Tag Archives: Walsh Park

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.

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Waterford 0-17 Limerick 0-19 – Minor

Walsh Park, Venue of Legends

Terrific Treaty down Na Deise – HogansStand.com
Paul O’Brien delights for Limerick minors – Irish Examiner
Perfect 10 for O’Brien as Limerick book final berth – Irish Independent
O’Brien plays leading role as Limerick book place in final – Irish Times
Limerick’s great hurling week continues as they defeat Waterford to reach Munster final – The42.ie


That’s four years on the bounce now that Limerick have done for us in the Munster Minor championship. Things could be worse. We beat them in the two previous meetings in 2009 and 2011, but prior to that Waterford had not beaten Limerick at this level since 1955. That was a run of 14 defeats. Yep, things could be hell of a lot worse.

We’ll get back to the place this game occupies in the history books later, but for now let’s combine the past and present with something I noticed upon arrival at Walsh Park. During the week I had opined on boards.ie that “the only certainties in life are death, taxes, and no matter how tinpot the Waterford game, Tony Browne Sr will be there”. And wouldn’t you know it, it having arrived just after 6.30, who should hobble in moments later but the bould Tony. Way back in 2000 when I was young, single and flush with cash, I fancied myself as becoming some manner of roving reporter for Waterford, paid for by advertising revenue. With all that in mind, I took a photo of myself at our game against Tipperary in Nenagh for posterity, and there in the background . . .

Who needs proof you were there when, well, you are always there? It’s immensely humbling, to see someone who has devoted so much of their time and effort to Waterford GAA. God knows how many of that litany of losses to Limerick he’s has been at.

Waterford played against the wind in the first half, and after the complete failure to make use of it against Cork, this was a good thing. Having seemingly had no strategy to deal with the wind then, Waterford’s plan here seemed to be to slow the game to a crawl. You know all the griping about the time in football matches lost when the likes of Stephen Cluxton jogs forward to take a 45? Well, every free inside our own half seemed to be taken by Billy Nolan in goal and he was in no hurry to take any of them. Allied to some dire shooting by Limerick, Waterford were only a couple of points down after a quarter of a game where the blue touchpaper was staying unlit. Unfortunately Waterford were not able to box clever when they had the ball. The amount of fumbling was atrocious, and there were numerous occasions when the roar of “two hands on the hurl!” went up from the crowd. Some of the decision making was really poor, such as a sideline ball which, in an attempt to play it back to Nolan, was put out for a 65 (thankfully missed). There was little in the way of goalmouth action, which seems to be the norm these days. A late effort by Thomas Douglas, when he tried to score with a swing akin to someone driving a stake into the ground with a sledgehammer, went wide and was as close as it got to a goal. A spectacular point from a sideline ball with the last action of the half gave Limerick a five-point lead at the break. This would have felt about par before the game, but given some of their misses it looked very good for Waterford.

As if noting the presence of the Tony Browne père wasn’t enough, who should sit in front of me at the start of the second half but Tom Cunningham, former Chairman of the County Board. Given his life has been the essence of tribalism, whether it be Waterford GAA or Fianna Fáil, I was wondering whether I’d see repeated volleys of abuse raining down on all and sundry. Instead he was a model of decency and restraint, even going so far as to freely admit when Waterford were fortunate with refereeing decisions. In terms of those around me though, the best nugget of wisdom about what unfolded came from a woman behind with about ten minutes to go: “it’s like last year’s Munster final again, chasing a game with no forwards”. After a couple of quick points which suggested all would be well, Waterford’s strategy of withdrawing from the full-forward line came unstuck. The contrast with Limerick was noticeable. They persisted with a man in at full-forward despite being against the wind, which kept Waterford guessing while also giving them a chance of the odd cheap free to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Not having such worries helped Limerick keep Waterford at arm’s length. Twice we made it a two-point game and on each occasion Limerick pushed back. A four-point burst midway through the half meant the lead was now greater than it had been at half-time with barely ten minutes to go. Goals were going to be needed, you thought, but where were they doing to come from?

