubted kingpins of the county. You have to go all the way back to 1994 to find the last time that there were consecutive years where they didn’t make an appearance in the county final, and there is no doubt in my mind that their Munster title win in 2001/2 played a part in the loosening of the shackles on the county team in the years that followed. Which makes what I am about to say rather churlish, but I can only offer in my defence an assurance that what I say comes from a desire to see what is best for us all in general and Ballygunner as our representatives in particular.

For it is a harsh truth that Ballygunner have underachieved in the Munster/All-Ireland stakes. Thirteen times they have advanced to the Munster championship and only once have they seized the crown. You ‘d think that experience would count for something, but looking at the teams who have beaten Ballygunner in recent years it seems the opposite is the case. Cratloe have only won two Clare titles, in 2009 and this year. Na Piarsaigh of Limerick, Ballygunner’s conquerors in 2011, have also won only two titles – like De La Salle, those first two titles brought two Munster titles. Then there’s Newtownshandrum, who twice knocked out Ballygunner in the Noughties. Their purple patch of four Cork titles in that decade led to three Munster titles and an All-Ireland.

All of this suggests that the shock of the new may be a better pointer to success in the club provincial championships than the experience of the old. Perhaps Ballygunner’s ‘experience’ is weighing heavily on them. Can you imagine them trying to put ’14-2-1′ on their training tops next year? Please note that I really wanted Ballygunner to win yesterday,eagerly/ignorantly hammering the refresh button on my Twitter feed while out for a meal with my in-laws in Liverpool. But it gives me one more reason for my usually-annual list on who I would like to see win the county title – skipped this year; rearing the 2038 Liam McCarthy Cup-winning Waterford captain is proving to be rather hard – to hope that neither Ballygunner or Mount Sion (sixteen appearances in the Munster championship, two wins) land the county title.

Waterford 2-17 (23) Limerick 3-14 (23) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

This Waterford minor hurling team should be called the “Comeback Kids”, as in each of their games to date they have saved the day with a late scoring surge. However, if they have any ambitions of winning titles they will have to produce more consistent high intensity throughout their games.

In the first game against Clare they played second fiddle for 50 minutes and if Clare’s shooting hadn’t been so wayward they would have been out of sight before Waterford finally roused themselves. In the second game against Clare Waterford were played off the pitch by 14 men for 20 minutes in the second half but the lead they had built up in the first half meant that Clare were within reach when the late surge came.

Yesterday in Cork they were seven points behind when the surge began, but it still took a goal in injury time to get the draw. If Limerick had converted even half of their nine second-half wides there would have been no way back. While the overall wide count was similar for both sides (Limerick 11; Waterford 10) a lot of Waterford’s six first-half wides resulted from balls being overhit with wind assistance and running harmlessly out over the end line – in other words they were not clearcut scoring chances like the ones Limerick missed.

Waterford have shown in patches in all three games that they can play excellent hurling. However, they have to gain possession first, and that has been their problem. At half-time yesterday I said to my companions that Waterford had the hurlers but not the required intensity. Limerick were sharper, more alert and quicker off the mark all over the field. They were also more physical both in tackling and taking tackles.

However, when the alarm bells started ringing with ten minutes to go, Waterford finally raised their game and took control all over the field. It may be that Waterford were simply fitter, but my own guess is that, due to their earlier lack of application, they had more left in the tank in the closing stages while Limerick’s earlier exertions left them unable to contain the Waterford surge.

The Waterford defence also seemed to be upset by the constant interchanging of the Limerick forwards and at times the players did not seem sure who was supposed to be marking whom. There was also a lot of confusion over puckouts, several of which went straight to unmarked Limerick players. Waterford players were making runs expecting balls which never came. There also seemed to be a concentration in the second half on hitting puckouts to Shane Bennett which wasn’t working out (just as there was an overconcentration on targetting Cormac Curran against Clare in Dungarvan which also did not work as it was too predictable).

Last year Limerick unexpectedly moved their freetaker Ronan Lynch from full forward to centre back for the replayed Munster final and it proved a master move as Lynch was the dominant figure in the Limerick victory. While Lynch also played at centre back in this year’s semi-final against Cork and was named in this position for the final, he actually played in midfield where again he had a major influence on the game, scoring three points from play.

I thought Waterford’s decision to start two physically small players with similar styles (Darragh Lyons and Andy Molumby) in midfield was the wrong mix – even though both players did a lot of good work – and Conor Gleeson seemed to have a substantial impact when he was switched to the midfield area.

