Tag Archives: Nowlan Park

Waterford 1-19 (22) Tipperary 2-15 (21)

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (1)

Joe Brolly was making the point recently that the GAA can’t expect a captive audience forever in the face of the relentless march of soccer or an Ireland rugby team duking it out with the best Europe has to offer, and he has a point that you can’t expect people to stay endlessly loyal despite repeated slaps in the face. Then again, sometimes people stay endlessly loyal despite repeated slaps in the face. It speaks volumes that the decision to stage the League semi-finals in Nowlan Park rather than dragging us all to sit miles away from each other in Thurles felt like a stroke of genius rather than something blatantly obvious.

And it helps keeping them loyal when the product is this good.

We rolled up to Nowlan Park just as the Dubs were rolling out after an implosion for the ages, reeled in by Cork after being given a 12-point head start. All of the pre-match optimism in Waterford would have been founded on the idea that we had nothing to lose, but that kind of result, or a merciless beating would soon disabuse a team of that notion, and there’s no one better than applying the timber to a team when they’re down than Tipperary. It seemed early on that they had a plan to unpick Waterford’s blanket with their first few puckouts targeted at wherever Jason Ford happened to be and he was trying to pull Waterford all over the place by popping up in different places each time. It felt precise enough not be random – be out on the 45 on the left-wing for the first one, come up to the halfway line for the second one puckout, and so on – and yielded a quick return as, after a couple of frees from Pauric Mahony, he gathered the ball in the midfield and hit a shot into the mix where Séamus Callanan broke the ball into the path of Patrick Maher. He had all the time in the world to collect the ball and fire past Stephen O’Keeffe.

This was how it was going to be. Having got our hopes up that we had devised a strategy that would make us contenders against the dross of Division 1B and the ever-so-obliging opponents that are Galway, it wouldn’t survive contact with a team that were, you know, good. We were already being reduced to impossibly difficult long range efforts from the likes of Austin Gleeson to compensate for the fact that there was no one in the danger zone. At the other end every Tipp attack reeked of danger, Barry Coughlan looking like a rabbit in the headlights of Séamus Callanan’s onslaught. The first encounter ended with him having to haul Callanan down with a tackle that would have gotten him a black card in football. The second encounter went better as he managed to hustle him out wide although the ref may have taken sympathy on him so soon after the yellow. Either way we were under a hideous amount of pressure and it was the outlet of Jason Ford that proved crucial again as, after Tipperary had to re-take a puckout for the crime of not waiting for the whistle, Ford won the puckout and released Brendan Maher who in turn put John O’Dywer in space to bat the ball past O’Keeffe.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (9)

Eamon O’Shea would say after the game that he felt Tipperary never got going, but I think he was confusing a lull you get in the crowd at the start of the second part of a double header with a lack of intensity because Tipp were all over us here. Callanan was certainly up for it, sending over a great score from way out right and drawing yet another foul to allow him to stretch the lead to seven after only 15 minutes. Seeing Colin Dunford back on his own 45 clearing the ball emphasised how under the cosh we were and when a storming Kevin Moran run ended in a free out as he was completely left without support, the feeling of dread about how this would be treated on boards.ie was building to a crescendo. Yes, that’s the way I think during a game.

What we could do with here was some stirring play and a soft free, and both arrived in the shape of a run from Dunford which ended with him hitting a low ball into the middle where there were finally some Waterford players, and the ref awarded a free for not very much. Mahony took the point – things were so grim that I did briefly wonder whether he should go for a goal – and with the next Waterford attack Maurice Shanahan managed our first point from play, with a lovely turn and strike. Some clumsy defence from Waterford gave Tipp a 65 which Callanan duly scored but there was more stirring play to come as Austin Gleeson raced from his own half past the entire Tipp back division. His shot at goal was weak and easily saved but goodness, he had earned the right to have a go.

Upon reflection, this may have been the period where Eamon O’Shea felt his team failed to keep up the intensity levels. The wind was strange with no impact in the corner we were sitting between the old stand side and the City End terrace – it’s a crying shame that I don’t feel able to put ‘City’ in sneer quotes any more – but was stiff enough on the other corners of the ground. The wind would certainly prove crucial in the second half. Then again, Waterford were now beginning to show some of the form that had gotten them this far. They were now putting ‘em under pressure, forcing them out to the midfield where James Woodlock lobbed over a fine score to restore the seven point lead. A good advantage from Barry Kelly saw him call it back when no advantage accrued to allow Mahony to score from the free, then a cracking point from Dunford on his weak side lifted the spirits a bit more. Two further frees from Mahony followed, the second moved in from a narrow angle after some dissent which cheered us up no end, and suddenly the gap was down to three. Tipp managed a couple of good scores before half time, but that was the thing – they had to be good scores as Waterford were now well in their face, and it was Waterford who ended the half on the up, Mahony scoring after another storming run by Moran, showing that the support was now there for such a run, and another from a free for a high tackle on Dunford which showed the increased strain Tipp were now under.

Only three points in it at half-time. It seemed scarcely believable after the free-wheeling manner in which Tipperary had leapt out in front. The second half began with Tipp getting into an awful flap in trying to clear immediately beneath us and while they eventually did they were showing none of the tiki-taki stuff of the opening quarter. Mahony and Callanan exchanged points from frees before Michael Walsh batted the ball down to Jake Dillon to lash the ball over. A long-range effort from Callanan looked to be about to drift wide of the left-and post but just squeezed in, although it was noteworthy that the wind was catching such efforts at that end of the pitch. Everything Tipp were doing was under pressure while Waterford were bursting away from any challenge with incredible vigour. One move saw de Búrca and Philip Mahony power out of defence and release Jamie Barron to fire a point over on the run. Forget about blanket defence, this was classic direct hurling. Leave your man for dead, drive it forward in the direction of a team-mate and trust him to win the ball. In contrast, Tipp were having to shake off the hounds for every score, a fine Jason Ford point coming after what seemed like the entire Tipp forward line were pursued back and forth across the field like a bitch in heat. The Tipp subs were coming on in waves to try and hold back the tide as Walsh again knocked the ball down, this time into Shanahan’s path, to cut the lead to one.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (19)

