Tag Archives: Under-21

A long time in politics

Back in 2000 we all went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We were undefeated up that the point while Laois, If memory serves me correct, had not won a match themselves. This was reflected in the crowd as Waterford fans outnumbered the Laois fans by about ten-to-one. What was probably more impactful on the attendance was the Laois Under-21 footballers playing Meath the same day. They lost. It was not a good day for them, although it was as good as our year got as we lost the next day out against Tipp, flopped badly in the National League semi-final to Galway, then went out with a whimper in the Munster championship.

You could understand the eagerness to flock to the Under-21 banner, what with the All-Ireland Minor champions of 1996 and 1997 coming of age. Things are not quite as skewed in Waterford, but the result last weekend was an almighty wake-up call regarding our progress. I don’t feel silly for thinking we were heading towards the ultimate glory in the next few years, or even this year. If we carried on in the manner we were going, it was inevitable. Alas, the beating we took in Limerick is a huge setback. Even if one assumes that Waterford are a lot better than that, and we should still be favourites for the next game against Wexford, Kilkenny looks like a mountain we are still not equipped to climb. Then there is the small matter of Tipperary. I had assumed, and this is the part that makes me feel silly, that they had not made the progress we had made in the last 12 months. Talk about making an ass out of u and me. Okay, just me then. They’ve clearly bulked up a lot since Galway took them out in 2015 and they will be bracing themselves for a collision with Kilkenny on the first Sunday in September.

That was the reality into which we faced on Monday morning, but in 60 wonderful minutes on Wednesday the Under-21’s shaped a new reality. I’m sure there have been occasions on the past where I have cheered for Tipperary – all of them probably against Kilkenny – but never with such gusto as I did on Thursday. Limerick have a bit of a hex over us at underage, with four straight wins at Minor level, and we could do without talk of them getting vengeance for the controversial Hawk Eye incident that directly contributed to them missing out on having another go at us in the 2013 All-Ireland final. All of this pales into insignificance though at the prospect of an evening of hoopla up at the old Sports Field.

This has the potential to be the biggest Waterford game ever staged in Walsh Park. Dungarvan has a storied history with three All-Ireland hurling finals staged there in the early 20th century. (I think it’s telling that when coming up with a convenient neutral venue for Cork to play Kilkenny and London in those three finals, Waterford city seems not to have been taken into account. A garrison town thing? But I digress . . . ) No Senior Munster final has ever been played in the city, and while there have been eight All-Ireland Under-21 finals played there, it’s only natural that none of them have involved Waterford, and it wasn’t until the mid-00’s that all Under-21 matches were played on a home-and-away basis. The first Munster Under-21 final was played in Walsh Park and the 23-point trimming we took to Tipperary was evidence of how the apparatus that had kept Waterford a force to be reckoned with in the previous quarter-century was beginning to fall apart – beating Galway in the semi-final was practically a bye in those days. We played Cork in the final in 2007 and got beaten out the gate. 2009 gave a glimpse of what might have been in Fraher against Clare. They won a thriller and went on to dominate the grade ever since. Could this be our time? Scramble for tickets, traffic jams, packed venue, crowd dominated by Waterford fans, a team in their prime, a shot at a little vengeance of our own . . . it’s going to be epic.

Waterford 3-23 (32) Clare 1-11 (14) – Under-21

Boost for Waterford hurling as U21 side storm into Munster final with 18-point win over Clare – The42.ie
Bennett blast for Banner as U-21s lift Déise spirits – Irish Independent
Waterford U21s blow Clare away – Irish Examiner
Stephen Bennett leads second-half blitz as Waterford put Clare to sword – Irish Times
Devastating Deise demolish Banner – HoganStand.com
Waterford trounce Clare to reach Munster Under-21 final- RTÉ

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And, on occasion, the rhymes are a ripoff of the original. So it proved for the Waterford Under-21’s as, three years on from crushing the Clare Minors in the notorious free game in Dungarvan, they did the same to them in front of over 4,000 paying punters in Walsh Park. It struck me as I started this that a lot of those Clare players will have donned the county jersey for the last time. They won’t be sorry to see the back of our jersey – and the back of it is all they saw for much of this game.