However, the key switch was that which brought Cormac Curran to full forward midway through the second half. Curran actually started at full forward but was unable to gain possession from several high balls which were sent in to him, and he was then switched out to wing forward where he improved somewhat but was still not imposing himself on the game.

I have always felt that full forwards actually do better when playing against the wind as the incoming ball holds up giving the target recipient more of a chance to get in position to challenge for it (and even if the ball is missed it is not inclined to run over the end line). When Curran did move back to the edge of the square he did really well in gaining possession or otherwise causing panic in the opposing rearguard. He scored the goal which launched the comeback. Although he missed the high incoming ball, Patrick Curran was right behind him and did really well when he dived to get hold of the bouncing ball near the ground and then hand-pass back to the inrushing Cormac who finished to the net.

Patrick Curran got his injury in this incident when his marker fell on him, driving his knee into Curran’s back. First reports indicate that the injury is not severe, and hopefully he will be okay for the replay.

Cormac Curran then set up the equalising goal when he superbly flicked an incoming ball to Shane Ryan on his right, with the team captain finishing expertly to the net. Cormac had previously been unlucky when, after Shane Bennett’s 20 metre free was blocked out, he got a great flick on the loose ball only for someone on the line to somehow keep it out. Bennett, who played amazingly well given his recent hand injury, deserves great credit for the way he nailed a late free from out on the right sideline (after Patrick Curran got injured) to reduce the deficit to three points paving the way for Shane Ryan’s equalising goal.

While the overall team performance was rather uneven, I thought that Michael Cronin did well at left corner back and Colm Roche had a good second half at centre back. Andy Molumby, Peter Hogan and Aaron O’Sullivan all paid their way with two points apiece. For the replay I would be inclined to move Shane Bennett back to wing back where he was so effective last year. I think Eddie Meaney is due a start in the half forward line, perhaps with Conor Gleeson moving to midfield and Darragh Lyons to centre forward (with a roving role). Meaney could also come in at midfield, where he did well in a recent challenge against Dublin.

There is a lot of quality in this team and they definitely have what it takes to win the replay, but they need to hit the ground running and to stay running right to the end.

A week is a long time etc

How good are Wexford? It’s a question that throws up a lot of variables after their thrilling 180-minute brawl with Clare. The amount of times they had to go to the well and still came out ahead of the All-Ireland champions tells us that this was no fluke. They are back-to-back Leinster Under-21 winners for a reason, and will take some beating next Saturday.

On other hand . . . what the hell was that?! When Waterford were trying to make the breakthrough back in the late 90’s, it often felt like we needed to be four or five points better than the opposition just to break even. Wexford’s performance against Clare was this mentality turned up to 11. In both matches they found themselves with twin advantages that you’d normally expect to be decisive, ten points and a man up in the first game in Ennis and two men up yesterday in Wexford, and on neither occasion could they make those advantages stick. Even the satisfaction of finally getting over the line having played 15 v 15 in extra time should be tempered by the reality that the Clare dirty baker’s dozen were really dirty, really knackered after a quite Herculean second half had seen them somehow cling on to Wexford’s coattails. Liam Dunne routinely displayed a curious contempt for Waterford in his newspaper column over the years, always seeing us a soft touch to anyone looking for a morale-boosting win. Having dispatched the All-Ireland champions Wexford will be favourites, but if Derek McGrath isn’t drumming into his panel that these guys are more brittle than a poppadom lacework, he’s not doing his job right.

Before then, we have the underage teams attempting to keep alive the dream of the last county who have a chance of winning an All-Ireland hurling treble, a statement that manages to be both totally factual and utterly meaningless at the same time. For the second year running the Minors enter the lions den of a match against a Limerick team who will be bolstered by the presence of a large contingent following their Seniors. It’s always hard to predict with Minors, the teams being so different from one year to the next, but that quasi-home advantage still applies and the sense of injustice that is surely still smouldering in Limerick over the Hawk-Eye debacle can also be transmitted from one set of young fellas to the next. While the day has not yet arrived where we can blasé about a Munster underage title – seven hurling cups in our entire history – the fact that defeat today wouldn’t be the end of the road does take the edge off proceedings. More interesting is the prospect of a tilt at the Under-21 title. Having given the eventual Munster and All-Ireland champions the biggest rattle they received last year, and with the chance to incorporate a smattering of last year’s Minors, is it too much to hope for that we might get it right after such a woeful record in recent times? Probably, but that won’t stop me hoping.

