Tag Archives: Thurles

Waterford 0-21 Wexford 0-11

Waterford get back in the groove with Wexford dismissal – Irish Examiner
Waterford recover from Munster final misery to swat Wexford aside and set up Kilkenny clash – Irish Independent
Under-par Waterford get past Wexford to set up clash with Cats – Irish Times
Waterford cruise past Wexford to book All-Ireland SHC semi-final spot – The42.ie
Wasteful Deise men advance – HoganStand.com
Waterford cruise past Wexford at Semple Stadium – RTÉ

This seemed like one I was going to miss. With the Under-21 match looming and toddler-sitting duties coming thick and fast, it seemed like an indulgence too far. Yet Mrs d insisted that she would do the needful, which forced me to decide whether I wanted to go. Perversely my decision was swung by how awful Waterford had been a fortnight ago. There was a feeling of dread that no-one would turn up and we would be seriously outnumbered by the buoyant Wexicans, a group who have been pretty hardy trouts in my experience when it comes to turning up for a lost cause. Zipping into Thurles with the greatest of ease, it seemed my fears were being confirmed.

In the end, as so often before, I was wrong. I was planning to go up on the terrace anyway but to my immense surprise the stands were sold out, and to my immense relief there was no obvious difference between the crowds hailing from the south-eastern counties. One in the eye for those who suggest that Waterford fans are reluctant travellers, not that I care.

Okay, maybe I care a little bit.

It felt like a reward for my courage in coming to Thurles – no no, plaudits are quite unnecessary – that the people either side of me were Waterfordians, and fine company to boot. We all had a good old chuckle when the announcer in Thurles namechecked Austin Flynn playing at number six for Waterford, although the man to my left gently corrected my belief that Austin was no longer walking among us. “I saw him last week and he was hale and hearty”, he said. It was a rather sweet mistake by the announcer, and you wonder whether Austin Gleeson will ever be mentioned in the same company as the men of ’59 who, despite only winning one All-Ireland, are among the most revered in the game thanks to their swashbuckling style of play.

‘Swashbuckling’ is not a charge you are likely to ever level against Derek McGrath’s team though, and it was clear from the start there would be no cutting loose against a team that almost all recent evidence would suggest are not up to our level. Playing with a strong wind in the first half, one I notionally suggested would be worth eight points to us, Waterford got off to a steady but unspectacular start. Maurice Shanahan got the show on the road with a neat point from play when there was a slight sniff of a goal, Pauric Mahony knocked over a free and Michael Walsh scored his first point of the Championship a few minutes later. His first point in the last two Championships. Truly a red letter day. Lee Chin got one for Wexford, and it was evident that a) Wexford were going to deliver as much as possible into his lap, and b) Waterford were going to try and choke said delivery at all costs. This added an extra layer of tedium to the already stultifying tactics of both teams, and about the most excitement in the first quarter were a couple of Hawk Eye calls from Waterford, both denied, and when a Wexford free from close in was acrobatically blocked from going over the bar by Stephen O’Keeffe. The subsequent 65 drifted wide, and we gleefully wondered whether that might prove significant at the end.

Waterford had moved five points clear by that stage, another free from Mahony being sandwiched by another point from Walsh and one from Austin Gleeson. It shouldn’t have been too much to ask Waterford to move through the gears, but instead the second quarter wides started racking up in much the same manner as had happened against Tipperary. The scores that did come seemed almost accidental, with only a lovely effort from Jamie Barron going right over the black spot. It might be argued that Waterford’s strategy of stripping out the forward line obliged players to try from distance, but the ease with which the Waterford backs were winning the ball and the lack of challenge from their Wexford counterparts meant Waterford had plenty of time to pick out the right option. Instead we had a litany of Hail Marys, with Austin Gleeson (natch) indulging in the kind of efforts that will have Austin Flynn turning in his future grave. The scoreboard inched gradually forward and by half-time the lead was seven points. Slightly below par with what you might expect with that wind, but way below par on the basis of how much of the possession we had won. If Wexford were half as cocky as they were when we first met them in the Championship way back in 2003, there was going to be trouble ahead.

The key point about the whole game was made by the man to our left around the 30th minute after another frustrating wide. “No disrespect,” he said, priming us for a comment was going to be deeply disrespectful, “but they [Wexford] are crap”. This salient point, allied to the dire display of second quarter decision-making, helps to explain the vituperative reaction over on boards.ie to Waterford’s performance. They are crap and it was dire. The reaction is over the top though, not least because the second half performance wasn’t too bad. Having set themselves up for a fall, Waterford duly avoided the trip hazard with three points from play without reply from Shanahan (right from the throw-in), Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony in the first five minutes, thus pushing themselves past the par point and leaving Wexford needing a glut of birdies. Gleeson’s point in particular was a treat after a half where he had landed six wides, scarcely believable for a player of his talent. The man to our right repeatedly lamented our lack of goals in the first half, something with which I didn’t agree. The onus was on us keeping them from scoring goals,  and while there was one hairy moment early on in the second half when O’Keeffe inexplicably decided to cut across his own goal and was dispossessed, leaving us to exhale deeply when a Wexford forward flashed the follow-up wide, it was going to be a Herculean effort from them to find their way through this Tadhg de Búrca-marshalled defence.

In case you are thinking I am drinking the Kool-Aid for suggesting that Waterford’s second half performance wasn’t awful – how’s that for damning with faint praise? – you have to remember that Waterford would win the second half against a strong wind and despite playing into Wexford’s hands for a horrible ten-minute period. Having gone ten points clear Waterford proceeded to persist with puckouts down their right where Wexford were in the ascendancy. A splendid point from Liam Ryan starting out deep in his own half gave them a gap into which they could hope to drive a wedge. They slowly did so, raising the decibel level from their fans, and were aided by a ‘point’ which looked like a wide to me but was inexplicably not referred to Hawk Eye. Does that only work for wides and not points? Anyway, the problem for them was that it was happening way too slowly. They were not aided by a long period, at least three minutes, which ended with Eoin Moore being taken off after a nasty collision. The gap had been trimmed to five but they couldn’t be sure how much of that lost time would be added on at the end and when Brian O’Halloran, on as a sub and stymieing their efforts down our right, scored a fantastic solo effort the need for them to get a green flag became increasingly plain. Jake Dillon also weighed in with a score and (whisper it) McGrath now felt confident enough to haul Shane Bennett ashore with the gap at a mere seven points. I was still fretting about the possibility of a goal, but it’s unlikely any neutral was anticipating a rollicking finish.

