Tag Archives: RSC

Confessions of a Newbie Blue

(originally published in the Waterford United match day programme for the Salthill Devon game on 8th June 2013)

It started with abuse. Never thought that it would come to this. Not coming from a ‘soccer’ household didn’t stop me falling head-over-heels in love with Liverpool FC, and it was that love which saw me spend five years in the city in the mid-Noughties, picking up a season ticket-owning wife along the way. So it was that my in-laws were in town when I was offered tickets for the match against Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town. I was tickled by the idea of my father-in-law, a man who had stood on the Kop when Liverpool famously defeated St-Etienne in the 1977 European Cup, seeing what it was like at the coal face of the game.  I posted a rather dismissive article about the experience on my blog, and even though I brought my brother-in-law to see the Blues play a proper fixture against Limerick in the league a few weeks later – how would a veteran of those two Champions League semi-final triumphs over Chelsea view such an event? – this didn’t necessarily indicate a sudden yearning to worship at the cathedral that is the RSC.

Then I noticed a few comments on the Ipswich post. Very abusive comments. It seemed improbable that these people just happened upon the blog simultaneously, so I did some digging and found someone had posted a link on a fan forum where the comments about me made those posted on the blog look like the work of Ban Ki-moon. There was one chap who exhorted people to give me a break, that at least I had shown an interest in the Blues and had taken the time to express an opinion on the experience. But for everyone else . . . oh boy.  As far as they were concerned the ninth circle of Hell was reserved for barstoolers like me.

It is probably to the credit of my lone defender on the forum that my reaction was not to wash my hands of the whole affair, but instead to adopt a stubborn attitude that I’d show the rest of them what it was to be a Waterford man, godammit! I went along to see the Blues play UCD and lo! bumped into an old school friend who only too happy to show me the ropes with respect to the League of Ireland scene, something I hadn’t been clued into since the days of Tommy Lynch, and I’ve been a frequent (if not regular) visitor to the RSC ever since.

The reason I go through all this biographical detail is not out of a sense of narcissism. Okay, not entirely out of a sense of narcissism. It’s to show how tricky it is to get into the world of the League of Ireland supporter. Supporting Liverpool was a doddle, and that wasn’t because they were winning all round them at the time. And no, I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I’m sure most committed supporters of the domestic game also follow events cross-channel. I was once on a flight back from Liverpool and one of my fellow passengers could claim over 300 visits to Anfield. Clearly a good Red, but also a good Blue as demonstrated by his continued presence in the RSC. The reason I bring up how I came to be a proper supporter is that there were so many places where I could have said it’s not worth the bother. The Ipswich game was deathly dull. The Facebook app that allowed you to show what sports grounds you’d been to might not have existed (that’s the reason my brother-in-law was happy to accompany me to the Limerick game). The friendly forumite might not have been round to give me a vision of a welcoming RSC as opposed to unthinking keyboard warriors. I might not have even met that old school friend who was able to give me something familiar upon which to cling while I acclimatised myself to this slightly intimidating new world. In short, there are so many places that it could have gone wrong. One wonders how many people have set out on the journey only to fall into a similar pothole along the way.

It’s easy supporting a team in the English Premier League. There are millions of people around the world claiming undying love of Liverpool who have never even been to Europe, let alone Anfield. It’s hard to follow the local game. If someone were to ask me why they should go, I’d struggle to come up with a good sales pitch. I enjoy the live game, but you could just as easily go to a junior game for free if all you wanted was to see a good kick-around. €10 represents excellent value for an evening’s entertainment, but the moment it comes out of your mouth you feel like underselling it (“it’s only the price of a few pints”). The commitment of the players to winning even a dead rubber and their honest endeavour at all times is a sight to behold, but despite the abuse heaped on multi-millionaire footballers and their remoteness from the fans, there’s very few of them of whom it can’t be said they give their best too. Don’t ever ask me to be a salesman.

What keeps me coming back is a renewed sense of that which is the last refuge of the scoundrel – patriotism. Waterford city has suffered grievously in recent years, whether it be the depredations of unemployment or even the stripping of the very city status that has been at the heart of its identity for the best part of a millennium. I’m not going to win any converts to the cause in this programme. Something gives me an inkling that everyone reading it is onside already. Either that or looking for a cure for insomnia. In the end though, we have to hang together. The alternative doesn’t even bear thinking about.

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W(h)ither the Blues?