A final thought before the trouble begins. In order to clear the decks for televised coverage of the Clare-Tipperary semi-final, the Under-21’s of Waterford and Cork were initally due to play on Thursday. This meant the game was only two days before the Seniors were due to play Wexford. In a shocking outbreak of cop-on, the Under-21 match was brought forward 24 hours. You can imagine that, if they had been so inclined, Cork could have made it very difficult for this change to take place, a change that obviously benefited Waterford. Fair play to them for their sense of fair play. And that’s the last time you’ll ever read me saying that.

Waterford 0-14 Cork 0-28

Given the record from the 1980’s of awful beatings for Waterford, there has been more than a modicum of satisfaction to be had from how rare they have been in the last couple of decades. Since losing by 21 points to Tipperary in 1995, each of the 10+ points defeats could be put into a unique context. The 12-point loss to Clare in 1998 was one of the most infamously poisonous games ever to be played, the 2008 All-Ireland final was, well, the All-Ireland final, and the seven-goal thrashing against Tipperary in the Munster final three years ago was the function of one wild throw of the dice that seemed like a worthwhile gamble at the time, i.e. putting Michael Walsh in at full-back. Adopting these cop-outs rationalisations, you could say with a straight face that Waterford don’t get hammered these days.

Not any more. Yesterday’s game was resolutely run-of-the-mill, and we got our clock cleaned. Ruminating on Offaly’s situation on Sunday and comparing/contrasting it with our own, I did wonder whether Offaly hurling fans can look back to particular a game when they could identify that the rot had set in. Having won four All-Ireland’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s, they must have initially looked on each defeat in the early 2000’s as nothing to get too upset about, there’s always next year etc. But then next year arrived and things didn’t get any better, until a point was reached where they could no longer anticipate things getting better the following year. Maybe it was the mid-part of the decade when it became clear that the last teams to win at underage level , the Leinster Under-21 and Minor champions of 2000, were not going to provide any more cause for optimism. Whenever it was, there must have been a tipping point, and I wonder will we look back at yesterday’s game as a watershed.

The cruel thing is that Waterford looked to have picked up yesterday where they left off two weeks earlier. A similar strategy of withdrawing from the full-forward line was being employed to some impact, with the added bonus that Colin Dunford was now looking more the part, showing his marker some moves which culminated in one near-miss and another fine score. At times it looked like Waterford had an extra man, so effectively were they swarming about the dropping ball.

Around the tenth minute, everything fell apart. Anyone watching it on the stream on RTÉ’s website might have thought they’d missed an entire chunk of the game, so emphatically did Waterford lose their way. Ultimately I think Cork got their measure of Waterford’s tactics. It had only taken them 80 minutes, and JBM should be concerned that it took them that long, but now it was Cork’s turn to hunt in packs and Waterford had no answer. Indeed, the response was to lose whatever commitment they had to the game plan. Two weeks ago the players were (mostly) happy to suppress the natural instinct to let it fly into the forward division and instead either try and draw a foul or manufacture the space to shoot from distance. Now they were getting so little possession in the middle of the field that they were earning no frees – Pauric Mahony only managed three scores from frees all day, and it was mostly for the want of opportunities – and when they did get possession they were sending in aimless balls to the self-created no man’s land.

It’s an endless debate as to how much management are responsible if players fail to apply the game plan once they cross the white line, and you’ll get no answer here. What I am pretty sure of is that management allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of optimism by the shenanigans right at the end of the first half that gave us the talking point of the day. Having finally managed to stem the blood loss with a couple of points in the last five minutes, Waterford duly gave away a penalty in what looked like a suspiciously belly-flop-like fall from the Cork forward. Up trotted Anthony Nash to give us another view of his singular penalty-taking style. I’ve not looked at it closely before now, not having spent much time reviewing last year’s All-Ireland final(s), so it’ll probably get dismissed as sour grapes that I think he is fouling the ball. The rules of the game (p 32) state that:

2.5 For all free pucks, including penalties, the ball may be struck with the hurley in either of two ways: (a) Lift the ball with the hurley at the first attempt and strike it with the hurley. (b) Strike the ball on the ground. If a player taking a free puck or penalty fails to lift the ball at the first attempt, or fails to strike it with the hurley, he must strike it on the ground without delay. Only when he delays, may a player of either side approach nearer than 20m. except in the case of penalties.