I’m in a gleefully vindictive mood. If we only learned one thing from last Sunday, and if it took until last Sunday to learn this lesson then you must have spent the last half-century in Alpha Centauri, it would be that you have to enjoy these moments. In the build-up to the game I managed to work myself into a right state at the failures at this level over the last decade. In the long run Cork and Tipperary will always lord it over the rest of us and you have to make hay when they are shrouded by cloud, so for Limerick and Clare to win the last five Munster titles without even an appearance in the final from us is a dispiriting thought – and it’s not as if spirits were that buoyant to begin with. The class of 2009 came and went without making an impact on this competition. Could the class of 2013 do any better? If not, it would be clear that we were doing something fundamentally wrong.

The early signs were ominous. Having deliberately decided to sit right down at the far end of the stand so there would be plenty of room, a Clare lad duly plonked himself a few rows in front of me and proceeded to greet every score with at least 15 seal-like claps, even tap-overs from frees. Yes, I was counting. Had I not suffered enough on Sunday? Events on the field were not any better as Clare looked that bit sharper than Waterford. It seemed like we were first to every ball but they were cleaning up the dirty stuff and their goal was deeply alarming, going in after three attempts by Waterford to get the ball away. They were knocking over points around Waterford defenders and to slip 1-4 to 0-1 down inside the first ten minutes was enough to bring to mind all manner of dark thoughts. What the hell were we doing to players between 18 and 21? Stuffing them full of blaas?

A couple of frees from Patrick Curran stemmed the tide and there was one brilliant score from Mickey Kearney where Waterford worked it through the middle allowing him to ram it through the posts, but the ease with which Clare responded to that, a simple sashay up the left from the puckout without a speck of ash touching one of their players, was galling in the extreme. Six points up after 20 minutes, if Clare pushed on they could be out of sight by half-time.

They didn’t push on though and, in retrospect, had they found themselves in the same position one hundred times against the same team, they would have done well to win once. It was a remarkably open game and the Clare forwards had the edge up to that point on their Waterford opposite numbers, but even a small shift in a few battles saw Waterford get on top. Yet another ridiculously precocious score from a sideline ball by Austin Gleeson (see above) contributed to the Waterford fightback and while a chance of a goal was spurned by Patrick Curran it ended up in another point and showed that Clare were going backwards. By half-time the gap was down to two and you thought that with the wind to come they just had to be able to close this one out. If they couldn’t you’d be wondering what the hell we were doing to players between 18 and 21 etc.

Having spent half-time enjoying the sight of so many girls and boys (and a few adults) engaging in the simple thrill of playing on the pitch graced by their heroes . . . I’m laying it on thick here, but sod it. It would be all of 20 seconds before Waterford had killed the match stone dead, Stephen Bennett rattling the ball home after Waterford won the ball straight from the throw-in. Two points followed immediately from each puckout and even the world’s greatest fatalist here was contemplating going down and doing an Alan Pardew in front of Mr Seal. A few people have wryly wondered whether Ger Loughnane would question Waterford’s moral fibre after the Tipp game having been so disparaging of Galway’s far less apocalyptic implosion against Kilkenny. He would certainly have plenty of cause to be obnoxious towards his own county men here if he were so inclined as Waterford racked up score after score with barely any intervention. Stephen Bennett added a second goal after a mix-up in the Clare defence and another green flag soon followed from Colm Roche.

The bottom line is that the eventual 18-point victory completely flattered Clare. The last ten minutes it was Waterford who stepped off the gas, as if just to give the backs a bit of game time, with Jordan Henley dealing competently with a series of goalward efforts. None of it was Elastigirl stuff as the efforts were of the Hail Mary variety but it would have been annoying had one of them managed to slip by. I had a mutter or two along the lines that a 22-point win would be nice . . . man, I really am leaving myself some hostages to fortune here. Tipperary and Limerick will be waiting in the wings, both confident that they defeated the 2013 Minors in the course of that momentous season. It’s important though to tell posterity how fantastic this was. You know all the guff about teams being burdened down by expectations? Here you had a big crowd yearning for some redemption after the weekend from those who lifted us all up back then, and they got it in spades. There will be plenty of mournful moments to come, so let’s revel in the joyous ones while we can.