A few weeks back I overheard one of the Waterford United Supporters Club grandees suggest that we’d be better off finishing third in the division. This was predicated on there only being one First Division playoff tie with the team who finished second having home advantage, much as we did against Monaghan United two years ago. Quite apart from an instinctive recoil from how well that one turned out, the thought that Waterford fans would end the season on a high by bringing a couple of hundred of the truly committed to make some noise was an attractive one. And while it’s always hard to quantify the impact the crowd can have on the game, there was only one winner last Friday in that department – Dundalk. Despite a crowd of nearly 3,000 people at the RSC all the noise was made by the visitors, and that wasn’t just because they happened to win. It was true right from the off and while there are few clubs that get my hackles up more than Dundalk , due to their remarkable record of spawning trophies back in the day and for perpetuating the win-at-all-costs philosophy of Dermot Keely that did so much damage to the League during his reign of terror, you couldn’t begrudge their fans on the night. This was a battle for their existence, and they were entitled to be euphoric at their deliverance.

Of course, there was an existential element to Waterford United’s struggle the other night, and while recent results and that big crowd made you think it was highly unlikely that the Blues would fold, a feeling allegedly confirmed by chairman John O’Sullivan over the weekend, our future is still very much in limbo. Seven teams are preparing for next season’s First Division with no word of any replacements. Even if we could anticipate the FAI pulling a (say) Cobh Ramblers-shaped rabbit from the hat, there’s no chance they’ll be up to the standards that would be necessary to prepare a club for taking on either the Premier Division for an entire season or even a Premier Division team in a play-off. I didn’t feel so bad on the night, not having properly gone through the hell of playoff misery before and being able to congratulate myself on sportingly applauding the Dundalk players off at the end – don’t laugh, self-actualisation matters. It was only when I got home and crunched some stats that I realised the gulf between the two divisions, i.e. of the seven teams in next year’s First Division, Finn Harps haven’t been in the top flight since 2009 and the Blues and Longford Town haven’t been there since 2008. it’s one thing to be miles off where you want to be. It’s another to arrive and the door and find yourselves locked out.

Before John O’Sullivan’s interview, and it has to be noted that this interview lies in the realms of the unconfirmed, I would have said that the Blues needed to accept our lot as a First Division and go amateur. Sully seems to have changed his tune if the quotes attributed to him in the link above are to be believed, and as a supporter of long-standing he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t cling to dreams of frequent four-figure attendances for the visits of Shamrock Rovers and Derry City. For me though, there has to be arealisation that the powers-that-be don’t really care about us. We’ve cut our cloth to measure to several years now and seen clubs like the Shams, Cork City, Derry City, Shelbourne and Drogheda United, all of whom wreaked far greater havoc with their bankruptcy events than the Blues ever did, breeze back into the Premier Division after minimal banishment periods. To compound the sense of grievance, I’m going to predict that heaven and earth will be moved to accommodate Dundalk – that is, assistance over and above giving them a play-off chance despite finishing rock-bottom of the table. The last thing the League wants is another situation like Monaghan, and their commitment to a 12-team Premier division is such that they’ll consult the 12 teams of the Premier Division before doing anything. So while completely understanding the yearning to have those big crowds at the RSC, the reality is that there’s only a hardcore of 500 or so who are willing to trudge through the turnstiles for the likes of Wexford Youths and Mervue United. About the best we can hope for now is for the return of the aforementioned Cobh, which would at least contain a reasonable chance of a derby feeling to the four matches a year we’d be playing against them.

All this will probably be dismissed as sour grapes, that I’d have been saying none of this had we beaten Dundalk. And I’ll admit to feeling a little bitter over the way things have panned out. I wrote before the play-offs about how unfair the system is and the issues I raised in that post are not going to be wished away by ad hominem attacks. But having got the bitterness out of my system, we have to play the hand that has been dealt us. Far from being negative about it all, it’s time to accentuate the positive. Relish the derbies with Wexford. Eagerly anticipate ding-dong battles with Longford. Feel satisfaction in playing with clubs that don’t go bankrupt at the drop of a hat. Stop chasing fans who are never going to come back except in a fantasy future where every game is winner-takes-all. Gee, it was all the GAA’s fault after all! If they won’t do right by us, at least we can do right by ourselves.

Waterford United 1-1 Longford Town (Agg 3-1)

F*** off home, Longford Town
To the place, you belong
It’s a s****hole, in the Midlands
F*** off home, Longford Town

Oh, the seductive call of being able to belong, to be part of something bigger than yourself. Wrap yourself in the flag. Clasp yourself to the bosom of the tribe. Hopping up and down among amidst the Waterford United Ultras while singing the chant above (to the tune of Take Me Home, Country Roads) brought back happy memories of European nights spent on the Kop. That may sound like hyperbole, and it’s entirely correct to note that there’s a difference between a crowd  of 44,000 and 1,200 (or 1,198, to be precise). On the other hand, you could get to know every one of the people at the RSC if you were so inclined. Much easier to belong to a tribe that size.