I’m going to reach for the hyperbole bomb now. The intensity Waterford were bringing was like a certain team more frequently seen around these parts. Both the spirit and the flesh were willing and able to reduce opposition hurleys to matchsticks if that was required. What was missing was the wizardry up front, so it was almost too much to take when we saw some of that. Tipperary were dispossessed while on the attack for the umpteenth time, Kevin Moran thundered out of defence and played it up to Colin Dunford. He controlled the ball brilliantly, turned his man and raced off towards goal with a Mullane-like flourish. His strike was not so Mullane-like but it somehow squirmed past Darren Gleeson in the Tipp goal. A huge free from Mahony stretched the lead to three, and even when Tipperary manage to breach the Waterford wall, Stephen O’Keeffe was on hand to block the shot. Tipp were racking up the wides in the face of this onslaught, two shots drifting out to the left suggesting they were not calibrating for the wind, which was hardly surprising given the frenzy that faced them every time they got the ball. Another Mahony free after Shanahan had been fouled meant a four point lead, and Waterford had outscored their shell-shocked opponents 1-15 to 0-7 in the second and third quarters.

You couldn’t keep this up for the whole game so it was a pity that the clock down at the other end of the ground that ticked over to 70 minutes in the 60th minute was wrong. Tom Devine, who I am told by someone from up that part of the world would be pronounced Di-VINE, not De-VEEN, had a chance to finish it when he pounced on a loose ball after a strong Shanahan run, but his shot towards goal was blocked by one of the three or so defenders who managed to get in his way. In truth, justice was done as he clearly placed the bas of the hurley on the ball then picked it clean off the ground. Tipp finally ended a barren scoring run with a long-range free then a cheap free allowed Callanan to trim the lead to two and with at least eight minutes left. Shane Fives tried to get things firing again with a huge effort from the halfway line but it dropped short and Tipp were able to clear. The players were clearly flagging and while this didn’t lead to any shortage of effort – one incredible play saw Kevin Moran fling himself full length to block the ball and somehow emerge with it from the ground – another Tipp free left the gap at one. Brian O’Halloran, on as a sub and with fresher legs, perhaps should have done better soon after as he and Dunford combined to make the space for the shot. A couple of Tipp efforts fell short, with one leading to a crescendo of anticipation which showed that, contrary to any suggestions you might see from them, they really wanted this one. Thankfully they did fall short and they showed O’Keeffe comfortable under the high ball in a goal where he dropped a horrible clanger a few years ago.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (20)

Tipp did finally manage to get one right to level matters, and the dreaded extra time loomed. The next few minutes were utterly frantic (read: I put away the notebook, this was too much to deal with) and when Shanahan was fouled, a rather soft award in my opinion, you felt there weren’t going to be many chances after this one. It wasn’t a gimme from way out on the right but Mahony held his nerve to get our noses in front. I doubt if I have ever seen a Waterford free-taker land every chance, yet that was what he had done. Another thing to be optimistic about for the future. There was time for one more moment of madness in the game as yet another long ball drooped short in the Waterford square. Shane Fives found himself with the ball but facing the goalie at point-blank range. He did the sensible thing and lashed it out towards the corner flag where . . . . I couldn’t tell what had happened. It looked like it had gone out for a sideline, but the umpire signalled for a 65. It transpired later that the ball had hit the flag and the ref had correctly awarded a sideline ball. The whole discussion about it ate up more time and when the sideline ball came in he quickly awarded a free out to an explosion of relief all round.

At the risk of sounding hyper-critical, it was alarming how Waterford played those last few moments, twice lashing the ball out of play for a sideline as if it were rugby and that would be the end of the game. Never trust a ref not to act the maggot and play more than the ‘at least’ injury time announced. As it was, the second clearance did indeed bring the final whistle and a spectacular result for Waterford. The lone Tipp lad in our section who lustily roared for tap-over frees was given a rousing send-off as he made his escape, and when the Waterford players approached us it looked like they were coming to take our acclaim. It felt immediately strange – wait, we’ve won League semi-finals in recent years, nothing to get too excited about – but as it happened they were merely doing their warm-down. Ah feck it, we all thought, they’ve been magnificent as we applauded them heartily. What a turnaround from the last visit to Nowlan Park when Colin Dunford’s two goals into the same end were the lonely counterpoint to a dispiriting defeat. At the start of the year I would have not expected promotion, and if we got it then we’d surely get pounded by the Division 1A team we’d face, and if we somehow overcame them we’d get pounded by whatever team finished higher up that division, and if we somehow overcame them . . . I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Now that I can think ahead, I dare to think even further ahead. I’m going to get healthy, look after myself, cut out the junk food and get more exercise. Because I want to be there for when those further thoughts become reality.

Waterford v Tipperary 19 April 2015 (18)

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson, Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron (0-1), Stephen Bennett (Brian O’Halloran), Kevin Moran (Eddie Barrett), Pauric Mahony (0-13, 0-11f, 0-1 65), Jake Dillon (0-1), Maurice Shanahan (0-3), Michael Walsh (Shane O’Sullivan), Colin Dunford (1-1).

Tipperary: Darren Gleeson, Paddy Stapleton (James Barry), Conor O’Mahony, Paul Curran (John Meagher), Michael Breen, Padraic Maher (0-1), Ronan Maher, James Woodlock (0-1), Shane McGrath (Gearóid Ryan), John O’Dwyer (Shane Bourke), Brendan Maher (capt), Jason Forde (0-1; Conor Kenny, 0-1), Séamus Callanan (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Patrick Maher (1-0), Niall O’Meara (0-2).