Our summer of discontent

21 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

Stephen Bennett is the symbol of all our hopes and fears for the recent past, present, and near-to-medium-term future of Waterford hurling.

Before looking at that click-baiting statement in more detail, let’s look at our current position. By any objective measure, Waterford went backwards in 2014. After being hot favourites for relegation in each of the previous years of the six-team division format in the National League, we fell through the trapdoor just when people were hesitant about tipping us to fall through the trapdoor because we kept on refusing to fall through the trapdoor. We went out at the same stage of the Senior championship, but there was a difference between the manner in which we nearly picked Kilkenny’s pocket in 2013 and how we clung on to the coattails of a Wexford team who would have been knackered after their efforts against Clare in the previous weeks in 2014. There were striking parallels between the efforts of the Minors over the two years – won a titanic Munster semi-final, lost to Limerick after a replay in the Munster final, went toe-to-toe with Kilkenny for 60 minutes – but while it was certainly a valiant effort, it was still a step backwards overall.

Although not half as big a step as the Under-21’s. While mulling this over, I had the thought that the loss to Cork this year was worse than the 2011 Munster final, worse than the 2008 All-Ireland final, worse than the 1998 Munster final replay. Now that it’s come to writing it, I realise that is ridiculous. However, in each of those cases we went into the game with modest expectations, and while we found we had much to be modest about it helped dull the pain. We also had events that followed that lifted the spirit: a homecoming for the ages in 2008 and thumping wins over Galway in 1998 and 2011. There was no such backlash in 2014 for the Under-21’s, merely the added dismay of watching Clare demonstrate that Cork really were no great shakes. It has been a bad year, and subsequent results have only made it feel worse.

So what has all this got to do with Stephen Bennett? Each of his interactions with the three panels spoke volumes about where we are at and where we are going. His absence from the Minor team could be reasonably said to have proven fatal to their chances. I can hear the chorus line telling me that every county has to face up to the loss of most of the Under-18’s each year, but I say it as a positive, not a negative. Despite losing so many players, Waterford still put up a great show. While one Munster title and one All-Ireland isn’t a spectacular return for our five Munster final appearances, it has been a period of high competitiveness in the province, with Clare and Limerick both winning titles as well as ourselves. Even in 2014 there is great satisfaction to be taken out of lowering the Banner on two occasions, showing that a county that has gotten it so right at underage level as to win three Under-21 Munster titles in a row is not able to live with us at Minor level. We are clearly doing something right ourselves – the chairman of the Wexford County Board said as much – and it should be something to be excited about.

Despite not being in the Minor panel then – in fact, precisely because he wasn’t – Stephen Bennett casts them in a good light. The problems start when you move to the levels where is eligible. The most alarming thing about the Under-21’s and the Seniors is how both seem to be following the same strategy, i.e. keeping possession at all costs, exemplified by the effective abandonment of the full-forward line. Derek McGrath and Peter Queally were rivals for the post of Senior manager last year, and Queally (in)famously had little preparation time with the Under-21 panel. Given that, it would have been reasonable to expect him to adopt very different policies with regard to the team. Instead we had the Waterford Under-21 team run out in a game where they were warm favourites and proceed to stink the place out with the defeatist mentality that had characterised the Seniors, culminating in the horror show which saw a short puck-out intercepted by Alan Cadogan to allow him to bury the tie, only moments after we had had our hopes raised when Cork were reduced to 14 men. It’s a sound idea, having integration between the various levels of the game. We seem to be sharing ideas between the worst-performing levels though, while the best one stands in glorious isolation.