And yet, it would be a terrible idea to allow myself to be sucked in too deep. Before the game my Ultra friend texted me to say he was a nervous wreck. Oh come on, I thought. We’re 2-0 up. Stop borrowing trouble. Yet by the time we were ready for kickoff I began to fret as well. Failure was not an option, and in the first few minutes it was clear Longford were up for it and, more worryingly, Waterford were letting thoughts like ‘failure is not an option’ get under their skin. A series of early corners were mostly the product of hesitant defending and clearances from Packie Holden in the goal that were more slaps than punches. God knows how it would have been had the Blues not scored with their very first attack. But they did, my brother getting to see Sean Maguire strut his stuff. Catching Longford on the break, he left his marker for dead and fired a low shot across the bows of the Longford keeper. It was a great effort from a narrow angle, especially with his left foot, and the ball pinged back out to the onrushing Peter Higgins to decisively rifle the ball to the net.

Marvellous, and looking back it was game over. Longford had one decent opportunity midway through the second half when a cross flying across the face of goal was dying to be nudged in, and did eventually score through Alan Kirby right at the end of the 90, but otherwise they didn’t threaten much and looked a shadow of the team that threatened at one stage in the season to run away with the division, usurping Limerick’s destiny. The fact that Waterford overhauled them in the second half of the season gives credence to the notion in baseball that the most likely team in playoffs is not the one with the better record through the entire season, although Waterford had that too, but the team with the better record in the latter stages of the season, Waterford being more than eight points better on the measure. Longford were always going to struggle in the face of that, and they did.

That’s all very wise after the event though. It didn’t feel like that at the time as my worrywart friend, who somehow finds the headspace to be a big Liverpool fan as well, noted that they needed to find inspiration from a team coming from three goals down. Yeah, a Liverpool supporter would know nothing about that. It only takes seconds to score one and then the remaining time to get the other two so it was sensible to remain on high alert.

Still, it wasn’t very likely and you felt all in your head that all Waterford had to do as keep their shape and stay aware of the possibility of a goal on the break, and they did both with admirable calm – that goal really had brutally affected the shape of the tie. While Longford had the lion’s share of the possession they were failing to create much in the way of chances with Waterford content to put each ball into row Z, with John Frost being particularly adept at this. Now, that may be only because Frosty is the only player I truly recognise on this team but it was part of a pattern of Waterford comfort and Longford discomfort and while each side had a decent chance with headers, Gary Dempsey heading over and Noel Havery (it says here) doing the same before half-time when either would have scored had they just kept it on target, Waterford kept it tighter than a Scottish drum.

Early in the second half any sense of comfort was badly damaged in the space of a few blood-curdling minutes. Paul Phelan really should have buried any Istanbul-inspired hopes of a Longford comeback when he side-footed a cross shot wide after a marvellous break from the Blues. Then Longford finally managed to get in behind the defence and Seamus Long lunged at the attacker on the edge of the penalty area leading to his third red card from Keith Callanan in four games. He was very hard done a few weeks back when given a second yellow for a phantom handball against Longford, and I’ve already written about the oddball behaviour of the fourth official against Mervue that proved so damaging to Seamus Long’s prospect of playing 90 minutes that evening. But here, he probably got it right, especially as Longford would have been particularly aggrieved to have only had a yellow card for preventing a probable goal-scoring chance. Reverse the roles and we’d have all been baying for red. So while I was happy to join the rewriting of Take Me Home – what a cracking chant! – to suggest that Callanan’s home lay in McDonald’s on the Cork Road (he’s rather portly, in case you don’t know), he wouldn’t have had to be explaining himself to the referee’s assessor for this decision.

So having survived the free, which was so awful that it would have cleared the nets behind the goal at Walsh Park, the notion of catching Longford on the break was an unlikely one. Now we would have to defend with eight men and hope Sean Maguire could work some magic on his own up front. Now was the turn of our number 7, who I think was Peter Keegan but mortifyingly I can’t tell you for sure, to come into his own. Thomas Crawley down the left was clearly Longford’s main threat and Keegan/number 7 marshalled him brilliantly, sticking to Crawley like glue and never lunging in recklessly. Seamus Long, take note. The Blues did survive a couple of scares, once when another ball over the top ended up with two defenders sandwiching the attacker and the ref mysteriously deciding that was a free out, and another when Crawley managed to evade Keegan only for his lethal cross shot to evade all Longford players as well. But once the game entered the final quarter and the mind began to tell your soul that more time had elapsed in the second half than was left, the atmosphere gradually relaxed. And it was ace. Amazingly a chant for everyone to stand up if they loved the Blues got everyone on their feet. Urbs Intact Manet Waterfordia is right. As with the city, it’s all about belonging.