HT: Waterford 0-11 (11) Tipperary 2-8 (14)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

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Waterford 2-15 (21) Wexford 3-15 (24)

I’ve seen this play before. A traditional hurling county, after a long period of underachievement, suddenly (to those not reading the signs) hits their stride. A raw young team engages in series of matches where they repeatedly dominate their opponents only to repeatedly struggle to put said opponents away. They thrill the neutral and energise their own county, so long used to mediocrity or worse. Yep, Wexford 2014 are comparable to Waterford 1998.

Where that leaves Waterford 2015 remains to be seen.

As a long-standing advocate of the back door, this game typified what is best about the system. It gives counties who rarely get the chance to play each other an opportunity to do so in a venue appropriate to the occasion. It was a real pleasure to see the stand full to the rafters at Nowlan Park. Such pleasure quickly evaporated when it became clear that the Wexford faithful outnumbered us by a factor of probably 3:1. A cynic might question the use of ‘faithful’ there as there can’t have been many of these people present this time last year in Thurles when each Wexford score when they ran Clare to extra-time – another play I’ve seen somewhere else – last year was greeted with barely a ripple. You might think that. I, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly comment.

06 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

The early exchanges didn’t suggest that the Wexford support had called this one right as points were quickly exchanged between Shane Walsh and Podge Doran. What they did suggest was the Waterford support who had thrown their hat at it in exasperation at the tactics being employed by Derek McGrath and co were justified as the short puckouts that were such a blight on the midweek game against the Cork Under-21’s were quickly in evidence and quickly causing grief as Wexford pounced on the looseness for Paul Morris to slot over.  A cheap free won from a sideline ball allowed Pauric Mahony to level matters but Wexford, while occasionally guilty of over-elaboration, were getting possession and over-elaboration isn’t so bad when it leads to a score as it did for a fine effort by Conor McDonald. Waterford were already having to shoot on sight to compensate for the all-too-frustrating lack of bodies in the full-forward line, Austin Gleeson slashing aimlessly at one effort from distance while Mahony was unlucky to see an even longer effort also go wide.

Not that Wexford were immune to poor shooting. History tells us that it’s a curse down there, and it was well punished by Waterford as Jake Dillon did land one from distance. Wexford worked another point for McDonald and then had all the time in the world to put Paul Morris in the clear for simple tap-In goal. It was sign of the alarm in the Waterford ranks that when Colin Dunford’s great solo run ended in him being hauled down for a penalty, there was never any question that Waterford should go for anything other than goal. We were surely going to need it. Gleeson’s effort was poor, visible even from the other end of the ground, and it felt like a good result that it was knocked out for a 65 which Mahony duly converted. Not long afterwards Shane Walsh was called ashore. Given the litany of injuries he has had, one wonders whether we have seen the last of him, which added another downbeat layer to our papier-maché model of misery.

23 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014 Action 1

While Wexford were cocky – their fans around us seemed so, at least – and Waterford’s negativity was given our support gas, the game had yet to ignite. If Wexford couldn’t ram home their advantage then Waterford still had a chance. There was a glimmer of a chance on the break for Waterford which led to a Wexford back committing a professional foul rather than let anything in and Mahony was able to reduce the gap. Then Liam Lawlor went on a fine run but his pass to Jake Dillon asked way too much of him and Wexford were able to clear. The next Wexford attack was immensely frustrating for Waterford, repeatedly spurning chances to clear and Wexford were eventually able to score and keep the goal lead. It was only at this point that the penny dropped with me that Michael Walsh was playing in the midfield and Kevin Moran at centre-back. There’s me complaining all year about dodgy line-ups and then I miss a move like this. What was it in aid of? It wasn’t wrong in the style of playing Walsh at full-back in the 2011 Munster final, but it didn’t add to the team, akin to swapping your bishops before a chess game. It could have been either player who teed up Mahony with a super break, and it could have been any one of the Waterford forwards who shot weakly wide.

It did indicate a way out for Waterford though – stop shooting from distance, start having the backs and midfield get forward and squeezing the Wexford backs who were having it so easy up to this point. Getting more in their faces allowed Gleeson to pounce on a loose ball to cut the gap to one,  then he benefited from a run from deep by Shane Fives to slot over another score to level matters. It required a lot of the backs, something that would be significant later, but for the moment it was an amazingly quick turnaround, especially when a Mahony free left Waterford ahead, almost completely against the run of the play in the first half hour. A stunning long-range shot from Dillon showed Waterford were now on top.

11 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

This is probably unfair on the management, but it looked as if it were the players, particularly Walsh and Moran, who had wrought this change, talent reacting to changing circumstances. Wexford got one back but Walsh and Moran immediately combined to release Gleeson for another score. You could see Waterford tails were now up, Noel Connors making life miserable for Liam Óg McGovern and forcing him to hit a poor wide. The capacity for self-destruction was still there though for Waterford. The ref picked up on a jersey tug when it seemed like Wexford were going nowhere, and Waterford literally put most of the team back on the line for the free so Wexford were happy to take the point. That was as nothing compared to those goddamn bloody insane maddening short puckouts, and Waterford were once again caught out to allow Wexford to level matters.  Then again, what was the point of hitting the ball long when Gleeson, upon winning the puckout, had to go backwards to the corner-back? There’s only so many times you can drive forward like Waterford were doing and right at the end of the first half, disaster struck. I was convinced that Lawlor had his hurley tugged as he approached the dropping ball. Whether it was that or a moment of lost concentration, Wexford were right in around the back and Conor McDonald could score with ease. Now it was Wexford’s turn to have their tails up, and we had reason to be grateful for a couple of shocking wides that there was just a goal in it at half-time.

We had had our moments, but could we get goals? There were hopeful signs in the early exchanges in the second half, Matthew O’Hanlon brilliantly cutting out a long pass in the first attack and Dillon hesitating when he had a small opening and was blocked by several defenders who managed to get back. Wexford showed no such hesitation at the other end as Doran lashed a puckout straight over the bar, then David Redmond galloped down the middle of the field unopposed to drill home Wexford’s third goal.