For me, Nash’s penalty shot is effectively two strikes of the ball. He flicks it up then waits so long for it to drop that it becomes a second shot. It seems to me that the authorities are so flummoxed by whether to (literally) cry foul on it or not that they are content to wait for another solution to present itself, and here it was in the person of Stephen O’Keeffe, haring off the line like a mad thing as soon as Nash lifted the ball. If Nash’s strike is legal, and seeing as the ref is not penalising it one must assume it is, in spite of my opinion on the matter, then O’Keeffe’s action was definitely illegal. If we are to apply the logic that the ball is live as soon as the free-taker lifts it then all hell is going to break loose. As it was, Waterford were so far behind that the ref probably felt comfortable writing it off as one of those things, all a bit of fun. He probably regretted that moments later though after the ball had ricocheted off O’Keeffe to a Cork forward who lashed it over the bar. As an ebullient O’Keeffe surged back towards his line he took Nash with him and everyone took this as permission to lay into each other, which might explain why he only dished out two yellow cards, one for O’Keeffe after the dust had settled on that spat and another for a Cork back who took out Austin Gleeson under the ensuing puckout. It was sensible on the ref’s part to blow it up not long after, although he has left Croke Park with a headache, as he has surely given all goalies carte blanche to come charging off their line the next time Nash does his thing. Which is likely to be as soon as this Sunday.

It was rocking good fun, and you had to laugh at the booing that erupted from the Cork fans as the half-time whistle blew. What was that all about – don’t touch St Anthony? The scoreline was no laughing matter though, and I fear the hi-octane end to the half deceived the management about how bad things had been. The team came out for the second half unchanged, the tactics were unchanged, and the direction of the traffic was unchanged as Cork piled on the pain. The forwards were licked, a situation compounded when Dunford had to be carried off with what looks like a particularly nasty injury, and while the backs were giving it their best there were just too many holes to plug. There were a few Ray Cummins-style moments when Cork forwards were content to take their point when a drive to goal might have imposed maximum punishment. O’Keeffe pulled off one tremendous save when they did get in behind us, and was gratifyingly reliable under a lot of high ball, but the points kept coming and midway through the half was out to 15 and complete disaster a la 1982 loomed.

That it didn’t happen is a function partly of bringing on some heavy guns up front in the form of Maurice Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast, a tacit admission that the game plan had failed,  and mostly down to Cork easing off the throttle and being content to engage in some shooting practice. I’m sure there a few Déisigh who yearned from a scorched-earth finish, to water the tree of Victory with the blood of failed players and managers. Yes, I’m looking at you, boards.ie. Personally I don’t see what would be gained by that. There were signs of life amidst the embers, not least from young Turks like Dunford, Gleeson and Tadhg de Búrca who really showed what they can do and don’t need the albatross of some record-breaking beating to be hung around their necks. The game petered out into a merciful 14-point hiding. Bad, but it doesn’t even make our top-ten of worst defeats to Cork:

Worst Senior championship defeats to Cork up to 2014

There will be worse days for Waterford. The worry is that they’ll be getting closer together. The Minors can’t grow up fast enough.

Persons of interest

They say you’re only as good as your last game, and given the manner in which I oscillate from giddy excitement to maudlin despondency based on the previous result, you can tell I’m inclined to agree. So what to make of a draw where we had the winning of the game but were relieved to survive a late siege and now have to do it all over again? The answer from me, and based on the reaction on boards.ie it’s a view shared by most Déisigh, was a decisive win for excitement (notwithstanding efforts to excavate the manner of Michael Ryan’s removal).

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What accounts for the feeling of optimism? There’s the gif above, for starters. Expectations were pretty low, a combination of a poor end to the League campaign, a Championship last year that despite the heroic effort against Kilkenny saw our earliest exit since 2003,  and a list of injuries and absences that a county with our resources can ill-afford to have to absorb. We all went hoping for a respectable showing, and we got a lot more than that.

No one is thinking this is the precursor to a tilt at the All-Ireland itself though, and none of the above accounts for the shoulder-shrugging that took place with respect to the loss of what should have been a winning position. Usually you’d have someone decrying the Waterford disease that always seems to prevent us from seizing the day, yet such talk was conspicuous by it’s absence.

If I may engage in a little pop psychology, I think what has happened here is that our worst fears have not been realised. There must have been a feeling of dread in Offaly as they sought to take on Kilkenny in the Connacht football championship. Like Waterford, expectations would have been low. Unlike Waterford, the worst fears have been realised. It’s not an entirely fair comparison. If we had a high chance of playing Kilkenny every year we’d be in a pretty grim place too. However, there was a time when we were that soldier, losing six-on-the-bounce to the Rebels between 1974 and 1989. It was a run that included some fearsome beatings, most notoriously the 5-31 to 3-6 massacre in the 1982 Munster final. I tweeted about it last night, a throwaway comment after a fine result for the footballers:

A half-dozen-or-so retweets later, it was clear it struck a chord. That result is still branded on the soul of every Waterford supporter, even those too young to remember it (I was only 5 at the time). There is still the capacity for something awful to happen today, but as long as there is also the capacity for performances like that a fortnight ago, it’s easy to keep the faith.