It has to be said that Limerick looked that bit tidier than Waterford. Yes, the shooting was a source of concern for them but they were making chances. Their handling was crisper and they were frequently sashaying around Waterford’s more ponderous players. It looked at that point like heads would drop, but to the credit of the Waterford players they pushed back. Eoghan Murray really stood tall and, by dint of effort rather than artistry, they clawed their way into the game to the point where the gap was only one going into injury time. Murray had a sideline ball way out the field but it drifted agonisingly wide and Limerick’s next attack yielded one of those cheap frees that you get when you bother stationing someone in the danger zone. All they had to do was crowd out the last attack and the Irish Press Cup’s absence from this land was stretched to at least four years.

An absurd way to look at it, but it illustrates why I was not too despondent. It would have been a smash-and-grab had we won it, although that never bothered me in the past. What was more pertinent was that despite getting so much wrong, despite a mystifying plan of action, despite that malojan record against Limerick weighing heavily on us, Waterford still nearly got away with it. The thing is, I don’t think history is weighing down on us like it once did. These players have grown up with the idea of being competitive and even of winning things. Losing these games is disappointing in itself, if only because a Munster final appearance guarantees two more games, and wouldn’t it have been lovely to give these boys a big day out in front of a big crowd for the Senior final? But we’ll be back at this level. We aren’t going back to those grim days of 20+ point beatings any time soon.

Coming up on Sunday week: a seven-goal battering at the hands of Tipp.

Waterford 1-10 (13) Cork 0-17 (17) – Minor – media reports

Strong start by Cork as they defeat Waterford in Munster minor hurling opener – The42.ie
Rebels win in Waterford – HoganStand.com
Impressive Cork reveal fighting spirit to reel in Waterford – Irish Examiner
Sheehan shines as Rebels edge past Waterford – Irish Independent
Second-half surge eases Cork minors to victory – Irish Times

Waterford 1-10 (13) Cork 0-17 (17) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

Waterford could, and possibly should, have won this very strange minor hurling game played in Walsh Park tonight before a paying attendance of 2,707.

Waterford had first use of a very strong wind blowing down the field towards the town goal and had the best possible start. In their very first attack, Eoin McGrath (wearing the number 9 jersey allotted to Harry Ruddle in the programme) ran through the Cork defence and blasted an unstoppable shot to the net from over 20 metres. Cathal Curran and Michael Mahony followed up with excellent points to leave Waterford 1-2 to 0-0 ahead after just three minutes.

Any hopes that Waterford would settle down and drive on from this tonic start were quickly blown to shreds. Cork took over complete control in all sectors of the field. Their ball control was excellent, they were much more alert and sharper in their play and had a game plan – which they executed superbly – to overcome the facts that they were up against both a very strong wind and a physically bigger and stronger team. Their main ploy consisted of low, short balls into the forwards which were regularly collected with their markers yards behind, giving them plenty of space to plan and play their next ball.

By contrast, Waterford team fumbled and foostered all over the field, dropping balls from hand and unable to execute the most basic pickups. They stood off their men and allowed the smaller/lighter but much more committed Cork players to run around and through them. An example of the Waterford mindset was a defender hitting one sideline about six feet and then completely missing the next one.

Waterford’s main attacking ploy was booming puckouts from Billy Nolan which rained down on the Cork half backs. Those balls which they didn’t catch cleanly out of the sky were broken down and then hoovered up by alert and quick defenders. It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Cork had at least one extra defender, with one of the Waterford forwards withdrawn in a sweeper role. Playing a sweeper when Waterford had the assistance of a very strong wind didn’t make much sense to me, and points up the importance of being able to adjust a prepared game plan to prevailing circumstances and conditions.