What a shambles. Surely the benefit of being negative is that you don’t have to worry about being sliced up like that? I was seriously worried at this stage that this was going to be a complete bust, and had Wexford scored with their next effort on goal it might well have done, but O’Keeffe somehow flung himself to his left to keep out the goalbound effort. Two changes immediately after a poor Mahony wide from a free, including the obvious arrival of Seamus Prendergast, showed the sense of desperation. It had the desired effect though. Mahony got one from a free and then Waterford managed to get that elusive goal. It was a cracking piece of play from Kevin MoRAN, as the presenter on Sky Sports News would refer to him, playing a pinpoint ball across to Dunford to score. Seamus teed up Gleeson to trim the gap to two, and after Wexford hit a 65 Dunford really gave them a right kick in the crotch, emerging with the ball after a magnificent pileup in the square and unbelievably we were ahead.

24 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014 Action 2

What an effort, but that was the thing – the effort. Are Waterford not prepared properly, or are they not good enough to the extent that they had to burn through 70 minutes of energy to keep in touch after 50? Wexford reacted quickly with two points to regain the lead, the first of the efforts a goalbound effort that was deflected over for a goal. Dunford kept up the good fight by drawing a foul, but Mahony could only send another free wide.

At the other end Noel Connors was left exposed and had to give away a foul. This drew a yellow card from the ref and rather crass cheers from the Wexford fans. Anything I say about the Wexford fans will be dismissed as sour grapes, and that’s the reader’s prerogative. The huge Wexford crowd was part of the story here though, so I think I’m entitled to some latitude. There sure is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds, and the size of the Wexford one told us that they could see something was a-brewing with this team, which is great after so many years in the doldrums. Still, did they have to bring everyone in the county who had never attended a GAA match? It seemed like every wide was greeted with a big cheer, a breach of rule number one: don’t celebrate the score until you see the green/white flag. Was I imagining all this? Possibly, although the loon who had been necking a bottle of Jägermeister throughout the game picked up on it too, yelling “YEESS!” at a particularly inappropriate time to chuckles from everyone around. He did it again moments later. There were no laughs. Tough crowd.

16 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

Such blather prevents me from facing up to the reality. It was a one score game, but Waterford were shot. Wexford stretched the lead to three when a sniff of a chance was pounced on by corner-back Liam Ryan who roared down the field to set up the point and lift every yellow belly in the ground, veteran and ingénue alike. Stephen Molumphy showed the benefit of fresh legs with a flying score, but it was going to take something improbable to save us. Stephen Bennett certainly fits into the subset of those capable of the improbable and he came on just as he had in the Under-21 game, so much pressure on such young shoulders.

A little luck also helps, as the ref played a ridiculous advantage when Wexford would probably have looked for the free and the ‘advantage’ ended up hitting the outside of the post. We were going to need oodles of it, and got some more when O’Keeffe stepped past a dropping ball and the defence somehow kept it out. Even more luck came in the form of some abysmal Wexford shooting. The game had completely broken down at this stage and it meant that there was a slim chance we could pick their pocket.  Molumphy and Bennett each had half-chances but Wexford managed to close them down and force the wide. As the game ticked into the last couple of minutes Bennett had better than half a chance, but Ryan was there again to block and clear. A late chance to drop it in drifted wide and with that they finally got to the finish line with us still clinging to their coattails.

Seven minutes into the second half and seven points down, I really feared a pounding like we had endured against Cork. It didn’t happen, and for that we have reason to be relieved. The loss to Cork at Under-21 was far more grievous. And while I couldn’t help having a wry cut at Wexford above, it was gratifying to see them enjoying a win over Waterford with such gusto. We ain’t dead yet. We might be soon, but we ain’t dead yet.

21 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe,  Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor (Stephen Bennett), Noel  Connors, Darragh Fives, (Stephen Molumphy, 0-1), Kevin Moran, Tadhg de Búrca, Michael Walsh (capt), Paudie Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (0-7, 0-6f, 0-1 65; Martin O’Neill), Austin Gleeson (0-3), Colin Dunford (2-1), Shane Walsh (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Jake Dillon (0-2; Seamus Prendergast)

Wexford : Mark Fanning, Liam Ryan, Matthew O’Hanlon (capt), Keith Rossiter (Willie Devereux; Ian Byrne, 0-1),  Andrew Shore, Eoin Moore, Ciarán Kenny,  David Redmond (1-0; Garrett Sinnott), Lee Chin, Paul Morris (1-6, 0-3f), Podge Doran (0-2), Harry Kehoe (Diarmuid O’Keeffe, 0-1)  Jack Guiney (0-1), Conor McDonald (1-2), Liam Óg McGovern (0-2; Rory Jacob)

HT: Waterford 0-12 (12) Wexford 2-9 (15)

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

Counsel of despair

Among all the Senior, Minor and Under-21 Championship & National League matches that I have seen Waterford play live, last Wednesday’s Under-21 loss to Cork was the most disappointing result of the lot.

It’s often said that Waterford perform at their best when they are underdogs. This is despite us usually losing games where we are underdogs because, well, it’s correctly assumed before the game that we’re not as good as the opposition. What people mean when they say we perform better as underdogs is that the tag of favourites brings with it expectations that are very hard for Waterford to fulfill. And against Cork, that hit us with a vengeance. A combination of factors before the game suggested this might be Waterford’s day after four successive first-game knockouts at Under-21 level. We were at home, we had shown last year against Clare that we could compete at this level against the eventual All-Ireland champions, and we had a formidable combination of players with Senior experience and Minor All-Ireland-winning flair. To hell with the tag of underdogs, the time had come to embrace the tag of favourites and play like it.

Now there was a plan of battle that didn’t survive contact with the enemy. The worst thing is that the enemy was the one within. The first half showed that Waterford could certainly compete on a man-to-man basis. The outstanding performer on the field was Alan Cadogan, but this was not unexpected. Austin Gleeson wasn’t far behind and the Waterford backs were well on top. So on top that we were wondering why they felt the need to play with such a defensive lineup. Yep, in an example of that BS phrase so beloved of management gurus, Waterford were engaging in some vertical integration between Senior and Under-21 levels. Forwards dropping off to win possession and playing short passes around the back to keep that possession. Most players were competing well, the depredations of Cadogan being the exception and sometimes you have to accept your punishment in the manner other teams had to cope with John Mullane. It felt like gilding the lily to persist with these tactics when simply trusting the players seemed a more optimal plan.