Compounding all this was the curious use of Stephen Bennett – yep, I’m finally getting to the point. At half-time in the Under-21 game, my brother and I were casting our eyes over the panel when our collective short-sighted eyes squinted their way towards the name of Bennett on the bench. With Gleeson, Kevin Daly, and M’s Harney and Kearney all making the step-up from the All-Ireland winners, it was a surprise to see the star of the team on the bench. It’s always possible that he hadn’t impressed in training or was jaded after the long slog of a winter with Ballysaggart. But that wouldn’t explain why, when Waterford were seeking a Clark Kent to explode out of a phone box, it was Bennett to whom they turned. And as if the parallels in terms of strategies between the two adult panels were not enough, Bennett was also kept under wraps by Derek McGrath until the situation was at its most dire against Wexford. Both changes reeked of desperation, and it’s surely a bit unfair to heap so much pressure on those young shoulders. Successfully blending the new talent into the Senior panel is essential to our future, and in fairness the performances of Messrs Gleeson, de Búrca and Dunford suggest it’s not all doom and gloom on that score, but the first steps for Stephen Bennett have not been the stuff of inspiration.

The message from the last couple of years are clear. We’re going gangbusters at Minor level and making a total hash of it at Under-21 and Senior level. That’s where we’re at. Where are we going, and how can we get to where we want to get? That’s for another day.

Counsel of despair

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

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

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

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

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

A week is a long time etc

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

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

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

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

Back to reality

The main reason I got so effusive despite losing in the end to Kilkenny was a sense of optimism for the future of Waterford hurling. And with ten minutes remaining in the Munster Minor final the following day, it looked like the headline from the 1950’s section of Our Dumb Century of “Flint, Michigan, Enters Golden Age of Unending Prosperity” was going to be applicable to Waterford, Ireland. Students of 20th century American history will know it didn’t turn out that way for Flint, and two weeks later the Waterford golden age appears to be over before it has even begun.

The sting of the loss for the Minors will hopefully be mitigated by Sunday evening as they get a second/third chance against Antrim. And yes, I know one should never count yer chickens etc, but two years ago Antrim were beaten at this stage by an eye-watering 38 points by Galway. Simply put, would you rather we were meeting Galway? While it’s never nice to miss out on a Munster title, the lopsided manner in which the two games unfolded – Limerick requiring a late-burst to stay in the drawn game, Waterford relying on regular sucker-punches from Stephen Bennett to stay in the replay – suggests only a fool would confidently predict a third game. Let’s hope we get another third chance.

The Under-21’s loss was comprehensively dealt with by Giveitfong, and while I demur from his habit of listing everything that went wrong in a four-point loss and treating each as if it were an unforgivable transgression, it’s hard to dispute the logic of each of his complaints. The Austin Gleeson one in particular is a bizarre state of affairs. It wouldn’t bother me that any members of the panel might have been put out by him being parachuted into the team at such a late stage. Had he saved the day, everyone would be too busy celebrating to give a damn (see: Paul Flynn in 1992). But it was a very long-odds punt and had he taken a blow in advance of the Minor replay a mere five days later there would have been hell to pay. One thing I would add to Giveitfong’s analysis is a sense of frustration at failing to make home advantage count. We’ve fallen at the first hurdle in each of the last three years at this level, and when you consider how much closer we were to Clare this year than last, it’s galling that a lack of planning and a lack of discipline meant we couldn’t ram that advantage home. After their dismantling of Cork, Tipperary are surely going to take some stopping. But based on previous years of home-and-away arrangements we would have had them in our backyard. Definitely a missed opportunity.

After a tough couple of weeks for underage hurling in the county, let’s end on a lighter note. Before the game my nephew was taking pictures of anything that happened to be in the viewfinder at the moment he clicked on the button. Shoes, close-ups of barriers, clear blue sky – you name something that had nothing to do with the match, he photographed it. However, amidst this frenzy of clicking he did manage to capture a certain former All-Ireland Under-21-winning captain:

09 Waterford v Clare 18 July 2013 - Under-21

As many an opponent has discovered over the years, you just can’t get away from the man!