This would be where I normally say we squeezed the life out of the game, but that implies there was much life to begin with. Wexford had a couple of long-range efforts for goals from frees which were efficiently snuffed out, and a couple of Mahony frees and another point from play for O’Halloran stretched the lead out to a healthy 11. They managed to get the gap down to ten by the end but had it gone on longer, and the additional five minutes was the very least it should have been, Waterford would have stretched their lead further despite being against the wind. It’s entirely possible that the wind was a buffer against the more adrenaline-fuelled errors in the first half, although it didn’t work out that way against Tipp and it’s not a strategy for the long run. The game duly petered out and we had earned the right to have yet another crack at the Cats in the semi-final.

That last line is a deliberate attempt to be downbeat after my usual Panglossian meanderings. 5-31 and all that. This was not a good performance. We had the boot to their throat in that second quarter and failed to apply it. Still, what would have represented a good margin of victory? Ten points would been eagerly taken before the game, and the way the game panned out it was still only at the bottom of what should have happened rather than being a hatful of points short of respectability. The worry is whether any lessons have been learned from it. There will be at least one change for Kilkenny. It’s hard to see how Darragh Fives can go off inside the first 20 minutes and recover the necessary fitness, so Conor Gleeson is sure to start. Other than that though, is there any sign that Derek McGrath and his backroom team are willing to give new players the chance to make their mark? Brian O’Halloran would surely be entitled to go into meltdown if he misses out. Michael Walsh’s brace in this game only shows how little impact he makes on the scoreboard the rest of the time. Is his position truly bulletproof? We’ve been on the road of The System for two years now and it is reasonable to question whether it is a dead end. Eddie Brennan is surely wrong about everything. Sorry, Eddie Brennan is surely wrong that you will never win an All-Ireland playing it. No team has been less inclined to ‘play off instinct’ than Kilkenny and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. There has to be some flexibility though. If you are going to have a system, it has to acknowledge that one size is not going to fit all. The broadsword worked fine in this case. The rapier would be nice when the occasion demanded it.

As we look forward to the Under-21’s playing host to Tipperary in the Munster final on Wednesday, let’s end with a cheerful thought. If Wexford were bad, how must they be feeling right now down Leeside?

Tippecanoe and Thurles too

Damn you, John Mullane. I had been pondering a post on the general subject of playing in Thurles for a while and had come up with a delightfully cryptic title. But the likelihood of Thurles staging the Munster final against Tipperary are surely dead in the water as the Great Man has spoken:

Oh well. It’s not as if anyone would have bothered Googling such a daft title, let alone understood it to begin with, so let’s just leave that remnant of the youthful time wasted reading about dead American Presidents in the set of encyclopaedias my parents bought back in the early 1980’s where it is and imagine there might be a debate to be had on whether the Munster final be played in Thurles or Limerick.

Such a debate pivots on whether you think Thurles is a home-away-from-home for Waterford, to the extent that it negates any home advantage that Tipperary have. Back in the day I would have believed this to the case, and you could probably waste some time of your own locating worshipful comments on the subject in the archives of this blog. But like John Mullane my opinion has changed. If you suggest that it might be an advantage for Tipperary then you will be asked to quantify how many points it is worth to Tipp. This is the wrong way to look at it. Instead, imagine playing them one hundred times in a neutral venue. Then imagine playing them one hundred times in Thurles. Anyone who says the outcomes would be exactly the same is fooling themselves. And yes, it isn’t a real world experiment. But it illustrates the point that there is a small advantage for Tipp and, all other things being equal, Waterford shouldn’t be handing it to them.

Of course, not all things are equal. There are myriad little reasons for preferring Thurles over Limerick. Traffic, parking, pre-match atmosphere, the venue (facilities and capacity), the prospect of making a few quid for the perennially cash-strapped Waterford County Board, the prospect of putting the kibosh on the our-turn-to-stage-the-big-dance entitlement of the perennially cash-strapped Limerick County Board. Depending on how much weight you put on it, any of those reasons could reasonably be enough to tip the balance in favour of Thurles.

For me though, it’s a little reason that have tilted the balance against Thurles – I’m sick of the place. Since 2000 we have played 64 matches in the Senior Championship. 30 of them have been in Thurles. There’s nothing special about a trip to Tipp if you’re doing it an average of twice a year. Even Tipperary folk seem to feel the same way as they could only manage an attendance of 25,531 yesterday when combined with Limerick supporters – so much for Waterford fans being the ones who don’t travel in great numbers. Familiarity also makes you really appreciate the smug, self-satisfied air that hangs around Thurles like Lar Corbett marking Tommy Walsh. By all accounts Limerick is a bugger to get away from after a big match, but the way people bang on about Thurles you’d swear everyone is able to park right next to the greyhound stadium and zoom out of the town in their own ZiL lanes rather than having to pay to park in the mart, as opposed to getting a free space out by the golf course, and not get out for over an hour like happened to us at last year’s Munster final. Any crowd in the region of 40,000 is going to generate a lot of traffic, and half-baked tales about taking one of the 85 routes in/out of the town are not going to change that.

(I realise the above tweet is a joke, by the way.)

The primary reason I want to play the game in Limerick is to not cede home advantage. Other considerations come a long way behind. But the sense of ennui with Thurles is real. The staging of games in Munster has become completely ossified, a sign of clinging to the halcyon days back around the turn of the century when every game had the potential to be 50,000-capacity sell-out. I was surprised to find out today that we have played a grand total of two Championship matches in Limerick in 50 years. Those games – Clare in 2008 and Cork in 1983 – ended badly. Time to make some positive memories as we bring morning to Waterford.

Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22 (AET)

Maurice Shanahan pulls it out of fire to earn Déise replay – RTÉ
Deise and Banner must meet again (and again) – HoganStand.com
Clare and Waterford put on Championship-like show – Irish Times
Shanahan’s sweet strike saves Deise – Irish Independent
Maurice Shanahan shows nerves of steel to send hurling league final to a replay – the42.ie
Tactics order of the day as Clare and Weaterford [sic] managers play chess – Irish Examiner
Slow start, but episode one sets up intriguing Munster trilogy – Irish Examiner

You always look for a hook when writing anything – Enda Kenny’s Walter Mitty tendencies must be manna from heaven for political hacks – and so it was that Seán Stack’s surprisingly candid pre-match dismissal of Waterford was going to be my hook. If Clare won, credit would have to be given for actually saying something honest that might have been seen as ‘motivation’ for Waterford. If Waterford won, time to relish the reverse ferret as a county that once revelled in League success – me oul’ mucker Rachael English waxed lyrical recently about the arrival of the trophy at her school when they won it back in Seán Stack’s day – would dismiss it as not being the Championship. The potential for media-driven mischief was endless, and what is this blog if not one long repetitive riff on media mischief?

In the end, none of it mattered as Waterford and Clare served up as category-defying a game as you are ever likely to encounter. It was the best bad game of hurling ever.