And in one horrible second-half minute the gap between the expectations generated by the talent on the field and the reality of their application was brutally exposed.  In fairness the game was probably already slipping away by the time Cork went down to 14 men, the umpires spotting a straight-red swipe on Gleeson. There was a five-point gap with only 18 minutes to go and Waterford hadn’t shown enough of a goal threat to suggest they might turn that around. But having seen the game against Clare last year slip away thanks to a red card, here was a reason to hope we might be the beneficiaries of such a decision this year. Cue the bad karma of that short passing game, particularly the evil of the short puckouts. Goalie hits the ball to back, back has his pass across the field intercepted, Cork pounce for a goal, the optimism generated by the red card is immediately snuffed out, and a county that have played in five provincial Minor finals in six years finds itself unable to produce a result at Under-21 level for the fifth year on the bounce.

The despair in Walsh Park was palpable, something you can see in the bleakness on boards.ie. It can’t have been a coincidence that both Derek McGrath and Peter Queally are adopting this dispiriting, demoralising, and borderline unforgivable mode of play. Barring an astonishing volte-face on the part of management, one for which Wednesday night is evidence of why it should happen and evidence of why it won’t, Waterford are going to go through the same motions tonight. Set against stories of Wexford selling out their (stand) allocation, we have veterans like Giveitfong talking of not going for fear of what might befall us thanks to the “crazy and self-destructive tactics”. I’ll be there, but after Wednesday night hope is on life support.

Small is beautiful

It’s f***in’ even worse than last week

I don’t know where the vendor who had set up camp near Mackey’s pub for the Waterford-Clare match on Sunday had been the previous week but he must have thought that things were bound to be better in the vibrant temple to Gaeldom that is Thurles. Instead a paltry crowd of 12,296 turned up. It was so bad that even the Munster Council didn’t try to pretend that this was acceptable. You could put such an attendance in its historical context. According to the match programme the 1962 clash between the two counties attracted 2,500 punters to Thurles, and even the 1992 first-round replay could only manage a crowd of 7,500. Factor in the 2010 game mentioned by Seán Walsh (11,000)  and crowds are actually on the rise, right?

Enough with the smart-alec attitude, clearly something is wrong. Tickets are too expensive – I cringed at the sight of my neighbour piling into his car with his family. I dread to think how much it cost him – and Thomas Keane summarises the arguments for a price cut pretty well. His point about not worrying about what other sports get up to is particularly apposite. However, it’s unlikely ticket prices are going to fall. They would have to halve to make an appreciable difference to people’s pockets and while it’s all very well grabbing at low-hanging fruit like hurl walls most of the expenditure of the Munster Council would be missed by the plain people of the Association were it to be withdrawn. As Thomas notes, there was a time when the GAA could charge what it liked. But it’s not just recession that means people don’t go to games. Matches between Waterford and Clare outside of a Munster final have lost their lustre, just as they didn’t appeal to the punters of 20 and 50 years ago when prices would have been counted in pennies. The hardy 12,296 souls who turned up last Sunday would probably have paid €40 while slashing prices to €15-€20 wouldn’t have led to a huge increase in attendance. Are they gouging the dedicated supporter like my neighbour? Yes they are. Alas, the GAA has to get its money from somewhere and that’s the road it has chosen to go down. The trick for the GAA going to forward must be to make games like last Sunday’s more attractive. And what I would propose has been inspired by an article a few weeks back by Ewan MacKenna about the Dubs and their use (and abuse) of Croke Park.

MacKenna catalogued the benefits to Dublin of playing in Croke Park and his piece had the near-unrecorded effect of changing my mind on the subject. And buried within was the observation that staging matches in Croke Park has the unintended impact of reducing the hype surrounding the build-up to the match. Part of the thrill of the championship summer is chasing tickets. Discussions of who is going and who might have access to the oh-so-precious tickets creates a positive feedback that is worth having itself. Imagine if our game on Sunday had been played in Walsh Park. It can hold 12,000 people, and you can be certain that there would have been thousands of extra people for whom being there would have become the most important thing in the world and they would talk of nothing during the week before the match than of how some pen pusher in the County Board was hoarding all the tickets for their cronies. And that’s before you consider that people would be forced to put their money down before they know what the weather would be like. No more deciding on the morning of the game whether you were going (can you imagine what the crowd would have been like on Sunday had the weather been as bad as it had been in the week leading up to the game?)

Unlike Cusack Park in Ennis, Walsh Park is not a serious prospect for packed Championship games. There’s a perfectly valid stand-in as Waterford’s home venue less than an hour up the motorway though – Nowlan Park. It was floated as an idea eighteen months ago at the county convention and when you look at the attendance on Sunday it looks that bit more attractive. Both Limerick and Clare would doubtless be thrilled at the prospect of home-and-away arrangements and it would mean never having to visit Páirc Uí Chaoimh again for matches with Tipperary outside the Munster final – that’d spike Frank Murphy’s guns and surely no-one could object to that.

Of course the Munster Council will probably object, and I’m sure a few of my fellow Déisigh will feel humiliated at the thought of going cap-in-hand to the Cats for a place to rest our weary head. But is it any more humiliating than the turnout last Sunday? Everyone in work on Monday was buzzing about the match, an example of the greatest game on Earth at its tub-thumping finest, yet the only other person who had gone to Thurles was an American! Something has to change. That’s my proposal, for what it’s worth. The authorities cannot seriously think ‘more of the same’ is the way forward. Can they?