Waterford 1-21 (24) Cork 1-21 (24) – Givetifong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

First of all, congratulations to the Waterford team and the team management which put out a side which was highly motivated, well drilled and organised, and played with a high level of skill. This was indeed a great boost to all Waterford hurling followers. The newcomers did themselves proud and while their decision-making and shot selection were not always the best, these are issues which will improve with experience.

We should have been further ahead at half time, but after Austin Gleeson’s wonder goal and Waterford’s follow-up points, if Cork had not got their rather fortunate goal when they did, it is doubtful if they would have come back the way they did. However, as they gained momentum, with ten minutes left I would have been quite happy with a draw. In those ten minutes Waterford dug deep to stem the tide, with Brick Walsh an enormous calming and defiant influence, as he repeatedly won possession and carried the ball out of defence. Those who have been telling me that he is finished got their answer here.

The big pluses for Waterford were not only the tremendous debut performances of Austin Gleeson and Tadhg de Búrca, but (to my mind) best-ever championship performances by Brian O’Sullivan and Páuric Mahony (who I thought should have got the man of the match award).

For all the good work the mentors did before and on the day, they will readily acknowledge that they made some mistakes which need to be rectified for the replay. Cork obviously had worked a lot on sending good low ball at every opportunity into Alan Cadogan. He was on fire on the day and I don’t think there was much Barry Coughlan could have done in the situation. Cork also gave a good supply to Conor Lehane in the second half and on another day he would have punished us more.

Part of the problem here was that Stephen O’Keeffe (presumably following instructions) persisted in hitting puckouts out to the left in the second half, targetting Pauric Mahony. While the latter did win a couple of good balls, for the most part Cork dominated on these puckouts which put them into a position to feed Cadogan and Lehane. One of the reasons Waterford were able to stem the tide was a switch late in the game to sending puckouts down the right hand side (again, I presume O’Keeffe was acting on instructions).

Overall, Waterford won just three of nine puckouts sent down the left, while they won seven of ten puckouts sent down the right. Aidan Walsh is particularly strong under the high ball, and the instruction for the replay should be for O’Keeffe to keep his long puckouts away from wherever Walsh is located. Waterford also made good use of short or directed puckouts during the game. There were ten of these in all, and in most cases they retained possession from the follow-on plays following these puckouts.

Waterford should also have put a man-marker on Patrick Horgan when he moved out the field in the second half. I would have deployed Tadhg de Búrca for this task, moving Noel Connors onto Cadogan and switching Coughlan/Fives to the right corner.

Waterford’s substitution policy in the second half went seriously awry. With several players suffering from cramps, at least one substitute should have been kept in reserve as an injury replacement. We ended up with 14 effective players on the pitch and ran the risk of further aggravating Austin Gleeson’s injury by leaving him on the pitch. He, rather than Shane Walsh, should have been taken off when Seamus Prendergast came on.

The replacement of Colin Dunford was also a mistake, in my view. Ray Barry did not make one play following his introduction. Dunford had made eight plays by the time he was replaced, and while most of these were in the first half, his good run and pass had led to a Waterford score shortly before he was taken off. While his option-taking and shooting were poor, he was still causing a lot of problems for the Cork defence.

The Waterford mentors also need to do more work on eradicating blind clearances from the Waterford half back line. Cork clearly were well drilled in having players in support of those in possession in this area, and in having the latter give the short pass rather than hitting the ball long and blind. I counted twelve instances of blind clearances like this from Waterford which were gobbled up by unmarked Cork defenders.

I did a count of the number of plays each Waterford player made and it makes for interesting reading. At the game itself, I thought Kevin Moran was quiet enough, which I put down to Cork concentrating on playing the wings and avoiding playing the ball down the middle (also a feature of their intermediate team). In fact, Moran had more plays than any other Waterford player, at 17, of which 10 came in the second half. Next in line was Brick Walsh with 15 plays (nine in the second half), followed by Jamie Nagle and Pauric Mahony with 13 each, Austin Gleeson with 12 (10 in the first half) and Brian O’Sullivan with 11. Richie Foley also got on the ball a lot (10 plays) but he tended to waste possession through poor striking and other errors.

I counted 33 instances of errors and poor play (not including shots that went wide). A lot of these were down to inexperience but there were also a lot of errors on the part of more established members of the team. We will have to cut down on these if we are to make progress. I have listed below the number of plays by each player in the first and second halves and in total (these exclude puckouts and frees).