Despite playing into the wind, Cork reeled off eight points in a row without reply to go 0-8 to 1-2 up by the 25th minute. Then, as if someone had tripped a switch, Waterford suddenly completely took over again and landed four points in a row to go in at half time 1-6 to 0-8 ahead. An important factor here was a change in Nolan’s puckout strategy, sending lower and more directed ball to the midfield area.

During the interval we reckoned that if Waterford could start the second half as they finished the first and dictate the terms of play they might have some chance. However, the first ten minutes of the second half was a complete disaster for them, with Cork again taking over in all sectors and rattling off five points in a row to go four up. At this stage a complete hiding looked in store for the home side.

Then, that switch was tripped again and suddenly Waterford took control again and essentially dominated territorially for the last twenty minutes. Faced with a desperate situation, key players decided that enough was enough and began competing for the ball and making it stick. An additional key factor was the introduction of Clonea’s Conor Dalton who put in a powerful last twenty minutes.

Unfortunately, Waterford were unable to translate their dominance outfield into scores on the board. Time and again they drove forward from midfield only to run into cul-de-sacs in front of the Cork goal. It didn’t help that Tommy Douglas, whom we would have looked to for a scoring edge, completely failed to get the grips with the game (and the ball) with the other corner forward Michael Mahony also failing to make any impact.

Waterford also failed to turn a series of scoreable frees to advantage. Having started well, freetaker Eoghan Murray went completely off the boil as the game progressed. He missed a free just before half time and two more, from in front of the goal, in the third quarter, on top of a straightforward shot from play which he hit badly wide. One wonders what the result might have been had Harry Ruddle, who did very well for De La Salle in the Harty Cup, been on the frees here. While Waterford did manage to raise a few white flags, Cork, with the aid of the strong wind, were able to match this at the other end to keep themselves 4-5 points ahead.

The game ended on a slightly farcical note when Waterford were awarded four close-in frees in a row. Billy Nolan came up to take the first two of these but his two well-hit shots were blocked out. Harry Ruddle took the third, with the same result, before Nolan came back up the field to take the fourth which he blazed just over the crossbar. The game ended on the puckout.

Apart from Conor Dalton, for me Waterford’s two key players in the second half were Cathal Curran (brother of the Brickeys’ Cormac), operating in the midfield area, and Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) in the half forwards. Both players won a world of ball and repeatedly drove at the Cork defence, with Montgomery notching two good points in the process.

Cork’s key players were their go-to man in the corner, Evan Sheehan, who hit four points from play and one from a sideline and their centre forward Matthew Bradley who also scored four from play. Their full forward Josh Beusang converted four frees and also scored one from play, as did midfielders Cian O’Mahony and Robbie Bourke and corner forward Liam Healy.

A lot of people in the attendance were condemning the Waterford players for their apparent lack of skills on the night, but of course they are much better than they showed here (and indeed they did demonstrate this in patches). Their big problem seemed to me to be poor mental preparation. They have to believe that they are much better than they showed tonight. If they can marry their physical size with their undoubted skills and, most important, the kind of drive or “cur chuige” that is required in championship matches, I would not write them off yet. Poorly and all as they played, they could still have won this game with the chances they created. They now go on to play Tipperary in Walsh Park.

Waterford: Billy Nolan (Roanmore) (0-3, frees); Conor Giles Doran (De La Salle); James Flavin (Ardmore); Darragh McGrath (Abbeyside); Donal Power (Passage); Eoghan Murray (Ballyduff Upper) (0-2, frees); Michael O’Brien (Geraldines); Eoin McGrath (Butlerstown); Harry Ruddle Redmond (Ballygunner) (1-0); Jack Prendergast (Lismore( (0-1); Dylan Guiry (Fourmilewater); Cathal Curran (Brickey Rangers) (0-1); Michael Mahony (Ballygunner) (0-1); Neil Montgomery (Abbeyside) (0-2); Tommy Douglas (De La Salle).