Waterford 1-13 (16) Kilkenny 2-16 (22)

Kil-ken-NEEE, concrete jungl . . . oh, did that gag last time out. Besides, Kilkenny is a proper town with its own train station and all. A train station whose main function is to add fifteen minutes to the journey time between Waterford and Dublin, but it’s undeniably useful when trying to get to Nowlan Park. It has to be admitted amidst all the none-too-subtle digs at the Marble Town that Nowlan Park is a fine venue, what shoud be the archetype for county grounds as opposed to grotesque white elephants like the Gaelic Grounds or betwixt-and-between mini-grounds like Walsh Park and Fraher Field. While not as big a tribute to the wisdom of the Kilkenny County Board as all those All-Irelands, it’s evidence of that industriousness that puts many larger countries to shame. And it is the site of Year Zero in modern Waterford hurling. Fond memories abound.

We got to Nowlan Park early and took up seats directly in front of the high priests of Kilkenny GAA. The ongoing saga of Being Stuck Beside An Overzealous Opposition Supporter had a light-hearted entry as a young man with Down’s Syndrome took exception to sitting beside us and stormed off in a huff. Ah, to be on the other side of the fence for once. And getting there early meant we could also engage in a spot of people watching. While it’s fun to see the usual suspects – Tony Browne Sr is always easily spotted among the early arrivers – there was a galling amount of people who live in Waterford cheering for Kilkenny. They’re taking all the jobs. Still, it must have made Paddy Buggy’s day easier to know that he was among his own people.

When watching the likes of Kilkenny, or to be more accurate when watching ‘Kilkenny’, every moment of quality on their part mushrooms into a splendiferous statement of intent while every screw-up on Waterford’s part is indicative of an underlying malaise that eats away at the collective body politic. And we had an early example of that, TJ Reid sending over a long free after Seamus Prendergast had been harshly adjudged to have overcarried. Jaysus, they can score from anywhere – how are we meant to compete? Then you look upon some mediocre play from John Mullane, winning the ball brilliantly but then sending in a nothing handpass which trickles wide. Jaysus, even Mullane isn’t at the races – how are we meant to compete? Mullane then won another ball and was fouled as he attempted to get clear, only for him to squander the ‘advantage’ by sending in another wide. The ref isn’t giving us a digout – how are we meant to compete? In fairness the ref was quite correct to apply the advantage rule so narrowly, but it did emphasise something I’ve often thought, that referees who ‘let the game flow’ are over-rated. If I’m fouled, give me the free. The dead-ball score is always going to be easier.

Of course the Lord helps those who help themselves, and Waterford certainly weren’t doing themselves any favours, Stephen Molumphy squandering another good opening by playing the ball into nobody in particular from which Kilkenny swept down the field to give Aidan Fogarty his first score in what would be a fine performance, then Seamus Prendergast chopped a sideline cut wide. Shane Walsh could probably count himself unlucky not to earn a free when he was hit high and not very smartly, and you would begin to worry about Waterford losing their cool as Michael Walsh was penalised and yellow-carded for a hit that wasn’t obviously different to the one Shane Walsh had taken. Richie Hogan slotted over the point from way out to add to the slowly-inflating bubble of concern.

We really needed some TLC at this point and the referee weighed in with some, awarding Darragh Fives a soft free. From the subsequent free out Mullane won the ball, turned inside and teed up Thomas Ryan to open Waterford’s account from close in. But before you could get your hopes up Richie Hogan was allowed the run of the park to catch, run and slot the ball over the bar. They looked like they were going to run away with at this point but thankfully a) Waterford showed a bit of backbone and b) Kilkenny showed they had feet of clay. Fogarty was shepherded by Fives out of play and the following sideline was cleared by Michael Walsh. A free-in for Waterford was gathered by David Herity in the Kilkenny goal, sent down to Michael Walsh who sent it back in where the attentions of Shane Walsh – needing to distinguish the two Walshes is a pain but an inevitable by-product of their respective performances – forced a Kilkenny back to pick the ball straight off the ground and Foley trimmed the gap to two. That was Waterford showing backbone. Now came Kilkenny showing feet of clay. Michael W was penalised but Hogan sent the free wide. Then Stephen Molumphy took way too much out of the ball when he should have released it quickly and ended up getting crowded out, but Kilkenny’s next attack ended in another wide, this time for Pat Hartley. There would be a lot of wides in the game, and the majority of the really duff ones would be for the home team.

A corollary to the idea that everything they do well gets blown out of proportion is the constant fear that their full-forward line will take even the best full-back line apart for goals. And we have a notoriously weak full-back line. So it was almost a relief in the 11th minute when Eddie Brennan was fouled after catching John Dalton’s long clearance. He seemed to have eluded his marker and it was, not to put too fine a point on it, a professional foul. Hogan took the point to restore the three point lead. Now came another moment from Kilkenny that had one of our players done it we’d never hear the end of it. Eoin Larkin gathered a sideline ball and had enough time to drop the hurley and tie his laces before delivering the ball into danger. So what does he do? Drill a short ball way too high and hard at a teammate who found it too hot to handle. Shane W powered through and set up Mullane whose attack was scrambled out for a 65 from which Foley pointed.

I’m labouring the point at this stage, but hey, why break the habit of a lifetime? Another wide for Kilkenny, this time from John Mulhall, and you really began to dream. Could they seriously be vulnerable? This is the team that squandered a six million (approx) point lead against Galway. Waterford added a wide of their own, a long range effort drifting just wide but the Kilkenny backs didn’t look like they knew a hell of a lot about it as the ball thudded out over the endline. And when Thomas Ryan scored again after some tremendous fielding from Shane Walsh again, the gap was a scarcely believable one point. Eddie Brennan may have heard my seditious thoughts because he proceeded to score a peach of a point, gathering and turning to score with all the ease with which you’d fall off a log. Brennan is a tricksy sort, but he outsmarted himself soon after, winning the ball cleanly then batting a dangerous ball . . . into the portion of the field where he ordinarily wreaks so much havoc. Kilkenny had scored a good few of their points from outside the 45, so it was gratifying to see them miss a few long range frees. Waterford were the beneficiaries of another soft free when Mullane was fouled but it was Kilkenny who ended the half on the up, Eoin Larkin scoring from distance and Hogan pointing a free after Mulhall had been fouled fourteen (approx) times. There was enough time for Tommy Walsh to be substituted after a crunching shoulder charge and be replaced by Tony Browne – at least, according to the bewildered PA, a faux pas which led to much merriment in the ground as half-time arrived.