I think the same team deserves to start the next day, with Shane O’Sullivan coming in for Eddie Barrett. In the likely event of some players malfunctioning, the mentors need to be quick to use a bench which presumably will include Darragh Fives and Stephen Molumphy. I would like to see Paudie Prendergast and Shane McNulty moving up the list of potential substitutes, with Donie Breathnach also hopefully being given another opportunity to show what he is capable of.

As regards the intermediates, I thought the defence did quite well until they were swamped late on with Cork owning the ball in the midfield area and Peter O’Brian doing woeful damage, especially when he moved to full forward. What has become of DJ Foran who was listed as a substitute but was not brought on even when Waterford were desperately in need of a ballwinner in the closing stages? The substitutes Waterford did bring on were ineffectual and Tommy Connors was very disappointing. It was a mistake not playing Michael Harney in defence as he clearly is better facing the dropping ball.

It is a pity about Ryan Donnelly being removed from the senior panel, as his two goals here, and one goal assist, show what he is capable of.

Play count: Stephen O’Keeffe (2/5/7); Noel Connors (5/1/6); Liam Lawlor (4/2/6); Jamie Nagle (8/5/13); Kevin Moran (7/10/17); Tadhg de Búrca (8/4/12); Brick Walsh (6/9/15); Eddie Barrett (2); Colin Dunford (7/1/8); Pauric Mahony (6/7/13); Austin Gleeson (10/2/12); Brian O’Sullivan (6/5/11); Shane Walsh (1/3/4); Jake Dillon (7/3/10); Richie Foley (4/6/10); Shane Fives (4); Ray Barry (0); Donie Breathnach (3); Seamus Prendergast (5).

Waterford 1-21 (24) Cork 1-21 (24)

24 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 programme

Mea culpa and all that. In my defence for the earlier litany of pessimism . . . actually, there’s no defence. Not because I should have been able to anticipate the turn of events based on the available evidence, but because this is Waterford and Cork. Logic has long ago gone out the window. Games between the two counties are like NBA matches – dispense with anything bar the last five minutes because the teams are likely to be level, or close enough, at that stage. Might as well cut out the middleman.

23 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 match ticket

One thing I did get right, alas, was the crowd. No getting away from it, we were outnumbered by four or five to one. It came as a relief therefore that they closed the Town End terrace where the Cork proles usually congregate with their Stars-and-Bars flags. Sitting as were down that end of the Old Stand, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with the intensity of the occasion had the Rebel yell been in full flight from there as the game came to its tension-soaked conclusion. In addition, the people surrounding us were a reasonable bunch. This may have been because some wise soul opted to put all the screaming One Direction lovers in a section in the New Stand, where they booed every free from Pauric Mahony. Classy.

Then again, it didn’t seem to have any discernible negative impact on his efforts as he landed all the soft ones and quite a few difficult ones. Having a reliable freetaker is important all the time, but it was particularly so as Waterford practically yielded the Cork third of the field with Jake Dillon, nominally playing as a corner-forward, occupying the centre-forward position. Brian O’Sullivan got some early change out of his marker in the corner with one good score and a miss from an acute angle, but Waterford were going to be relying on a lot of long range efforts, whether from play or from frees. A couple of frees from O’Mahony and great long range effortx from Jamie Nagle and Tadgh de Búrca – yes, corner-back Tadgh de Búrca! – saw Waterford move into an early four-point lead.

09 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014

It was working admirably in some ways, and a horror miss from an easy free for Pat Horgan made you wonder whether it might be our day, but the downside of a strategy of hitting from distance, no matter how much time and space you create, is that you are going to miss a few and the wide count was beginning to mount as the second quarter began. It was just as well then that, in general, Cork were not at the races. Looking back at the game, I wonder whether Derek McGrath’s biggest regret will be not being more gung-ho in a half when he couldn’t have anticipated how lethargic their opponents would be. Cork were second to every ball and giving away cheap frees. One where Eddie Barrett was upended when he was going nowhere fast (was that when he received the injury that would end his game and possibly his season?) should have ended up with a booking, so casual an effort was the tackle. Austin Gleeson was blocked on two successive occasions and still managed to come away with the ball, and an elaborate passing routine out of defence, which included a few ropey hand-passes that might have ended up in frees on another day, went unpunished thanks to several Valium-induced efforts at intercepting. Waterford’s game was coming together, and when Mahony slotted over a simple score moments after Richie Foley had made things unnecessarily complicated, Waterford were five points to the good. When that great evil, a short puck-out, ended up with Jamie Nagle sending over another long-range effort, it was looking very good indeed.