Unofficial GAA on Twitter summed up the first half:

It was dull, and that was almost entirely down to Waterford. The question throughout the winter was whether Derek McGrath was going to pivot away from The System. If this game is anything go by, his response has been to double-down on it. You could almost understand that in the opening 15 minutes as Waterford struggled to cope with Clare’s forward power. But gradually Waterford began to make their dominance of the possession count and Clare on several occasions were happy to give away frees well out the field. Unfortunately Patrick Curran had a bad day at the office from the dead balls, our long-range shooting was dire, and there were repeated instances of the ball being lobbed in for Shane Bennett to beat the three men. If you are going to strip out all the forwards, surely you have to work the ball forward and put in runners? There was one excellent example of this with Waterford managing to get Colin Dunford free for what would be our only point from play in the half, and Stephen O’Keeffe deserves credit for his targeted puckouts towards halfway rather than just hitting aimless bombs or terrifying short grenades, but otherwise it was completely calamitous from Waterford. To have all that possession and be grateful to be only a point down at half-time . . . not good, not good at all.

No doubt there were a few rockets fired in both dressing rooms, and the game threatened to spark into life when Derek McGrath’s delight at the award of a disputed sideline ball to Waterford was met in kind by Davy Fitz in full-on med-as-a-hetter mode. The adrenaline rush only seemed to make Waterford even more careless though as yet more shots drifted wide. One effort from Tom Devine where he curved the ball wide after it was cheered over by some of the Waterford crowd left one in despair. Never mind worrying about leaving this one behind at the finish, by the midway point of the second half it had already been left behind. Clare were hitting some poor efforts themselves but they had a better excuse as the Waterford backs, swollen with the extra numbers in general and marshalled by the magnificent de Búrca in particular, were playing brilliantly and making them work for every score. Moving three points clear as the game ticked into the final quarter looked like it could be decisive in such a low-scoring encounter.

Gradually though order began to emerge from the Déise chaos. Shane Bennett did not let his free-taking woes disrupt his general play with a couple of excellent scores to reduce the deficit to manageable proportions and when Austin Gleeson finally managed to land a long-range effort we were suddenly, miraculously, in front for the first time with only ten minutes left. The chess game of the first hour ended and a hurling match broke out. Clare edged back in front thanks to Conor McGrath’s superior free taking and once again it looked like curtains but it was the man Bennett who stop up tall, first with a free then a ridiculously casual catch-run-and-strike to put Waterford in front in injury time. Could close it out and win a game that had suddenly and undeservedly taken on the hue of a classic?

Alas, no. O’Keeffe got away with a poor clearance when the return shot went wide, a let-off he celebrated by smashing the post thus confusing those of us who put great stock in the keeper’s reaction as to whether it it has gone over the bar. His puckout was worked up the sideline by Clare and de Búrca went to push the Clare player over the whitewash . . . free-in! I know I’m biased (duh) but the decision was out of kilter with Brian Gavin’s previous laissez-faire attitude to that kind of challenge, and no less a neutral personage than Ollie Moran was in agreement. McGrath held his nerve with the free and the people who were preparing to scoff that this wasn’t the All-Ireland celebrated as if they had won the All-Ireland.

The GAA can’t make its mind up about extra-time and replays. They persist with replays in the summer when they mess up schedules yet decided to play extra-time here when there are weeks in hand before the Championship starts. They sensibly decided years ago that 30 minutes was too long but maddeningly have the most interminable pause between the end of the normal time and the start of extra-time. We mournfully speculated that the effort expended by the Waterford backs in keeping the forwards in the ball to which they were accustomed would prove fatal against a team managed by someone fond of training sessions involving running up dunes in Tramore/Lahinch.

Yet it was Waterford who sprang out of the blocks, a super over-the-shoulder effort from Brian O’Halloran giving Derek McGrath a taste of what he can bring to the team, and scores from subs Devine and Thomas Ryan left Waterford sitting pretty in such a low scoring affair. But as noted earlier, this was now more akin to an old school hurling match with the ebb and flow that comes with that. Clare struck back, one of their scores after a short puckout to Noel Connors went Pete Tong, and while Tom Devine had a chance to land a hammer blow when he got in behind the defence he didn’t get much behind his ground shot as he raced towards goal, and they levelled matters right on the stroke of the end of the first half. Is there any sport where ‘momentum’ is so useless?

Points were exchanged at the start of the half but a fortuitously intercepted clearance was pinged over the bar by Clare then a Hail Mary effort dropped short and gave Clare a rare clear sight of goal, only for O’Keeffe to get across brilliantly to bat it out. Waterford quickly levelled and it was now tit-for-tat. Amidst all the sound and fury Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, now on as subs, combined for yet another equalising score. Maurice was being his usual, shall we say, mercurial self. Twice he reacted to being stranded up front by giving away a cheap free and when Clare took the lead as the game ticked into the last minute, I bitterly opined that those careless moments at a juncture when there were only seconds on the clock were going to prove costly. A minute of added time was announced – where do they get these minutes from in a ten-minute half when they rarely get more than two from a 35-minute period? – and the ref predictably gave Waterford one last chance from a free inside our own half. I thought O’Keeffe would have been the man in those circumstances but back went Maurice, taking an eternity over it before striking it so perfectly that you could see it was over from the moment it left the bas.

What a roller-coaster of a game. If ever there was a proof of concept of the self-congratulatory notion that a bad hurling match is better than the best of most other things, this was it. It was awful for large periods but it was, as Brian Flannery noted, absorbing, and played in a tremendous spirit – how lovely to see Davy Fitz offering his appreciation to Maurice at the final whistle. We went toe-to-toe against the team who being built up into Kilkenny slayers. We proven we can be obdurate with the best of them. Whether we can display the flexibility that is surely necessary to make the final leap remains to be seen.

Waterford 2-21 (27) Dublin 1-19 (22)

Dublin 2015 cover

A number of years ago, when blogging was young and I threw every thought regarding Waterford GAA online, I worked out that Waterford always have to move terraces in Thurles. Cork and Tipperary always get the Town End and Killinan End respectively whoever they play. Limerick get the Town End when they play Clare or Waterford. Clare get the Killinan End when they play Limerick or Waterford. This means Waterford have to move for everyone else. Have I got a chip on my shoulder over this? You bet I do, and it got some extra vinegar when I went to get tickets from SuperValu and was told at the checkout that Waterford had been ‘allocated’ the Town End. Seriously? Share a terrace with a load of Langers who would be just waiting to put the boot in were we to fail? It was especially galling given the odds were always going to be that the combined Cork terrace attendance, Confederate flags and all, would outnumber the attendance of the other three terrace goers combined. I pompously puffed out my chest and explained that I did not want to share a terrace with Cork people. I expected the woman, hailing as she does from Eastern Europe, to greet this with indifference. Instead she looked at me like I was mad. But when we arrived, my suspicions proved to be correct as the Town End looked well populated with red and white while the Killinan End had oodles of space. In your face, Polack! Or whatever you are.