Waterford 0-17 (17) Clare 2-15 (21) – Under-21 – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

I am still trying to get my head around the latest case of a talented Waterford underage team failing to deliver in a game that was there to be won. It is the job of management to get their charges into the right frame of mind, to pick and set out the team properly, and to devise an appropriate game plan. I think the Waterford management got all three of these wrong in the game against Clare on Thursday night.

I thought that Clare were the more determined team. They won the throw-in at the beginning of the first and second halves and most of the rucks that developed during the course of the game. They also won the 50:50 contests and generally were better to react to breaking balls.

The whole approach of the Waterford to this game was defensive and supercautious. It is not clear to me that playing a sweeper and just two full forwards was as successful a tactic as some on this thread seem to think. It seemed to me that the players generally were not sure where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing, and the lack of structure to the way the team was set out was obvious throughout the game.

A lot of the problem was that the defenders were obviously told to follow the players they were assigned to mark, a situation which meant that there was no settled attacking platform. Darragh Fives seemed to spend a lot of time at fullback while Ray Barry, who scored 1-3 from play against the Kilkenny seniors, spent much of the second half at left corner back. This was crazy stuff.

Up front things made no sense at all. We had a strong wind in the first half but played only two players in the full forward line. Numerous balls were send aimlessly into spaces where there was either no player at all, or else a loose and very grateful Clare defender. We had no big man to act as a target for high ball coming in. Both Clare goals came directly from long puckouts which broke kindly for eager Clare forwards who were there in numbers. I don’t know why Cormac Heffernan didn’t start, but he has shown before that he can win ball or break it down. Yet he was not introduced until very late in the game.

Playing Jamie Barron at centre forward was the biggest mystery of all. What was this supposed to achieve? Here we have one of the most prolific scoring forwards in the county being kept away from where he is likely to do most damage. Barron is a very talented prospect, but his self-confidence must have taken a beating by the way he has been misused by both the senior and under-21 mentors this year.

Clare frequently play a two-man full forward but they try to make up for it by having speedy players breaking from midfield to create overlaps and point-scoring chances. The one man capable of doing likewise for Waterford was Donie Breathnach, and he showed what he was capable of in a brief first half spell when his strong running produced a point and a pointed free. Especially when Waterford were reduced to fourteen men, his strong running capability could have been of immense value. Yet he didn’t play the ball once in the second half. No allowance obviously was made in the game plan for getting the ball into Breathnach’s hand.

Nor was Breathnach ever used as a target man. Instead numerous balls were played down on Colm Curran who was not at the races and should have been substituted.

If properly managed, Waterford, playing on their home pitch, should have gone out with a positive frame of mind and instructed to get stuck into Clare. Back in May, a Waterford team, short their seven senior players, gave as good as they got against a full-strength Tipperary under-21 team in a high-quality challenge in Carrick. Donie Breathnach was magnificent on that occasion, as was Shane McNulty when moved to wing back.

I would have started against Clare with McNulty at centre back, Kieran Power on the wing, Darragh Fives and Stephen Roche at midfield, Ray Barry in the half forward line and Cormac Heffernan in the centre of a three-man full forward line. In last Thursday’s game, the lack of response of the Waterford mentors as the game began to move out of reach was breath-taking. I would have moved Tadhg Burke, a proven ball winner who was almost completely out of the game, to midfield and Darragh Fives to centre forward.

The Waterford mentors are also culpable in not dealing with the Paudie Prendergast car crash before it happened. Right from the start it was clear that Prendergast’s attitude was all wrong. He made a token effort to win possession in the first 50:50 situation he was presented with. He sent a couple of totally aimless balls into the forward line. He gave away a foul which produced a Clare point. He made a mess of a pick-up early in the second half which led to another Clare point. He got involved in the first free-for-all before that in which he ended up getting booked. I remarked at half-time to the person sitting beside me that if the selectors didn’t take him off he would be sent off, and I didn’t need a crystal ball to make that prediction.

Waterford also had no puckout strategy. Clare won three quarters of their own puckouts and the majority of the Waterford puckouts. All told, according to my reckoning, Waterford won 17 puckouts while Clare won 31. You can’t win games without securing a decent share of primary possession. I also counted eleven instances of Waterford hitting the ball to an unmarked Clare player.