Waterford 0-14 Dublin 0-19

Dublin halt Déise’s unbeaten run – RTÉ
Resurgent Dublin see off Waterford to reach League quarters – Irish Times
Devastating Dubs stun Waterford to grab quarter-final place – HoganStand.com
Dublin beat Waterford at own game – Irish Examiner
Dublin stun Waterford – Irish Independent


Eek. I left a major hostage to fortune in the previous post, something that didn’t dawn on me until I noticed a like/favourite on Twitter from Rachael English. Comments as intemperate as  ‘Keep it up, and the promised land isn’t just likely. It’s inevitable’ are just the kind of thing to go viral when you get the runaround at home from Dublin. I could probably put up a weasely defence that I was merely prognosticating on a scenario where we kept on winning and just because we are no longer winning doesn’t mean it was wrong to speculate on the keep-winning scenario.  But the bottom line is that when you are trounced in this manner, you have to take stock.

And having taken stock, it wasn’t entirely apocalyptic. For starters, Dublin looked very tasty indeed. I say ‘trounced’ because the five-point margin probably flattered Waterford. Dublin’s short passing game was all at sea in the first five minutes as they gifted Waterford a three-point head start. It was blissfully reassuring. They’d soon stop acting the jennet and we’d still be too good for them. Except neither of those things happened. They kept it up and Waterford never got to grips with it. When you are as fit and well-drilled as Dublin looked, it is surely a recipe for success when you add some real talent, and Dublin had the star of the show in Eamon Dillon. I can’t recall noticing him before and I was alarmed to see the Dublin GAA website has him winning League and Leinster titles. Was I really so dense as to miss someone so good? Don’t answer that. Some quick Googling brought some relief as he played in neither of those wins and only came on as a sub in their loss to us in last year’s Championship. Either way, he was unplayable in this game. One score saw him catch a high ball coming over his shoulder near the sideline and, without breaking stride, turn and send the ball over the bar. It was typical of much of Dublin’s play in the opening 20 minutes, and with Waterford benefitting from a modest wind, it was looking grim.

Tom Devine was finding the task of being the lone forward to be utterly thankless. The manner in which Derek McGrath persisted with this plan in the face of its failure does make you wonder whether he was conducting some manner of experiment. In less wishful-thinking mode, it was likely that Waterford had several players have a bad day at the office all on the same day. Yes, Dublin were neat and tidy, but none of the in-your-face play that was so much in evidence against Kilkenny was on display here. Tadhg de Búrca, surprisingly restored to the side after injury, looked rustier than that crane off the Ardmore coast. More surprising was the occasionally flailing efforts of Kevin Moran. Watching this man-mountain with the hands of Roger Federer being beaten to the ball by players you would expect him to sweep aside was jarring. All over the field Waterford players were chasing shadows and you really felt something had to change as Dublin eased into a three-point lead having been three points down.

Nothing did change in the tactics or personnel, but Waterford managed to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Almost all the good stuff we did came via Jamie Barron who was making himself a proper nuisance in the middle of the park, and a brace apiece from Ausitn Gleeson and Patrick Curran meant that Waterford somehow went in ahead at half-time. Nothing spectacular had happened, just a little bit more oomph in defence, although the rampaging clearances that have been so typical of Waterford in the last year and a bit were conspicuous by their absence. Could they push on in the second half?

No, they could not. A couple of points were exchanged in the first few minutes but once Dublin hit the front at 0-11 to 0-10 they didn’t look back. Points came in all shapes and sizes and it was clear the heart wasn’t there to close the gap. There was no flame-out, no madcap chase for goals that might have turned the tide. The closest we came was right at the end, an effort by Gleeson from out near the 45 zipping over the bar rather than causing the chaos he was hoping for under it.