Enough of the unreasoned bitterness – there’ll be plenty of the reasoned bitterness to go around. Dublin opened the scoring with the wind at their backs, but Waterford responded quickly with Shane Bennett drawing a free from which Maurice Shanahan scored. Shanahan got our first from play then Colin Dunford put it over after Waterford had harrassed the Dublin defence into coughing up possession. This was what we had come to see, although the lack of a sweeper was curious. On the way up we had discussed whether this would be a good game to go 15 v 15, and it looked like Derek McGrath and co had overheard us. This made the game ridiculously open, and Dublin nearly capitalised when a ball over the top allowed them in for a goal chance, and it ended with a score for them anyway. After a solid start it looked as if Waterford were almost overwhelmed by the luxury of the ‘extra’ man up front, and an overcomplicated move saw a few opportunities for a point spurned and Shanahan shoot lamely at Gary Maguire in the Dublin goal. A hospital ball from Dunford led to Shanahan giving away a free and Dublin were able to use the wind to send it over from a long way out.

A point from a 65, an award that looked well dodge from where I was standing having looked to have come off Bennett, kept the scoreboard ticking over for Waterford, but Dublin reacted quickly with excellent points from distance Niall McMorrow and Ryan O’Dwyer. Shanahan managed another free while Dublin looked more efficient from play, David O’Callaghan getting a good score at one end while Bennett tried a Hail Mary effort in the corner from the other end. Austin Gleeson, who had been relatively anonymous further up the field thus far, showed him how it was done by bursting onto a loose ball and popping it over while a Dublin wide at the other end reassured us that we didn’t have a monopoly on poor efforts. Dunford also managed to reassure us with a fine effort after a pinpoint pass from Philip Mahony from inside his own half, showing the sense to make space for the point rather than trying to shoot at the first sniff of the posts. Another Shanahan free was followed by another Dublin wide, although the puckout was well gathered on the run by Danny Sutcliffe and fired back over the bar. Disappointing, but it was good play and these things are bound to happen when you are playing it as loose as both teams were doing.

A free for overcarrying, which again looked well dodge, stopped Liam Rushe in his tracks – his day wasn’t about to get any better – to give Shanahan another simple free, and it was Shanahan again who gathered a puckout and dropped a ball in which was cleared by Dublin under pressure from, um, Austin Gleeson. Him popping up there really showed how confused Waterford’s strategy was, while Dublin’s play was far more clean and focused. A free from distance and an excellent point from a narrow angle drew Dublin level again while even someone as reliable as Kevin Moran was spurning scoreable chances, this time after Jamie Barron had once again wriggled his way out of seemingly impossibly tight spot. The frustration mounted for Waterford as a series of attempts to get through the Dublin half-back line, any of which might have ended in a free, instead culminated in a free out for Dublin when it looked like the whistle had only been blown to allow treatment for Sutcliffe. The free did allow de Búrca to strut his stuff though with a salmon-like catch and a cat-like clearance and from the attack Bennett had a half-chance which was cleared but only as far as Dunford to tee up Moran and get Waterford back in front.

This was all a bit of throwback, the Stravinksy of the Nineties and Noughties rather than the (occasionally) Bach of recent years. You need some impressive performers to pull off such a show though, and watching Gleeson run the ball out over the sideline and engage in the kind of tantrum that gets players sent off, you appreciated he is no Fergal Hartley. Ryan O’Dwyer levelled matters again after gathering the resulting sideline, and their slow and steady policy looked at that stage like it might be the right one. Another fortunate 65, this time after Bennett had hit another tame strike on goal and the umpire erroneously concluded the ball had gone out over the endline from Maguire’s looping save, put us back in front. He wasn’t having much luck and nor was Liam Rushe as he was penalised for clinging on to Michael Walsh’s hurley. It was the correct decision but you can understand a player getting exasperated by being penalished in such a hurly-burly moment. When Dunford did one of those trademark gallops down the wing a three-point lead looked possible. Alas, a trademark wide followed. It wasn’t the worst wide of the day but it looked costly as Dublin suddenly went nap. Clever play from Mark Schutte drew a foul for an easy free, then Sutcliffe drew Dublin level with a great score from distance. Waterford could feel aggrieved once again as the half ticked towards the end of injury time when another whistle for what looked like treatment, this time to Jake Dillon after a collision, resulted in a free to Dublin and they worked the ball to Sutcliffe who once again struck it cleanly between the posts to give Dublin the lead at the break.

What was going on? This had been as flat a half as we had produced all year. The performance reeked of burnout, and I couldn’t help but ponder sourly, in so far as I could ponder at all given the racket pounding out of the PA system during the break, on the assurances given to me that the aim for the panel had been to peak in September.

Oh me of little faith. A storming run from Moran led to a point in the opening thirty seconds, then a moment of such exquisiteness followed that you almost wished you were watching the telly to appreciate it properly as Shanahan worked space on the wing before lobbing it into Bennett in acres of space near the goal. It looked in real time like he mis-hit the ball which accounted for the manner in which the ball scythed off the bas of the hurley, but in truth it was only a minor loss of control, more than made up for by a half-volley that tore past Maguire into the back of the net.

Note to self: next time, just look at the big screen.

The feeling of elation at this flying start to the second half events was tempered by a foolish piece of play from Darragh Fives, hitting a sideline ball back towards the goalie and only succeeding in knocking it out for a Dublin sideline closer to our goal. Thankfully they failed to take advantage with a sloppy effort from McMorrow and when Gleeson hammered over a fantastic point straight from the puckout you knew we were completely in the driving seat. Mark Schutte got one back but he was made work bloody hard for it in complete contrast to the first half funk.

Waterford kept the hammer down right through the opening ten minutes as Gleeson won a free straight from the puckout to allow Shanahan to score then Walsh pounced on a loose Dublin puckout and picked out Shahanan to stretch the lead to five. Liam Rushe was a little unlucky to concede a free for overcarrying when it could have gone the other way which led to an eye-bulging roar into his face from Shanahan, and while he couldn’t take advantage from the free, a wide from Paul Ryan after Dublin had been harried all along the Waterford 45 typified the new dispensation. Yep, The System was back. You told me The System was immortal! O green-life-conquering System!

Everything was going our way now, with Shane Bennett pulling a delightful pirouette to draw a foul for an easy free while a mis-hit sideline ball fell to Gleeson to move the lead out to seven with the game moving towards the final quarter. You felt one sharp push from Waterford and we’d run away from them and it was telling that Dublin were already looking for goals. The thing about looking for goals though is that you only get them when you do that and an excellent ball from Joey Boland into the corner allowed Dublin to unlock the previously watertight defence as Mark Schutte fired it home from close range off Stephen O’Keeffe’s hurley.