If you have only five forwards you have to be very careful how you try to play the ball up to them. Too often Waterford hit balls blind with no intended recipient. Last Thursday night’s team also repeated a major weakness of the senior team i.e. hitting the ball straight to players with a defender right behind them, rather than playing the ball into space for players to run on to. Clare were very good at this.

I was astonished to see Austin Gleeson listed as substitute in the programme, and even more astonished to see him being brought on as a substitute. As far as I am aware, he played in none of the many challenge matches Waterford played in the lead-up to last Thursday, so it is not hard to imagine how the other players on the fringe of the team felt at him being drafted in like this.

Apart from that, it was imbecilic (but unfortunately typical) of the Waterford County Board to even allow Gleeson to play in this game, just five days in advance of the minor hurling replay next Tuesday. I could see the obvious situation occurring where Waterford both lost the under-21 match and Gleeson got injured (although thankfully this does not appear to have happened). However, I can image how the minor selectors must have felt, as they tried to focus their charges on next week’s replay, to have their star player going off on a diversion such as this. No wonder Waterford win few titles at underage level.

The only really positive notes I took from last Thursday’s defeat were the fine performance of Kieran Power in his first year out of minor and the good shift Stephen Roche put in when moved to his proper position in midfield.

Waterford GAA results archive – first time for everything, right? (Update 26/6/13: RIGHT!)

What a helter-skelter weekend that was. Everyone seems to be talking about hurling what with Waterford’s white-knuckle ride win over Offaly, Dublin going close to causing the biggest upset of the century against Kilkenny, Cork softening Clare’s cough, and wailing lamentations about the nature of the Championship system. All grist to any blogger’s mill, but real life events mean I don’t have much time at the moment, and the looming Westmeath game means hurling events might overtake anything I write. So I’ll limit myself to confirming the truth of an observation made by the redoubtable Giveitfong, who noted in advance of the Minor game tomorrow that we have never won an underage game against Cork in Cork. Here’s the tale of woe at Minor . . .

Waterford Minor results v Cork in Cork  1928-2012

. . . and Under-21 level.

Waterford Under-21 results v Cork in Cork  1966-2010

Still, we drew the last game at Minor level in Cork so we’re heading in the right direction.

Update 26/6/13:



“A famous win” is a much-abused term, but I think tonight counts as a famous win. Come on the Déise!

Under the influence

Oof again. You know I love you, TG4, I really do. But showing the Under-21’s getting massacred as they were in Cusack Park tonight . . . that’s cruel. I convinced myself before the game that I was more prepared for defeat at this level than I would have been at Minor level. We have a far worse record and have endured some awful beatings, even in recent years, and playing away from home would probably be the straw that would break the camels back.

Complete tosh on all counts. While prepared for defeat, I wasn’t prepared for a defeat of this scale, our fourth-worst ever in the Under-21 championship. As for playing badly away from the comforts of Walsh Park and Fraher Field, even if you strip out wins over whipping boys like Kerry and Antrim we still have recorded more than half of our victories in the competition away from home. In short, it was bad. No wonder the man in front of Michael Ryan above had his head in his hands.

It’s one of the great truisms of the GAA that underage success does not inevitably lead to Senior glory. But winning underage trophies is worthwhile on its own merits. Ask anyone who was in Nowlan Park in 1992. And while having talent coming through is not a sufficient condition for success at the highest level it has to be a necessary one. After a good couple of years (not least in Colleges and the Tony Forristal) this year has been a horrible reality check. Damn you, TG4, for inflicting this painful reality on me! What I need is some escapism, and what better place than Pravda, aka Liverpool FC TV. Ooh, it’s Liverpool 1-3 Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, I wonder what happens next . . .

Update 25/7/2012: DeiseHurling informed me via Twitter that the man with his head in his hands is Timmy O’Keeffe, Secretary of our beloved County Board. Perhaps he was banking on a money-spinning home tie in the Munster Under-21 final against Tipperary at Walsh Park. There’s always next year, Timmy.