And for the interlude, a question. Where was Davy Fitz? Sitting where we were, I expected to see him serving his sideline ban but there was neither sight nor sound of him. My father had also noticed that Pauric Fanning was wearing an earpiece. Perhaps the Waterford mentors always wear one. It’d be the kind of new-fangled gizmo that would cause Brian Cody to go red(der) with laughter. But perhaps they were secretly communicating with the manager. If so, it’s surely in breach of the spirit of a sideline ban and it’ll be interesting to see how the authorities react.

Half-time ended with a rather thoughtful gesture for the Primary Game lads, the teams lining up to shake each others hands. This was done  as part of the RESPECT initiative, possibly the world’s least profound acronym, but it also induced a round of applause which is the kind of thing that will live forever with those young fellas. Back in the game, Eoin McGrath had come on for ‘James Molumphy’ – take another bow, Mr Announcer. I thought nothing of it at the time but it now seems that he had to leave to go back on Army duty. What could Davy have learned about Molumphy in those thirty-five minutes that he didn’t know already? Would it not have been better to give someone else a run? Certainly a lot of the fringe players will wonder whether they’ll ever get a go. As Molumphy was racing from Nowlan Park with his cap backwards and his braces around his ankles Kilkenny were quickly into their stride, earning a free within seconds from which Hogan scored. It was slightly unnerving to see the scores were almost double – echoes of that horrible moment in 2008 when I saw they had scored ten points in just fifteen minutes. It was important to squelch such thoughts, Foley pointing from a free after a foul on Seamus Prendergast. It was a badly struck free, barely making it over, but over it went. PJ Delaney stomped through much of the Waterford half-back line but having done the hard work hit a terrible wide that must have had Brian Cody tearing out his . . . well, you know what I mean. Colin Fennelly made up for that, gathering a puck-out and didn’t need to barge his way past anyone as he raced towards goal and struck over a fine point to stretch the gap back to five.

Several frustrating minutes followed as the ball was struck back and forth between the respective half-back lines, a period ending with Michael Walsh earning a foul which led to another long free going wide. Waterford seemed to have taken someone out of the full-forward line, or perhaps they completely lost their compass as three balls in a row went into areas with only one white shirt or no white shirt at all. At the other end, Wayne Hutchinson earned credit with good back play to snuff out a goal chance, then promptly handed that credit back with a horrible looping backpass to Stephen O’Keeffe which was cleared after a fraught few moments. From the next attack Mullane put a rampaging Kevin Moran clear and he smashed the ball over the bar. Gap down to four. Mullane wasn’t getting the space he normally creates, but he was being fouled and another free earned left only a goal in it ten minutes into the second half.

A couple of more bad wides, one from each from Richie Hogan and Eddie Brennan, increased the sense that this could be Waterford’s day. Foley pointed from a 65 and then the ref moved a free in after some lip from a Kilkenny player. You’d think having scored the 65 moments earlier that this was within his range and it was – sort of. Foley’s free hit the post and it was no surprise that it was the effervescent Shane Walsh who was first to the rebound and he hammered the ball across Herity’s bows to the net. Great stuff, and it got even better as Eoin McGrath scored a point after the Kilkenny backs in his quadrant went AWOL.

It may seem demented to be saying this, but at that moment I really thought we were going to push on, use the momentum to build up a decent lead which might be defendable should Kilkenny come back at us. At the very least give us a cushion against a goal. Certainly if someone had told me at this stage that we’d score two points in the last twenty minutes I’d have thought they were the demented one. Instead Waterford retreated in a fashion that will lead to a post mortem or two. Shane Walsh won the ball for the umpteenth time but there was no one to support him. Kilkenny cleared as far as Aidan Fogarty who rattled the ball over the bar to cut the gap to one. David O’Sullivan got robbed and then gave away a free in his frustration. The ball was dropped into towards the square where it seemed to elude everyone on the way to the net.  Whether the Kilkenny forward had gotten a touch to it or not, in real time it looked to be a square ball but the ref wasn’t interested and Kilkenny were now two points ahead where moments before they were two points down without much in the way of effort.

We needed a big performance from someone whose surname wasn’t Walsh. Eoin Kelly was now on but he hit the kind of wide that deflates teams more than just missing. At the other end Colin Fennelly earned a free and Hogan stretched the lead to three. Thomas Ryan teed up John Mullane who slid the ball over the bar but Waterford were really struggling to get clean possession in the forward line. Hogan drew a foul and scored from the free and it was now only loose shooting that was keeping Kilkenny from slapping us right down, Brennan dropping a point effort into O’Keeffe’s lap who also pulled off a good save when sub Matthew Ruth had put Fogarty in the clear. Hogan did manage to get a point from the following 65 and even with seven minutes of normal time to go you felt Waterford would need a goal. The hubris in the aftermath of Walsh’s goal had been laid bare.

Then again, Kilkenny weren’t showing their usual elan. A sideline ball was given to Waterford which led to an entertaining detonation from Cody. The ball eventually found its way to Jamie Nagle who pumped the ball into the mix. Kilkenny half-cleared it as far as Kevin Moran who made the space for Eoin Kelly to notch what would be Waterford’s last score. In fairness the quest for a goal was now paramount and when Nagle and Ryan combined to get Mullane in space he was chopped down in prime goal-scoring territory. Kelly’s free was saved and popped up in a manner that just begged for a goal but it was pushed wide. Kilkenny were feeling a bit more themselves now, a bit more puffed up, which explained Eddie Brennan putting his head down and going for a goal when there was a point there for the taking. Waterford got it clear and after a lot of faffing around Michael Walsh managed to get the ball into the danger area, i.e. towards Shane Walsh, but Kilkenny managed to crowd him out. Hogan missed a free that would have finished it but Waterford failed to trouble the Kilkenny back line with a long range free that bumbled apologetically wide.