It was equally telling that this didn’t fill me with despair. I could probably casually invoke The System again, but I was also plain confident that Waterford would hold their nerve. A few balls into the danger zone were confidently dealt with by Darragh Fives and Tadgh de Búrca respectively and when a siege-lifting run from Barron ended in a sideline ball, there was Gleeson to fire it over the bar. An O’Callaghan point kept Dublin in touch but Waterford were the ones being cute now with Curran putting the head down to draw an easy free.

One last push, that’s what was needed, and Bennett nearly got it when he ghosted in behind the defence but couldn’t kick the ball to the net. A professional foul kept Dublin to a point from a free but they were spending very little time down our end of the field and the sand was fizzing into the bottom of the timer. They were having to commit more men forward and the last push came courtesy of a marvellous soccer-style counter attack, the ball moved through hands quickly from the back line to Shanahan to drill the ball low into the net.

There was no way Dublin were going to get seven points in the last three or four minutes, a bit of time wasting on Shanahan’s part as he got in Liam Rushe’s face again helping matters, as did the ref by putting a throw ball on our 21 into space rather than into any players who could do something with it. O’Callaghan did show some ability to thread himself tbrougj the eye of the needle and the subsequent free was obviously a source of concern but it was going to be some effort to get past half the Waterford team on the line and it was deflected out for a 65. This duly went over the bar but the futlity of it all was shown by the announcement of “at least one minute” of added time when the one minute had already elapsed.

You may have noted that I’ve made note of the instances of Maurice Shanahan engaging in a set-to with Liam Rushe up to now. I’ve broken with my normal habit of trying to write reports from my contemporaneous notes, riddled as they would be with errors, and watched the game through on Sky+ to see just how often he was acting the maggot. This is because it has been a recurring theme on the internet that he had stepped over a line that somehow justified What Happened Next. I think the reason for this wave of comment is a tweet from Eddie Brennan which is a masterclass in weasely GAA speak where a pundit attributes a characteristic in general to an incident (#sportsmanship) then denies black is white when people ask him to substantiate the particulars of the incident (“don’t twist my words”). I’ve counted two instances of Shanahan getting in Rushe’s personal space before What Happened Next, which was an off-the-ball coming together that culminated in Rushe slapping Shanahan across the head with his hurley. Straight red card, no question, although it was deeply alarming that a Waterford player might do something stupid and get a ban for their troubles. Thankfully that was as bad as it got, and the final whistle came immediately afterwards.

The manner in which Waterford hit the afterburners once the second half started and the sweeper system was back in place is a source of optimism as we prepare to head back to Croke Park for the first time in fourteen Championship matches. Back in 2008, I had wondered whether Davy Fitz had used the games against Offaly and Wexford, games where we clearly overmatched them both, to experiment with their setup, e.g. Ken McGrath playing at full-back. I’m doubtful whether Derek McGrath was engaging in such a rope-a-dope strategy here against Dublin, a team much closer to our level than Offaly and Wexford were to the 2008 team. Still, he must have been wondering whether reverting to a more orthodox strategy would have yielded dividends against Tipperary. I think he has his answer. There can be few doubts now that going 15 v 15 against Kilkenny is going to be a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Kilkenny will be red-hot favourites, but at least we are going in with a wild card ready to be played rather than just hoping we will be dealt four aces. And whatever happens, we have the comfort of knowing that, for the first time since the mid Noughties, we are not a team raging against the dying of the light.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors (Stephen Daniels), Darragh Fives, Tadgh de Búrca, Philip Mahony, Austin Gleeson (0-4, 0-1 s/l; Eddie Barrett), Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran (0-2), Shane Bennett (1-0; Stephen Bennett), Michael Walsh, Maurice Shanahan (1-12, 0-8f, 0-2 65), Jake Dillon (0-1; Tom Devine), Colin Dunford (0-2; Patrick Curran)

Dublin: Gary Maguire, Shane Barrett (Peter Kelly), Cian O’Callaghan, Paul Schutte; Chris Crummey (0-1), Liam Rushe, Joey Boland, John McCaffrey, Niall McMorrow (0-1; Cian Boland), Paul Ryan (0-5f ; David Treacy, 0-2, 0-1 65), Danny Sutcliffe (0-3; Oisín O’Rourke), Ryan O’Dwyer (0-2), David O’Callaghan (0-3), Conal Keaney (Eamon Dillon), Mark Schutte (1-2)

HT: Waterford 0-12 Dublin 0-13

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Waterford 0-16 Tipperary 0-21

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 Cover

Normally I start all this out with a little colour to set the scene, followed by the match report for those who don’t care about accuracy or coherence, then a Jerry Springer-style reflection on what had happened and where we’re at. Today, I’m going to give the tl;dr version at the start. Did we let this one slip? The answer is . . . kind of. After a few early wobbles, the backs were nothing short of magnificent, with Tadgh de Búrca showing the kind of élan that will see us in good stead for the next decade or so. It was always going to be tricky for the forwards, but there were times towards the end of the first half and in the third quarter when, with a little more composure, a little more control, we could have gotten scores that could have swung the game in our favour. At the very least we should have been closer at the end, have left a position where a last-minute goal might have clinched it.

Could, could, should. Close, but no cigar.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (1)

Time to resume the normal blather with a photo of the good Waterford crowd – yes, we were in the Killinan End – which was not something I had taken as a given before the game, Someone clearly messed up with the ticket allocation, with a 25-year ticket member (didn’t know such a thing existed) noting how they could only get a terrace ticket. I think, sans any evidence, that the recent run of Munster games falling well short of a sellout has made the authorities a bit complacent about online sales. Bung them all on the website and hope for the best. For once, the best happened and the clubs ended up being screwed. Lessons will no doubt be learned – and forgotten by the next generation that has to deal with an in-demand Munster final. I had fretted before the game that the scattergun nature of the ticket allocation would mean we would be hopelessly outnumbered. The numbers were pretty close in the end though, as were the number of people remembered before the game. Jimmy Doyle naturally got the full obituary treatment, and it was truly moving to see that someone in the Munster Council remembered David Houlihan, the Dungarvan man who died in Thailand during the week.

Having been hit with two early goals in the League semi-final, it was quickly obvious that Waterford were determined not to let that happen again at any cost while Tipperary probed away looking to get the goal that their support seemed to view as their divine right. After a couple of wides were exchanged, the Waterford one a typical Hail Mary effort from Austin Gleeson, Tipp were soon into their stride with the first two scores. In between, a dangerous ball towards Seamus Callanan was deftly dealt with by Waterford, Barry Coughlan adopting the simple expedient of standing in his way and Tadhg de Búrca cleaning up the debris. Waterford opened their scoring from a Shanahan free but Tipp stuck back quickly as Jason Forde gathered and played in Niall O’Meara for a simple score. A good call by the referee to bring the ball back after advantage had not accrued allowed Maurice Shanahan to reduce the gap to one again, but the free given away by Colin Dunford when O’Meara got past him was more typical of the game. We may not be conceding goals, but Tipp were still well on top.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 18)

Dunford got a yellow card for his troubles and there were other signs that Waterford were struggling to cope, de Búrca being slightly lucky to get away with a, shall we say, robust block on John O’Dwyer. The Tipp fans expressed their displeasure, which would have amused the men who gave us the term ‘Hell’s Kitchen‘ no end, and the play ended with a score for them anyway from Patrick Maher. They were playing very well, constantly trying to prise open the Waterford defence and while they were happy to take their points, as Niall O’Meara did to stretch the lead to four, you wondered how much longer we would be able to hold them off.