25 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 1

Speaking of very good, Austin Gleeson was tottering his way through his Senior Championship debut like a new-born foal. Self-confident enough to have three shots at the posts from sideline cuts, failing with two but landing the most difficult one from the ‘wrong’ side, he was generating more heat than light under dropping balls but at least was competing well. In contrast, Cork didn’t seem able to do anything right, an attempt at a targeted puck-out from Stephen O’Keeffe succeeded in finding Pa Cronin only for him to take his eye off the ball and have it roll apologetically out for a sideline to hoots of delight from the Waterford crowd, and a foul on Brian O’Sullivan way out the field by Shane O’Neill was indicative of the lazy attitude that must have had JBM tearing his hair out. Mahony administered the needful from the free, and while Waterford were fortunate to get away with only conceding only one point deep into injury time after Horgan opted to go for a point from a close-in free – you had to smile at the genuinely witty chants of “NASH! NASH! NASH!” that went up from the teenyboppers opposite – it was Gleeson who put a smile on our faces with a splendid point with the last puck of the half to give us a deserved, if slightly below-par given the wind and the strangely subdued Cork performance, half-time lead of six points.

It had been encouraging stuff, but no-one was getting carried away. We have been in a similar position at half-time against Clare last year and had fallen away badly in the last quarter. In addition, and it can’t be emphasised enough, Cork were shockingly poor. Can you imagine how mortifying it must have been for the Cork players to go into their dressing room and face God made flesh telling them how rubbish they had been? The tempo was duly upped from the off with an immediate score from a free. Pauric Mahony responded quickly with a point from play, the ball drilled right over the black spot to show a man enjoying how well the free-taking responsibility was going down. Cork struck right back with a fine effort from Alan Cadogan, and even though Brian O’Sullivan got his second score of the day to keep the scoreboard ticking over, two more points from frees from Horgan moved Cork to within four, the second a long-range effort after a careless lunge by a Waterford player in the middle of the park. We had reason to be relieved when Cadogan cleaned out Richie Foley but his effort went wide when it seemed easier to score, the langers cheering as if it was over. Satisfying, but Waterford were having to put in a greater shift just to stay in touch with their opposite numbers.

26 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 2

Then came The Goal.

One of the great stories of Irish rugby is how Gerry McLoughlin scored a try at Twickenham after dragging the entire English pack along behind him. When you see it on replays, it’s never quite as impressive as ligind would have it. Not having seen replays of it at the time of writing, perhaps Austin Gleeson’s goal wasn’t that good. In real time though, it was the best goal ever scored. The lily of perfection was gilded by a contentious moment leading up to it. The linesman signalled for a sideline ball to Cork out around the 45 and the ref indicated it should go to Waterford. The Cork crowd, smarting after a few decisions seemed to go against them (and in fairness, my impression is that the majority of 50:50 decisions went our way throughout the match), erupted and the ref seemed to change his mind leading to a predictable eppy from Dan Shanahan. You needn’t have bothered, Dan. The sideline ball was hit straight to Gleeson who flicked the ball into his possession and set off towards goal. As with Ginger McLoughlin, it seemed like he left a half-dozen Cork backs labouring in his wake before rifling an unstoppable shot across the bows of Anthony Nash from an impossibly acute angle.

(Update: replays confirm I undersold it. It was the best goal ever scored.)

It was an astonishing strike in itself, but it’s about so much more than a great piece of skill. When the ball hit the back of the net the next decade or so of our lives were compressed into a single moment, and you had to like what we saw. It’s too early to say that the King is dead (take your pick of a half-dozen kings from the last decade), long live the King. But in one single moment, you could see Austin Gleeson tearing defences apart in that manner for years to come. It’s a lot of pressure to put on such young shoulders, someone who is young enough to be my son. But let’s dare to dream. If you weren’t giddy after that, check your pulse.

Back in the here and now, Waterford tails were now up and at ‘em. Shane Walsh almost broke clear of the Cork backline but sensibly settled for a point to push the lead out to nine and Jake Dillon had a good chance to make it double figures but dragged his shot wide. Cork were creaking and really needed something quickly. Unfortunately, they got it. Cadogan managed to get in bhind the Waterford defence and while his bouncing shot was brilliantly saved by O’Keeffe, they couldn’t get it clear. It was dumb luck that the ball eventually bounced into the path of substitute Bill Cooper – the type of name you’d expect to hear in 19th century FA Cup final reports rather than the 2014 Munster championhip – in a position where he couldn’t miss and Cork were right back in it.