It was that lack of fight that gives me a perverse sense of comfort. You often hear that League games were played at Championship intensity. This is invariably nonsense, not least in the match the night before in Páirc Uí Rinn. I had accidentally ended up watching that game and while it was very entertaining fare it was most definitely not up to Championship intensity, except for the late burst of goals when Kilkenny bulldozed their way through the Cork backs (five points down with five minutes left, Anthony Daly ventured, upon hearing that there have never been a draw in the League between the teams, that Brian Cody would have taken that. No way is Brian Cody ‘settling’ for anything, ever). It was still a lot more thunder-and-lightning than this game though. This might be a sign that the players are getting a little blasé. With the return of Darragh Fives and the integration of Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, the squad is stronger than it was last year. There should be more willing to use it rather than sticking with the same 18 or so players for every game.

In the short term, we’re still heading in the right direction. Thoughts that we might be a flash in the pan from last year can be dismissed, and we can look forward to the quarter-finals where we might end up second and still get a home draw against Offaly after their surprise win over Wexford. We must, of course, treat them with the utmost respect and leave no hostages to fortune.

***looks at previous post***

Eek.

Waterford 0-14 Kilkenny 0-10

(Fógra: I’m dispensing with the old-school match report. You can get far better ones from the various sources below. This, and future editions, will be impressions gleaned from memory of the match day experience and therefore just as useless as before.)


Déise defiance too much for sloppy Kilkenny – Irish Independent
Wasteful Waterford still ease by subdued Kilkenny – Irish Times
Waterford’s defiant roar puts Kilkenny to the sword – De Paper
Waterford show greater appetite in win over Cats – RTÉ
Wasteful Waterford trump Cats – HoganStand.com


I’m not a local so I don’t mind if people view this as an epiphany that no ‘real’ Liverpool supporter would experience. With that in mind . . . this incident was the first time that I was able to imagine a life without Liverpool FC. Not the incident itself, which just made me roll my eyes at how juvenile it all was. It was in the match that followed against Barcelona, when Bellamy celebrated his equaliser by imitating a golf swing. I should have been overjoyed but instead I was enraged by this colossal prick thinking the whole thing was a joke. What the fuck was I doing, putting so much of my mental well-being in the hands of these revolting men-children who didn’t give a shit if I lived or died? The moment passed, but the memory remained. I don’t know where my limit for the shitness of modern football lies – but I know I have a limit.

The above comment, which I originally posted on The Liverpool Way website, got a gratifyingly positive reaction. With the Premier League money speakers about to be turned up to 11 it was refreshing to immerse oneself in the acoustic surroundings of the National Hurling League. And it seemed a lot of people agreed with me as a large crowd turned up to the League champions take on the winner of some knockout cup competition.

I’m being facetious of course, and not just about the standings relative to each other of the respective teams. Had some organisational re-jigging – not unheard of in the GAA – saved Waterford from relegation at the end of the 2014 League and we were playing Kilkenny in the first game of the 2015 campaign, there would not have been this kind of attendance. This time last year I was entertaining the possibility that we might be passed out on the way down by Laois on the way up. Now we were going toe-to-toe with Darth Cody’s Stormtroopers and coming out on top while Laois were being caned at home by Kerry. What a difference a year makes.

Dispensing with the fiction that you are reading this while oblivious to the result, what to make of the win? It reflects a surprisingly robust record against Kilkenny in Walsh Park, the eighth win in 24 games at the venue, and the fifth in the last ten. Perhaps all that time the pitch has been a quagmire which has played into the hands of our more agricultural hurlers versus their great artisans of the game. I didn’t think much of the pitch to begin with, reasoning that every ground is going to suffer from the same problem thanks to such a wet winter. But as Galway and Cork racked up a cricket score in their game, it does suggest a problem particular to Walsh Park.

For make no mistake, Kilkenny did not make the adjustment to the conditions as well as Waterford did. That will be taken as self-evident by those in the know, a snide smirk at Waterford folk getting notions from such a result. For this benefit, please be assured tgat we already discount the fact that Kilkenny will be operating to a different timescale to the rest of us. Still, it was mildly shocking to see the extent to which they were operating as if they were on a summer pitch, frequently misjudging the bounce of the ball, or at least doing it a lot more than Waterford were doing it.