The presence of Sean Maguire did put a crimp on Longford’s attacking ability, and he should have put the gloss on the night when he jinked his way past the stretched Longford defence only to have his shot well saved by the goalie. And there was time for a mild scare when Longford’s possession finally paid dividends, a cross from the right which could have been touched in by a succession of attackers and defenders was given that final touch by Alan Kirby. For a moment you calculated that Longford now didn’t need a goal every 80 seconds of the four minutes of injury team but one every 120 seconds. Who was I calling a worrywort? But it said much about how improbable everyone knew that to be when the announcement of Alan Kirby as the scorer led to a ripple of acclamation rather than abuse, and it took only one more failed attack for the mathematics of a comeback to move from the improbable to the impossible.

It’s a pity that I have to bash this out in the shadow of a playoff against Dundalk on Tuesday, so the feeling of euphoria has faded pretty quickly. I couldn’t help remembering how the joy of a spectacular comeback win against Shelbourne in the last game of the 2009 regular season as cruelly obliterated by a 3-1 one loss to Monagan at the RSC a mere three days later. Still, to be part of what a more experienced Blue called the “the best atmosphere in years at the rsc” is something to be cherished. Success next Friday would trump even that.

Reffing hell

If it’s a rite of passage into the inner sanctum of domestic soccer nerdishness to feel the need to slag off League of Ireland referees then last Friday was another step for me towards the Holy of Holies. The game against Mervue United on Friday night was noteworthy for three incidents where the officials had a major impact on the game. The first was the Waterford’s disallowed goal. Normally I’m a believer in waiting until the green flag is waved before celebrating a goal, or to see the ref jogging back to the halfway line in soccer parlance, so I’m going to claim that it says something that I saw nothing wrong with the effort that looked to have given Waterford the lead. However, while wondering what specifically he saw that merited a free-out in a penalty area that was littered with pulling and dragging, I’m inclined to think that it’s likely the referee did see something that was noteworthy enough to chalk off the goal. Then there was the sending-off. In real time Seamus Long’s tackle didn’t immediately strike me as red card-worthy, but I have seen them given so wasn’t too surprised when the ref flashed red, even if it wasn’t instantly obvious that that was the colour of the card. Again, a decision that wouldn’t cause the ref Keith Callanan to lose any sleep over.

It was the decision immediately before the red card, and one that  created the circumstances for the dismissal, that would leave you scratching your head about what goes through the minds of League of Ireland officials. Etanda Nkololo, scorer of the goal seconds after our disallowed effort that gave Mervue the lead, had gone down in typical soccer player taken-out-by-a-sniper fashion on the right wing, something that did not elicit jeers of derision because there was no point writhing in agony if you were off the field of play. Then to my amazement – and I was looking right at it, sensing that something quite wrong was unfolding – the fourth official shepherded Nkololo back on to the field of play while Mervue were on the attack. Suddenly Waterford found themselves having to defend a player who effectively had appeared from nowhere, and it was directly from here that Long lunged in to produce the red card.

Now, it’s probable that there was nothing strictly speaking wrong with what the fourth official did, no ‘law’ governing the re-entry of injured (ha!) players back onto the field of play. On the other hand, how often do you see referees behaving like Napoleon when ostentatiously marshalling players onto the pitch? It can be mildly irritating when a player is left loitering on the sideline while the play ebbs and flows around him, but it is surely preferable to what happened here. My wife’s driving instructor imparted unto her an iron rule of motoring: if your actions cause another vehicle to change speed or direction, then you were in the wrong. Much the same could be said of referring. The actions of the fourth official put Waterford on the back foot and it said much that Paul O’Brien, to his immense credit, made no comment to the referee while firmly shaking his hand but had a mild dispute with the fourth official over what had transpired. Not decking the official for his shoulder-shrugging response was a display of Herculean restraint.