27 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 3

One of the most alarming happenings in Waterford hurling over the last couple of decades was the manner in which they collapsed from such a promising position last year against Clare. They lost energy and they lost heart and were eventually beaten by eight points, a margin that flattered them. It was a collapse that, whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of what subsequently happened, probably did for Michael Ryan. And for ten dreadful minutes it looked like we were heading down the same road here. Are there fitness issues in the Waterford camp, compounded by the notorious shortage of training sessions? A lot of effort had been put in during the early stages of the half to keep Cork at bay and it was beginning to show. That would be bad, although not as bad as the possibility that heads were dropping as Cork roared back into life, aided by the crowd that made it practically a home game for them. Points flew over from all angles to ever increasing acclamation from the Cork support. Cadogan was rampant, almost scoring another goal but somehow O’Keeffe/a back/both managed to deflect his shot out for 65, which was naturally popped over by Horgan. The gap was down to one by the hour mark and it seemed impossible that Waterford could hang on.

Yet somehow, from somewhere, Waterford found the reserves to stop the rot. Seamus Prendergast came on and while he wouldn’t be the person you were looking for to lead the line alone up front in these circumstances – only the most pinpoint accurate of balls was likely to find him – he did manage to hold on to possession and slow the Cork charge when he did get the ball. Some creative use of the ball from the likes of Walsh and Kevin Moran (i.e borderline fouling of it when in a jam) further gummed up Cork’s gears, and it was the former who escaped from being boxed in before drawing a foul and allowed Mahony to drag the lead out to two with just five minutes remaining. The spoiling tactics had the desired effect but Cork still looked the more likely to score. A really soft free allowed them to trim it back to one and the knackered back division could only watch as Cork worked the ball across the lines to make the space and draw level. With Gleeson suffering from cramp, and there may be questions about the timing of Shane Walsh’s withdrawal late on if Gleeson’s problems had already manifested themselves, then Waterford were effectively down to 14 men.

Incredibly we nearly landed a knockout blow as Cork chased the game. An attack broke down in the middle of the field and O’Sullivan raced onto it. There was a point on but Prendergast was in acres of space in the corner and it was correct to try and put him in. Probably a bit too correct because Damien Cahalane called it right and agonisingly managed to get a hurley to the pass. Prendergast wouldn’t have to wait long for another stab at it though, catching Mahony’s pinpoint ball into the corner and driving it over the bar to restore the lead. The match ticked into injury time and I was convinced there were three minutes announced as Anthony Nash came out to drive the ball forward. Austin Gleeson would have one last contribution to make as, despite his injury, he whipped the legs out from under Nash as he cleared the ball. One wonders whether Brian Gavin would have been as decisive as he was in awarding a free where the ball landed had the scores been level. You’d like to think so because it was absolutely the correct decision, allowing Horgan to level matters again. It looked like there was time for one more twist, but thirty seconds into the third minute the whistle was blown. Had I imagined the three minutes? Perhaps, but either way no one was complaining.

21 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014

It was an opportunity missed. You can’t be nine points up early in the second half and claim otherwise. But it was disaster averted as well. Had the game gone on for another ninety seconds, the odds are we would have lost. The team were ‘bet’, simple as that. And there is so much to be positive about. 1-21 is a better haul than anything managed in the League. While Mahony weighed in with the lion’s share, and having our free-taker display some form is something to be pleased about on its own, seven different players weighed in with points from play. And we’ll always have The Goal.

Final word, for a fortnight anyway, on the sheer mayhem that is the Waterford-Cork circus goes to a Blues supporter:

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh de Búrca (0-1), Liam Lawlor, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle (0-2), Michael Walsh, Barry Coughlan (Shane Fives), Kevin Moran, Eddie Barrett (Richie Foley), Colin Dunford (Ray Barry), Paudie Mahony (0-11, 0-9f), Austin Gleeson (1-2, 0-1 s/l), Brian O’Sullivan (0-2), Shane Walsh (0-1; Seamus Prendergast, 0-1), Jake Dillon (Donie Breathnach)

Cork: Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Damien Cahalane, Stephen McDonnell, Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis, Lorcan McLoughlin, Daniel Kearney (Brian Lawton), Aidan Walsh (0-2, 0-1 s/l), Conor Lehane (0-1), Cian McCarthy (Bill Cooper, 1-1), Pa Cronin (Stephen Moylan), Alan Cadogan (0-4), Seamus Harnedy (0-1; Jamie Coughlan), Pat Horgan (0-12, 0-8f, 0-1 65)

HT: Waterford 0-13 Cork 0-7

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)