More great defending from Coughlan in the face of another ball to Callanan suggested that we might be able to do that holding off, and while there was frustration as Shanahan missed a tricky free, Kevin Moran lifted spirits with a splendid point from a run in his own half. After a Tipp 65 had stretched the lead back to four, Stephen Bennett had a chance to stretch his legs and his shot flashed across the bows of the Tipp goal. We were a bit fortunate to get a free when Noel Connors stumbled as he gathered the ball, althogugh the Tipp forward should have been less rash in clambering all over him while he was going nowhere on the ground, and Gleeson extracted maximum punishment with a score from the free near his own 45. It was the prelude to a fantastic period of play from Waterford. De Búrca did his sweeper thing to release Shanahan for a point, and two terrible hospital passes out of the Tipp defence led to a Waterford free and another point from play from Shanahan. After all that early Tipperary pressure the scores were somehow level and a low ball into the box from Callanan that zipped wide suggested they now felt a need to force the issue for goals. Was this the pattern of all the recent games again, with Waterford resisting early pressure before hitting their stride?

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 19)

The wind was taken out of our sails by a really terrible decision given against Dunford as he was penalised for over-carrying as a Tipp forward swung out of him like a gorilla. Callanan put over a great free to get Tipp back in front. The feeling of injustice didn’t last long though as Waterford were allowed carry the ball out of defence and Shane Fives sent over a super score from distance. Michael Walsh then made life miserable for the Tipp defence and managed the work the ball to Jake Dillon. This should have been the chance to take the lead but he hit a poor wide, and while Kevin Moran would run around their backs to give us the lead, another poor wide soon followed and we failed to ram home this period of dominance. Coughlan once again held Callanan at bay although it ended with a point to level matters and a cheap free meant Callanan had the chance leave Tipp ahead at half-time. It was a little frustrating after the excellent second quarter, but overall it was a minor miracle that Waterford were so close at the break.

The second half started like the first, with a couple of swapped wides. Another wide from Dunford after a great run down the wing, a sequence of events that is all too common, and Forde emphasised the difference with a point to put Tipp two up. It had not struck me before this point, but a monster of a free out from Darren Gleeson made me realise that there was a wind. Not much of one, but enough to make me worry that we had missed out in the first half. Happily Shane Fives responded with another solo effort from his own half and when a Shanahan shot that had gone out was signalled for a 65 – in truth, I thought it had gone wide – that went over, Waterford were now level again. Time to unleash the Devine!

The decision to play Eddie Barrett ahead of Tom Devine was a strange one. I can understand the concept of impact subs, but surely it only makes sense in the context of someone who is not fit or slightly over the hill. They’re not going to be able to give you 70 minutes, but stick them on with half-an-hour left up against a flagging opponent . . . Devine is neither unfit or over the hill, so why not start him if he is good enough? It would worry me a little that management are hugging too close to the strategies that worked so well in the League. Still, he was on now in what was to prove the pivotal period of the match.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 20)

Unfortunately it would be pivotal in a bad way for Waterford. Another poor wide was followed by a score at the other end while Devine’s earliest contribution was a tiresome letting-him-know-you-were-there charge (see image above) that allowed Gleeson to bomb the ball into the danger zone and ended with a Tipp point. Back down our end of the field and, alas, we saw another snatched effort on the run from Dunford. It wasn’t an appalling miss, but there have been enough instances of it to be a source of concern. A score from a 65 from Shanahan after Shane Bennett had a goalbound effort saved – narrow angle it was, but worth a go – was followed up with yet another poor wide, this time from Jamie Barron after a lot of effort had gone in to making space for what should have been a tap-over.

Even at the time, such misses felt fatal to our chances – a future historian will have no trouble deciphering ‘letting them off the hook’ amidst my hieroglyphic notes. Tipp rattled off two quick scores to rub salt into the wounds, the second from a foul given when the Tipp forward was running away from goal. The backs were still gloriously on top. The problem was that heads were beginning to drop at the other end. Padraic Maher was cleaning up in much the same way de Búrca had been doing all game and while Shanahan managed to get one back with a lovely all-my-own-work effort, making space for himself and shooting from wide on the right, a more typical effort came from Shane Bennett who tried to score a point from practically on the goal-line. His exasperated tap on the ground with his hurley showed how the game was slipping away from us. Two more Tipp scores stretched the lead to four and with goal chances as rare as a modest Kerryman it already looked like that was that.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (Action 21)

None of this is to say we made it easy for them. In contrast to the measured manner in which we held Cork at bay in our recent encounters, Tipp were having to get down in the trenches to stay in control. Afterwards I would encounter a Tipp neighbour who, while generous in victory (despite his best efforts, all his descendants are Waterford fans), would blithely lament the lack of a 15 v 15 contest. It was as if he expected us to play to their strengths like we did in 2011. Instead we continued to front up to them, benefitting from some slack refereeing as a few heavy challenges as they tried to come out of defence were ignored before we won the free to trim the gap back to three. Another Callanan 65 restored the four-point gap and Waterford could again count themselves lucky when Shane Bennett was only given a yellow for a blow to James Barry’s head as he tried to emerge with the ball. It was a complete accident but, as the saying goes, I’ve seen them given. James Owens let a lot go which was probably more beneficial to our in-your-face style and not giving the red was consistent with his philosophy for the day.

Patrick Curran would pick up where he left off against Cork with a fine pick-up and score, but when Devine missed another scoreable chance and Kevin Moran was correctly penalised for steps leading to a huge score from John O’Dwyer, you knew the game was up. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that even scoring one or two of those gilt-edged chances would have given us a chance at a great pile-up in the box – it wouldn’t have gone in, but the chance of it would have been nice. As it was, Tipp kept the insurance score ahead of us in the last five minutes. The puckout after O’Dwyer’s long-range free was snaffled by Tipp and lashed straight back over the bar to move the lead to five. Not much in normal circumstances, but it felt gargantuan in the context of a low scoring game. In case you don’t think 0-21 to 0-16 (as it finished after a solo effort from Austin Gleeson was canceled out immediately by another Tipp score) is low-scoring, rewrite is as 3-12 to 2-10 and it looks relatively anaemic.