The whole spread of the evening’s events made me ponder on what makes a good referee. The job as advertised is literally impossible. You’re expected to judge everything that happens on the field of play, yet there’s no way you can see everything that happens even with the aid of the extra eyes of your officials. Referees compensate for this by anticipating. A former work colleague was a prominent referee in the Waterford junior leagues for many years, and I asked a mutual colleague whether he had been any good. As the former refereeing colleague was a crabby character I didn’t necessarily expect a positive response so the story told was high praise indeed. They were both involved in their respective roles during a match and the ball broke quickly up the field just as two players were about to tangle. The playing colleague was looking right at it but the referee colleague had no reason to be looking anywhere but at the ball. Still, a sixth sense/experience/both told him something dastardly was about to happen and he turned away from the direction of the ball towards the two players just in time to see one flatten the other with a haymaker. You can guess what happened next.

Great refereeing. But it spoke of a cost-benefit analysis of the situation that must be made with lightning speed. What if he had looked away, nothing happened with the developing incident, and at the other end a defender handled the ball to prevent the attacker getting through on goal? To my mind, referees fix in their mind what is about to happen before it happens. Thus AN Referee-Colleague was able to visualise the punch before it happened. On the flip side, Keith Callanan saw a foul in the Mervue box before the cross went in a Waterford attacker duly obliged. He saw a red card tackle from Seamus Long before it happened, an attitude that was reinforced by his sending-off of Longford’s Willo McDonagh two weeks ago – hey, Waterford can’t say I’m harsh, didn’t I whip out the red card in their favour on that occasion? And he didn’t feel the need to question the wacky behaviour of his fourth official in causing the Waterford jalopy to change speed/direction because you would never, ever engage in a disagreement with one of your colleagues in front of the clowns who would happily change speed/direction if ever they saw you crossing the road. Forget about the rules, good refereeing is a form of witchcraft. The sooner we introduce the magic of television into our games, the better.

Giving it 110%

From August 2001 to May 2002 I attended thirty-four Liverpool matches, including every game played at Anfield that season. I’m quite proud of that, which is why it gets mentioned so prominently in a Waterford United post. The reason it came to mind was that tonight I’m going to see the Blues play Mervue United. It’s only the fifth game I’ve been to the RSC this season and having seen them lose badly last weekend to Wexford Youths it feels like a bit of a chore to be going again in such quick succession. It’s odd how much easier it is to regularly attend matches where there are 40,000 people than to attend matches with 400 people. Who would have thought?

Thankfully it’s the FAI Cup tonight so there really is something at stake – the right to be in the quarter-final draw and hope you draw the winners of the Malahide United-Dundalk game before getting inevitably hockeyed in the semi-final by one of the big guns. The excitement is killing me!

With the League placings looking pretty much cast in stone – Limerick as champions, Longford and Waterford in the play-off – there is only pride at stake in the remaining home fixtures. Just to make things even more meaningless, a Blue worthy was overhead last Friday expressing a desire for playing Longford away from home, and you could see his point. When Waterford last appeared in the dreaded play-off, they got there by beating Shelbourne in a thrilling comeback win in front of a delirious travelling crowd. A few days later they flopped spectacularly in front of a stunned home crowd against Monaghan United – remember them? So maybe reversing the scenario might help. If it were on a Saturday night, I might even make the trip to sunny Longford myself.

Don’t hold me to that.

A passing thought about ‘playing for pride’. Eamon Dunphy was once asked on his radio show why he didn’t give out racing tips, preferring to concentrate on soccer accumulators. His answer was blunt – “footballers always try.” And you could see what he meant last Friday. With nothing at stake, not even pride of the parish, Wexford went at Waterford with all guns blazing and got their reward. Perhaps each player still secretly yearns to be picked up by Real Madrid or Barcelona if only they can be seen on the right day, but it’s laudable in itself that soccer players want to win every game, every time, just because they want to win. If you want to see how it could be, read The Economist’s take on corruption in Chinese soccer and be grateful for the honesty of the League of Ireland.

Update: and there was me, determined to go come what may . . .

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/waterfordunited/status/239027097585209344″%5D

Hope the Mervue lads got stuck in Newmarket-on-Fergus.

Rhapsody in Blue

It’s been a while since I visited the topic of Waterford United (it’s a recurring theme), and while I can say with an utterly straight face that I’ve been following their efforts as they have roared up the table, it doesn’t excuse not going to the games. Summer soccer was meant to make going to matches more attractive, and at the time of writing an evening in the RSC looks like a pleasant prospect, but whoever came up with the idea didn’t twig that punters have a lot more going on in the summer months. What with weddings (one of which put the kibosh on me going to the Munster final), jaunts abroad and guests from abroad, there always seems to be something going on.