The final insult came in the second minute of injury time. Waterford were penalised, something that brought a hissy fit of monumental proportions from Eoin Kelly. The free dropped in again and in a much more crowded square didn’t get much encouragement as it went past Stephen O’Keeffe. He looked utterly dejected, crouched down on his line as Waterford came up the field for one last hurrah. A couple of Hail Mary goal efforts culminated in Mullane lashing the ball wide.

It had been a less-than-inspiring game, riddled with bar-of-soap handling errors and poor shooting. There were a few encouraging signs for Waterford. The full-back line stood tall, and Michael Walsh was as monumental as we have ever seen him. You may have noticed I was quite impressed with Shane Walsh. Having been surprised by how good he was at full-forward against Cork, it was perhaps even more pleasing to expect something good and get it. Kilkenny were flattered by their six-point margin of victory. But while each the Kilkenny forwards shook a leg at some point only Walsh and Mullane, subdued by his standards but still good enough for everyone else’s level, did so for us. We now have two games with which to experiment in finding a forward line. The omens are not good.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Darragh Fives, Wayne Hutchinson, Noel Connors, David O’Sullivan, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran (0-1), Richie Foley (0-6, 0-4f, 0-2 65), Jamie Nagle, Pauric Mahony (Eoin Kelly, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast, Thomas Ryan (0-2), John Mullane (0-2), Shane Walsh (1-0), Stephen Molumphy (capt; Eoin McGrath, 0-1)

Kilkenny: David Herity, Michael Kavanagh, Noel Hickey, John Dalton, Tommy Walsh (PJ Delaney), Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney, Eoin Larkin (0-1), Pat Hartley (Paul Murphy), Aidan Fogarty (0-3), TJ Reid (1-2), John Mulhall (Matthew Ruth), Eddie Brennan (0-1), Richie Hogan (0-7, 0-5f), Colin Fennelly (1-2)

HT: Waterford 0-6 Kilkenny 0-10

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)

Sleeping with the enemy

The radioactive cloud from the explosion generated by the Waterford County Board’s abortive attempt to engineer a home-and-away arrangement with Cork for this year’s Munster final succeeded in concealing the reason for that initial attempt – the parlous state of the county’s finances. So it was inevitable once the story had passed through its half-life a few million times – the rate of decay for a story like this being about seven minutes – that the County Board would return to it. Thus we have the proposal for Waterford to play any ‘home’ games that might arise in the Munster championship in the bastion of Munsterness that is Nowlan Park.

Before looking at the substance of the idea, it would be appropriate to address why it is necessary to consider such an arrangement, i.e. the inadequacy of our own county venues at Walsh Park and Fraher Field. The state of these grounds is something on which I’m willing to give the County Board a pass. As with the senior hurling team, they are routinely ridiculed for not being the best-of-the-best, behaviour that can only be performed with a straight face if you forget just how gobsmackingly awful things were back in the 1980’s. Walsh Park consisted of three-and-three-quarter grass banks, none of which had crush barriers, and a sub-Subbuteo stand that was quite literally a cow shed, Graves of Waterford balefully emblazoned upon its side. As for the toilets, let’s just say that I’m glad I’m not a woman. The money that was invested in the 1990’s in the two venues didn’t produce stunning results, but once the easily-justified decision was made, in terms of club use, to maintain both grounds rather than put it all into one, the butter was always going to be spread a little thin. But the toast that was produced was far superior to the burnt offerings of yore. And it goes without saying that we should be grateful that such indecision regarding the prime location for the county spared us the grotesque white elephants that hang around the necks of those counties not fortunate enough to have a JP McManus ready to pay for someone to continuously dispose of its dung. Procrastination may be a vice to some, but (spoiler alert) Claudius still ended up dead with Hamlet, didn’t he?

Still, the lack of a revenue stream from the occasional five-figure attendance is clearly a problem, so how does the notion of making Kilkenny a home-away-from-home go down? People in the west of the county will doubtless bristle at the *checks Google Maps* 80.5km journey from Dungarvan to Kilkenny compared to the 49.8km one from the city, swanky new toll-free (thank you, Martin Cullen) motorway to boot. But in what way are they more inconvenienced than, say, travelling to Thurles (83.7km)? And they’ve never expressed any sympathy for those of us in the east of the county who have to travel an additional 46km to get to Cork whenever games are staged there. Travelling is a feature of championship matches for everyone outside of Dublin, and you wouldn’t want to be accused of whinging like lowdown Jackeens, would you?

Of more concern would be the reaction of the Munster Council. Much like their counterparts in rugby Munster consider themselves of being made of the right stuff in comparison to the other provinces, to the extent that they have limited all senior hurling matches to the super venues in Thurles, Cork, Limerick and Killarney, although Fitzgerald Stadium has fallen off the radar in recent years. I’m pretty sure this is official, but in the absence of being able to locate anything to that effect on the internet, consider this: Cusack Park in Ennis is a tidy enough ground which, while lacking much in the way of seating, has proper terraces all the way around. Yet despite this and its respectable capacity of 28,000, similar to that of Nowlan Park, it is never used for Munster championship matches. In addition, the Munster Council are happy to go out of their way to accommodate the big grounds as evidenced by the fiasco in 2008 when Waterford were obliged to play Clare in the Gaelic Grounds, a place where you wouldn’t need Google Maps to know its proximity to the respective counties. It would offend the dignity of the Munster Championship for the matches to be played  anywhere other than a 45,000 capacity ground, even if Waterford’s three matches last year would collectively have just about filled Semple Stadium. And as for staging a match outside the province, that might be good enough for those savages in Ulster, but in Munster . . . someone pass the smelling salts.

There are lots of good reasons to stage Waterford’s ‘home’ games in Kilkenny, and the reasons against are mostly trivial, parochial and small-minded. It hasn’t a hope of happening.