There was at least some small satisfaction to be had in the huge roar that greeted the final whistle. They’ll say in their more maggoty moments that Waterford don’t matter, but at this stage in the cycle we matter quite a lot. We’ve clearly established a mastery at the back. Can we get the balance right? Can the likes of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran be integrated into the attack? Can we free up Austin Gleeson to go forward? Would that make a difference? I’m sure we could beat Dublin using the strategy employed here against Tipperary. Speculating against them might be necessary though to get accumulating against Kilkenny, and that carries risks of its own. Hold to this course in anticipation of a brighter future? Answering all of the above means the next fortnight is going to be a test for Derek McGrath and company.

Waterford v Tipperary 12 July 2015 (17)

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives (0-2), Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1f). Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Eddie Barrett (Shane Bennett), Kevin Moran (capt, 0-2), Stephen Bennett (Tom Devine), Jake Dillon (Darragh Fives), Maurice Shanahan (0-8, 0-3f, 0-2 65), Michael Walsh, Colin Dunford (0-1; Patrick Curran, 0-1)

Tipperary: Darren Gleeson, Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Michael Breen (0-1; Lar Corbett, 0-1). Kieran Bergin, Padraic Maher (0-2), Ronan Maher. James Woodlock, Shane McGrath (Conor O’Brien), Jason Forde (0-2; Shane Bourke, 0-1), Brendan Maher (capt), Patrick Maher (0-2), John O’Dwyer (0-5, 0-2f), Seamus Callanan (0-6, 0-4f, 0-2 65), Niall O’Meara (0-3)

HT: Waterford 0-9 Tipperary 0-10

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)

Waterford 1-24 (27) Cork 0-17 (17)

Legend has it that on the Monday after Edmund Van Esbeck had retired from his post as rugby corr at The Irish TImes, what should the sub-editors of D’Olier Street hear first thing but the bould Ned roaring “COPY!” at them. What had moved him to get back in the saddle after a series of tributes so fulsome from the sheepskin coat and hip flask brigade they would have made Tony McCoy blush? It seems that Neil Francis had used his Sunday newspaper column to slag off the sheepskin coat and hip flask brigade, and that could never be let slide, retirement be damned.

Maybe it’s the Tramore man in me, a trait shared with the late Ned, but having decided before the game that I wasn’t going to write about the National League final and pondered whether I was going to bother in the future at all, the muse was brought back by not wanting to let insults slide, both real and virtual. The real ones were to be found at Semple Stadium. A couple of Cork fans behind us decided that sharing a county with Jimmy Barry-Murphy meant they were as good at hurling as Jimmy Barry-Murphy and spent their entire time sneering at everything Waterford. Austin Gleeson’s stunning point – the one where he gathered the clearance on his own 45 then ran down the wing and hit a glorious effort off the hurley, not the one where he struck a sideline ball over the bar from out past the Cork 45 – was naturally greeted with great whoops of delight from the Waterford faithful. This led one of the Cork boyos to opine that “you’d swear they’d won the All-Ireland”. When a third Cork man, who arrived twenty minutes late stinking of drink, expressed the opinion that Maurice Shanahan was a ‘cissy’, enough was enough. We moved our seats at half-time.

As for the virtual sort, I made the mistake in the aftermath of suggesting on boards.ie that Waterford were “the real deal“. This was a bridge under which the Cork and Kilkenny trolls could not resist residing. Once again, people who have never won All-Ireland medals themselves felt the need to lecture other people who have never won All-Ireland medals on what it takes to win All-Ireland medals.

If you are thinking that I’m suggesting that such obnoxiousness is a characteristic of the supporters of other counties, then I would direct you to the rather shocking comments of Derek McGrath after the game:

McGrath never quite relaxed but the strangest sensation for him was feeling that warm afterglow of public delight.

“That was very difficult for me to overcome because I would have been naturally sceptical of fans having watched fans applaud decisions. One day I was sitting in the stand and Dan [Shanahan] was taken off and a fella beside me stood up and applauded and I would have been naturally sceptical or paranoid over how harsh it is for people with their families in the stands.

“I think we’ve got over that and we’ve just embraced the fans themselves and tried to get them on board. I think they’re returning. Obviously victories help and even personally, my own son is nine years of age. He left the Kilkenny game last year after 45 minutes, we were 17 or 18 points behind, such was the level of, not abuse, but the level of insensitivity. That goes with the territory, I’m acknowledging that, but he hasn’t been at a match yet this year. [But] I got to talk to him on the phone so he’s delighted at home.”

What is wrong with these people? This is all rather sour, but it’s a surely a civic duty to call out assholes wherever you encounter them and wherever they might be from.  And now all that is said let us rejoice, for there was much to rejoice about yesterday.

You don’t have to be an asshole to wonder whether an individual win truly represents progress, but I’d seen three Waterford games so far this year and each, in their own way, contained signs of life which, after the rolling calamity that was 2014, was good news in itself. A Tipperary troll on the GAA Discussion Board – there, that’s the Big Three hat-trick – had said after we were promoted that Waterford would “struggle to step up“, yet here were having taken down both Galway and Tipperary. The team has a settled look, right down to the silly dummy teams that the world and her husband could see through and, of course, the two man full-forward line. Given Cork’s much reported problems in at full-back, it was an interesting choice. Trust Shanahan and Stephen Bennett to advantage of those alleged weaknesses? Unwise not to ram home such an advantage with a conventional lineup? A case of not giving two hoots what the opposition get up to? Whatever it was, it led to a solid start with Waterford leaping into a three point lead. The tactic seems to be to pack so many bodies into the half-back/midfield area that we can win the ball and find a man in enough space to be able to pick out the one of the front two or put it over the bar. It worked a treat with one of those early scores, Shanahan letting the ball go over his head before using his strength to get into space and take the point when even a goal looked a possibility. Cork responded with a few scores of their own but against the wind this was encouraging stuff.

Amidst all this, it helps to have a bit of old school virtuosity. Gleeson’s sideline cut was one of those moments. A Waterford wag had exhorted him to put it over the bar. How we laughed. Over it went though, and I was reminded of a blog post from ‘crottys lake’ where he noted that when “trying to explain Waterford’s rise this year, lazy pundits have put it down to a new defensive system devised by Derek McGrath, which of course is rubbish, there are some seriously talented young players in this setup and it was only a matter of time before we began to see the results”.