Excuses, excuses. When the decision was made to switch to summer soccer, the powers-that-be were probably only too well aware that those who didn’t want to go would swap one set of excuses (see above) for another (bad weather, dark evenings, kids in school, Liverpool on the telly, Pisces not aligned with Capricorn). So tonight I’m heading along with a feeling of dread that I’m about to put the mockers on their splendid run of late.

And what a run it has been. Their win over Longford Town last weekend was their seventh on the bounce and has a potential long-term significance which we’ll get back to in a moment. After the debacle against Wexford Youths on the opening day of the season I opined that “there was nothing in the second half of last season to suggest Paul O’Brien is a huge improvement on Stephen Henderson”. Oh me of little faith. Speaking to an RSC regular after the bounce-back win over Limerick the following week, his considered opinion was that while doubts existed over O’Brien’s ability to manage a squad of unruly yahoos, there was no question over his tactical nous and his faith in the latter looks to have been justified.

After Ireland’s limp exit from Euro 2012, Eamon Dunphy pieced together a montage supporting his thesis that Giovanni Trappatoni’s excuses about the necessity of deploying tactics to maximise the potential of a squad with minimum talent were wearing thin. He showed the journeymen of Swansea City inflicting death by a thousand passes on Liverpool in their match at Anfield last November. It was impressive watching the Swans knock the ball around with elegant precision compared to Ireland’s club-footed efforts, and it had the triple whammy of:

  1. giving me a little encouragement about Brendan Rodgers’ appointment to Liverpool (not too much though; 237 times bitten, 238th time shy);
  2. making Mrs d a very happy camper as Dunphy, whom she has always disliked, said “Swansea were applauded off the field that day by the Liverpool crowd, the most knowledgable in football”. She enjoyed that. And;
  3. realising that managers can make a difference, especially on tight budgets.

And it has come to pass that Paul O’Brien has made a huge difference.

Unfortunately there’s only so much you can do and while my prediction about the likelihood of him making a go of it as Blues manager may have been hopelessly wrong, my prediction about the idiocy of the eight-team First Division looks like it is coming to pass. With only eight teams in the division, the chances of overhauling runaway leaders like Limerick are practically impossible as they keep on out-muscling the minnows. Limerick have only lost four games all season and incredibly three of them have been against the Blues. We could win all our remaining games, including the fourth game against Limerick at Jackman Park, and it is likely we’ll still end up finishing behind them. It’s not Limerick’s fault, they can only play what’s put in front of them and we weren’t able to do the same to those teams on a regular basis, nor is it the fault of diddy teams (© Scottish soccer pundits) who are doing the FAI a favour by holding it together, which is more than can be said for Monaghan United. But such a lopsided league is not fit for purpose. You wonder whether the remainder of the League season is a phony war as the FAI prepare to address the current situation which only leaves a seven team-First Division for next season . . .

So Waterford find themselves facing up to the prospect of another play-off. In the 1960’s Waterford’s great enemy was Shamrock Rovers. Now it’s play-offs. The thought of a play-off against Longford, surely the most likely outcome at this stage of the season, will be bringing Blues fans out in a cold sweat. There is one reason to be cheerful, and that goes back to that win over Longford last week. When the Blues lost to Monaghan two seasons ago, it was on the back of six straight defeats to them. Longford were approaching similar Jonah-like proportions, but hopefully that particular boil has now been lanced. Then we’ll have another play-off, most likely against UCD who made mincemeat of the Blues the last time I saw them play.

Ugh. They sure don’t make life easy for you, do they? We’ll probably be none the wiser about Waterford’s ultimate fate this season, but it’ll beat the Olympics opening ceremony hands down.

Waterford United 4-0 Wexford Youths

Well well well. Waterford United have managed eleven goals in eight games this season and Mr Part-Time here has been present for seven of them in just two ‘appearances’. Maybe the Blues should be paying me.

But then it would be giving money to a GAA head and we couldn’t have that. Even on an evening when I decided to devote myself to the Blues, hurling intruded. Well, sort of. Having a few hours to kill before the game I decided to check out Philly Grimes’ pub, and lo! what did I discover but a pub that serves real ales. After a bottle each of Fuller’s India Pale Ale and Wychwood’s King Goblin, and surrounded by hurling memorabilia, it was tempting to carry on reading my book for a few more hours and give the match a miss. However, duty called. Or more pertinently, the opportunity to rehash re-visit a recent blog post for Tramore Hinterland called. If I was going to pontificate on the League of Ireland then authenticity was called for, so I abandoned a bottle of Brains SA with my name on it and headed up to the RSC.

And I’m glad I did, for the story in next Thursday’s paper has written itself thanks to Seán Maguire. At the Limerick game it was clear that there was something special about this boy, his nerveless finish to win the game having only been on a few moments stirring memories of Robbie Fowler in his pomp. After a decent start for Waterford with Daragh Walshe making the goalie work with a curling effort – more on that later – and Paul Phelan frustratingly wanting one more touch out wide when a quick cross into the box would have found numerous players in position, Maguire produced a moment of magic. It was a long moment as he got the ball about thirty yards out, cut across the flatfooted defender with ease and drilled a stunning low shot into the bottom corner.

It was beautiful, and you could see it lift the entire team. The not-unreasonable strategy seemed to be to get the ball to the number 10 (kudos to the Blues for dispensing with squad numbers this year; you dread to think of Maguire wearing something non-descript in the low 20’s) and at the very least he’d pull the Youths defence all over the shop. He nearly opened the defence in the 30th minute with a vicious cross but Daragh Walshe seemed to be caught by surprise as he headed over. Never mind though, Walsh would soon have his own moment to write home about. Taking a pass with his back to goal the ball flicked up in most fortuitous fashion and he took full advantage, spinning on a sixpence and hitting a pinpoint dipper over the goalkeeper. Another great strike. Truly our cup was running over.

It’s a sign that I’m not a proper supporter that I never doubted this would be enough. It’s a sign that I’m getting there that the caterwauling of a Wexford Youths fans sitting nearby got on my nerves. I mean, what were the odds? I could have moved but I liked the seat on the halfway line of the new stand, which seems to have a better view of the pitch. It doesn’t have unlocked toilets though and (not sure I should admit this in public, as if anyone is reading this) was reduced to taking a leak against the railing while the man next to me railed against the lack of facilities. Even Maguire managed to take him out of his isn’t-everything-a-disgrace rant, sensibly observing that he needs to be signed up, and fast. He doesn’t even have a sponsor at the moment if the programme is to believed.

If there were any doubts about the result they were snuffed out early in the second half, Waterford earning a corner after a good move was charged down and the subsequent corner flopped at he feet of Maguire. Even Andy Carroll wouldn’t have missed this one but as Napoleon might have said, don’t give me strikers who are brilliant, give me those who are lucky. There wasn’t exactly a party atmosphere around the RSC – for a party, you need party-goers – but the place was visibly relaxed compared to the usual angst-ridden demeanour of all and sundry. A stupid free-kick given away in a dangerous position threatened to take the shine off things but the shot was charged down and we could all begin to enjoy ourselves, a steward causing much mirth when he made a hash of an attempt to get the ball back and only succeeded in pushing the ball further into the stands. When the crowd didn’t go potty when two successive penalty appeals were waved away, you knew we had them licked. It was nice to be able to take things easy at a sporting event.

The only question was could Maguire get a hat-trick and he almost did with another piece of impudent brilliance. It wasn’t the best cross from Phelan, lacking any pace to give the forward a chance. But Maguire stopped dead on the spot and simply allowed the ball to bounce off his head and was unlucky to see it bounce off the crossbar. It was the kind of skill that can’t be taught, and surely he would have gotten the match ball had Paul O’Brien left him on. Still, substituting him gave us all the opportunity to give a well-merited ovation. And with a three goal lead Waterford could afford to attack with abandon. Walsh probably should have done better when out in two-on-one but dragged his shot wide. Paul Phelan did manage to hit the target a few minutes later, latching on to low cross after an excellent run from Peter White and thumping the ball into the bottom corner. The celebrations from the players were over the top for a fourth goal – at least, they were until you remember the six-goal battering at the start of the season. Vengeance? More informed voice than mine were certainly thinking along those lines:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/waterfordunited/status/193438429621653504″%5D

Alas, results since have left the Blues stranded. Longford and Limerick look like they’re running away from everyone else and with Mervue United and SD Galway proving to be cannon fodder they’ll be hard to catch. Still, the Blue flag is kept flying high by a young star in the making. Just don’t tell anyone about him. He’ll be our secret.

Waterford United 3-1 Limerick

A few weeks back I wrote about the underwhelming nature of the 2012 League of Ireland First Division, and as if to prove the point along come Limerick FC. This was the eleventh time I’ve graced the RSC with my presence for a proper match since the notorious Ipswich game back in 2009, and it’s the fourth time Limerick have been the visitors. It’s no disrepect to Limerick . . . who am I kidding, I’m going to be disrespectful to Limerick. It’s impossible to get excited about their visit, and when you consider that they’re the warm favourites to win the Division it shows what a drudge of a season it could be.