There was little chance that Waterford were going to let rip. There weren’t going to be many goals given the tactics employed so a team wasn’t going to be broken by a flurry of them, and while there were some splendid long range scores you’re going to get a few frustrating wides. Even at this early stage though the pattern was Waterford taking three steps forward for every two Cork managed. Although speaking of goals, we were mightily relieved at our end when Séamus Harnedy managed to slip his marker and advance towards the danger area. Somehow though Stephen O’Keeffe kept it out and the defence were on hand to scramble it clear. I don’t mean to slag any of his predecessors in goal, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve never had a truly outstanding shot stopper so to see this was yet another encouraging sign, Had that gone in it would have been three steps forward for Cork in one movement, As it was, Jamie Barron drilled over a long range effort after he was found in acres of space by a super Shane Fives catch while Cork were held back by a couple of poor wides, one a free from Pat Horgan who had scored a million points (approx) from dead balls against Dublin. Mahony had been pretty much perfect with his frees and a score with the last puck of the half meant we had an unflattering four point lead to show for our efforts.

Mulling on it all at half-time, safely ensconced away from the Three Stooges, the feelings of ennui returned. It’s all very well managing expectations, but the expectations have a pesky habit of shifting. This was far in excess of what I could hoped for at the start of the campaign, yet if we blew it from this position it would be devastating. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the loss at the same stage to the same team in 1998 left scars. We had them over a barrel and somehow let them wriggle free. It probably is an exaggeration to say that it left a lingering feeling that we would never be able to show the killer instinct required, but the sense that we had missed what was literally (at the time) a once-in-a-generation opportunity was as solid as concrete. Sixteen years and fifty weeks on, here we had a change to exorcise that ghost. Could we take it?

Although the wind had been swirling it seemed to be mostly against us in the first half, so you’d hope we’ve be able to get right into them early in the second half. Instead those nightmarish half-time musings seemed to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy as several efforts fell apologetically short or drifted wide with no one in a white jersey within an asses roar of the ball. When Colin Dunford hit a wide on the run when he had time to steady himself and take an easy score, the dreaded word rose unbidden – panic. Stout hearts were called for here, and there were a couple of instances of Barry Coughlan doing what a good full-back should do by simply adopting a none-shall-pass philosophy, while Tadgh de Búrca continued to sashay the ball out of danger. A couple of cheap frees for fouls on Bennett and Jamie Barron respectively also helped to steady nerves, and when Mahony pointed both it meant that despite all that wastefulness we were still winning the second half. Three steps forward…

The 1998 moment had passed so surely it was time for a 2012 moment where Cork, facing defeat against dogged opponents, emptied their formidable bench and turned the tide. Yet it didn’t happen, which brought some heretical thoughts to mind, i.e. they didn’t have players of the calibre of John Gardiner or Cathal effin’ Naughton in reserve. Cork had started the game with Alan Cadogan whose flaying of the under 21’s last year was the point from which this year’s low expectations really start. He had to go off injured after only ten minutes which suggests either excruciating bad luck or he wasn’t fit to begin with and they had to take a chance with him. The players who had come on early in the second half were not having the desired impact and slowly but surely Waterford began to pull away.

The only comparison I can make is the 2002 Munster final, a time when a seemingly close game ended in a romp for Waterford. This was not the same thing though. That was an ever-mercurial team, as they would demonstrate time and time again throughout the Noughties. Had you asked them to go out and flatten Tipperary again the next day, it’s highly unlikely they would have done so. Here, Waterford had overcome those early second half wobbles and were in complete command in all areas of the field. A storming Kevin Moran point left us two scores clear as the game ticked into the final quarter and now Cork knew they were going to need goals. They nearly got one when Conor Lehane thundered a shot against the crossbar, but it spoke volumes that the follow-up ended in a terrible wide. A few minutes later a Gleeson sideline ball dropped in the danger area and was gathered by Michael Walsh. He got the ball away and somehow it ended up in the back of the net. It later transpired it was a bobble of a shot from Tom Devine that went past Anthony Nash via a Cork hurley. It was impossible to see from our vantage point – have I mentioned we moved away from a group of balubas? – although I’m not sure what my excuse was last time round against Tipp when I couldn’t see how Colin Dunford’s shot had gone in despite it happening right in front of me. Either way, wait until you see the green flag. Once that was up, the celebrations could begin in earnest.

The game wound down with a few consolation scores for Cork as tried to thread the eye of the needle while Waterford added a few more points of a more swashbuckling nature. Okay, maybe not, but we’re entitled to a little hyperbole and stretching the lead out to ten at the final whistle was not without consequence, as this represented Waterford’s biggest ever win over Cork in the National League. You read that right – not once in sixty-one previous League matches against Cork have we managed to do them by a double digit margin. By way of contrast, they’ve managed to do it to us on ten occasions. On a personal level, I had missed the 2007 final so this was a first for me, a case of getting the monkey of 1998 off my back. Two of the inter-county Senior titles out of the way, only one more to go.

Which brings us to the All-Ireland series to come. Amidst all the mentions of certain pivotal moments in this era for Waterford hurling, another one comes to mind – the 1999 moment when Cork, reeling from a thrashing at Clare’s hands in Munster after winning the previous year’s League (see: the 1998 moment) and an unremarkable defence of the League, took a gamble with six Championship debutants for the Munster semi-final against Waterford. Mickey O’Connell would have the game of his life with a staggering six points from the midfield. Cork would go on to win the All-Ireland that year while Waterford would endure a few more fallow years under Gerald McCarthy. It might have all been so different, but that’s the way it is with Cork. They may not be like mushrooms, but thanks to their effectively limitless (from a Waterford viewpoint) resources they could conjure up a ghastly revenge for us.

For now though, to the victor the spoils. Now where are the Cork assholes so I can grab my Déise badge and noisily kiss it inches from their faces? That should get the creative juices flowing.

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1 s/l; Martin O’Neill), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Kevin Moran (0-3), Colin Dunford (Brian O’Halloran, 0-1), Pauric Mahony (0-11, 0-8f, 0-1 65), Michael Walsh (0-2), Jake Dillon (Shane O’Sullivan), Maurice Shanahan (0-2), Stephen Bennett (0-1; Tom Devine, 1-1).

Cork: Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Aidan Ryan (Damien Cahalane), Stephen McDonnell; Lorcan McLoughlin, Mark Ellis, Cormac Murphy, Daniel Kearney, Aidan Walsh (0-1; Brian Lawton), Bill Cooper (0-1), Séamus Harnedy (0-2; Jamie Coughlan), Rob O’Shea (0-1), Alan Cadogan (Paudie O’Sullivan), Conor Lehane (0-5), Patrick Horgan (0-7f).

HT: Waterford 0-11 Cork 0-7

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Waterford 0-14 Cork 0-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Senior championship defeats to Cork up to 2014

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

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

(originally posted on boards.ie)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterford 1-21 (24) Cork 1-21 (24)

24 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 programme

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

23 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 match ticket

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

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

09 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014

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

25 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 1

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

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

26 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 2

Then came The Goal.

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

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

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

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

27 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014 Action 3

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

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

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

21 Waterford v Cork 25 May 2014

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

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

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

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

HT: Waterford 0-13 Cork 0-7

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)