I had turned up to the RSC in full reporter mode, armed with pen, notepad, camera and a complete lack of shame. But one look at the teams dissuaded me of that notion. I recognised nearly as many names on the Limerick panel than that of Waterford. Not much chance of constructing a coherent narrative about how Yer Man passed the ball to Whatsisname. You’d need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the domestic game to recognise these players. Happily I was sitting beside someone who had that – did you know that one of the linesmen used play in goal for the Blues? Unhappily that meant having to conduct some impromptu therapy for him after the trauma in Ferrycarrig last weekend – did you know it was “the single worst performance . . . ever seen against a fairly weak opponent”? It was fair to say that hopes were not high and while it was to the credit of those around me that there was lots of gallows humour as opposed to anger at a club seemingly going  nowhere fast, you couldn’t get though 90 minutes of football listening to “hooray, we’ve crossed the halfway line!”

So it was just as well that the fare on the pitch wasn’t that bad. Limerick had plenty of flicks and neat touches, and there were several horrible moments where a red-and-white shirt would scoot past his Blue-clad opponent with the greatest of ease. But the Blues were keeping it tight and there was no aimless hoofing of the ball out of defence. Therefore it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Waterford, not long after hoots of delight at our first shot on target of the season, contrived to take the lead. A corner was cleared as far as Who-Are-Ya who kept his shot down and on target and when it ricocheted up to Willie John Kiely about six inches out he just managed to squeeze it in via the crossbar.

Human nature being what it is, the gaps between the japes in the stands got longer and longer as the feeling that a good performance would be enough began to be replaced with the feeling that, well, we’d like to get a result from this one. So when just before Kiely’s goal a Limerick player headed an an inswinging free wide when if he had left it the ball would have sailed straight there was lots of hysterical laughter among the faithful. When a combination of goalkeeper Packie Holden and a defender on the line contrived to keep a point-blank shot out on the stroke of half-time, there was a lot less jollity. Time was healing the Wexford wound.

But Waterford were riding their luck, and a few early substitutions looked to have changed the game for Limerick. A beautiful move led to a shot that crashed off the bar. Another move saw a Limerick forward head the ball over the bar from the middle of the goal with no-one within touching distance. Getting away with those chances, you began to dream that it might be one of those nights, but those hopes were snuffed out about midway through the half, an excellent free finally being greeted with a half-decent header for an equaliser.

The Blues were out on their feet at this point, maintaining their iron shape taking a lot out of them. It seemed that Paul O’Brien’s reluctance to tinker with the team was because he didn’t want to upset the balance that had proven such a quantum leap forward on the previous effort. Even at the time this made sense so it was a surprise when after another woodwork-shuddering effort from Limerick he brought on another forward in the shape of Seán Maguire. It would have made sense had it been a simple swap for Kiely, but it was surely folly to bring on a forward to protect a point.

This is an after-the-fact observation because events happened so quickly that you wouldn’t have had time to formulate such a thought. Maguire was barely on the pitch a couple of minutes when he raced onto a superb through-ball, rounded the goalkeeper with all the elan of a veteran and slotted the ball to the net.

What a wonderful shock, and suddenly the only folly seemed to be Pat Scully’s lucky-dip treatment of substitutions. It was fine to treat formations with such cavalier disregard when you were on top, trying different combinations of forwards to see what works throughout the season. Now that they had to chase the game, Limerick were bereft. There was only one winner in the last ten minutes, Maguire nearly contributing to a third when he found himself part of a three-on-one attack but opting to put one of  his team-mates in when a more experienced striker would have been selfish and put his head down. Never mind though, in injury time the bouyed-up Blues rampaged into the box and Kiely was able to turn like an oil tanker on a sixpence and get that third goal.

What a great night. The Blues were fortunate. Had Limerick made their dominance in the third quarter count, had either of their efforts against the woodwork gone in, had the goalie and defender not contrived to keep a certain goal out late in the first half (and Limerick were convinced it had crossed the line; it’s unlikely goal-line technology will ever extend to the RSC) then it would have been a different game. But when you think about where the Blues have come from, with a close season exodus to Cork – nice one, Drogs! – and That Result against Wexford, it was marvellous to see them completely overturn those low expectations in the course of ninety entertaining minutes. Play like this against teams not as good as Limerick throughout the season and it could be great year. Expect to lose to SD Galway next week.