The flip side of such a coin is that Waterford made the adjustment, and that can’t be a bad thing, right? Perhaps it can be. At half-time my brother wondered whether Waterford were a team of winter hurlers, perhaps the most grievous insult you can level against a team. It was something I was pondering myself in the first half as Waterford, bolstered by The System, swarmed all over Kilkenny. This business of playing a sweeper was a success this time last year, propelling Waterford to a historic eight-game winning run. It was clear by the high summer though that it could only bring you so far.

Or maybe it’s not clear. Derek McGrath has forgotten more about the game than I have ever known (not that that would be hard, sez you) and you have to have faith that he knows what he is doing. Does The System only need a tweak to catapult us to September glory? Is it more important to establish a winning habit in these months? Laois people could certainly vouch for the value of such a concept as they survey a season that looks wrecked before it has ever left the slipway. Either way, it’s clear you have to trust that he knows what he is doing.

Or maybe it’s not clear. For while it’s fair to dampen down expectations on the basis of Kilkenny’s level of preparedness for this game, it’s also fair to be excited by the quality of player we have to work with. There were some really fine performances from Waterford, and it was the best of them that demonstrated that we still have some slack with which to work. It’s not too strong to say that Austin Gleeson was unplayable. Watching him get the ball inside his own half after 63 minutes on an energy-sapping pitch and proceed to storm past half the Kilkenny team into their 45, it made me want to weep with joy that he is one of ours and is, injury and passion permitting (touch wood), going to be traumatising opponents with that kind of run for the next decade. Incredibly it was a performance that had room for improvement as he slashed the ball wide on six occasions with unnecessary Hail Mary efforts. Factor in a horrible free-taking performance from Maurice Shanahan, which can surely be put down to one of those days with the oul calibration – it’s not as if he hasn’t done it before in much more pressurised circumstances – and with Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran both looking like they belong in this kind of company, I can say with a straight face that we should have walloped Kilkenny out the gate. Indeed, I’m certain that if were to play Kilkenny again next week we’d do exactly that.

I can’t believe I just said that. That’s those stream-of-consciousness ramblings for you, leaving you all manner of hostages to fortune. I’m going to be cocky about it though. Yes, Kilkenny will be primed to peak at a different time to us, with all the experience they have doing that to rely upon. It’ll be a cold day in Hell though before Kilkenny send out a team to phone it in against Waterford. A wild shoulder charge right at the end from Colin Fennelly on Kevin Moran, which could have resulted in a straight red had the ref not had the soft option of giving him a second yellow, exemplified their frustration. We have a game next week against a team – Cork – who have to be up to speed, seeing as they can’t afford to be aiming to peak in the Championship lest they find themselves completely short and nowhere to go like they were last year. We’ll probably know better where we stand after that game, but let’s enjoy the Kilkenny-beating moment now rather than waiting for a time which might never come.

Waterford 0-20 Galway 0-12

The running theme in the 2015 Cricket World Cup has been the run chase, or more specifically how difficult it is becoming. For almost every team, and even the seeming exception of Ireland is based on not very much evidence, the strategy has been to win the toss (yes, that’s a flaw in the ‘strategy’ right there) and accumulate a huge total batting first that the team batting second finds ruinously difficult to chase. The psychology behind accumulating such a first innings total is fascinating. England thought they had done enough when racking up 309 against Sri Lanka, but even a neophyte like me got the sense that it wasn’t enough and the feeling was confirmed as Sri Lanka cruised past the target with a whopping nine wickets in hand and could have rattled off another fistful of runs in the last 22 balls had it been required. It sounds bizarre that you could say this about a supposedly well-prepared outfit, and if you count preparation in terms of man hours spent planning then England are well-prepared, but part of England’s problem at the moment is that they simply don’t know what works in one day cricket. The mindset that you need to be getting to 350 in the first innings is not there, and what chance of winning have you got if you don’t know what is a winning score?

All these thoughts came to mind early in the second half against Galway. Having accumulated a nine-point advantage with the benefit of a gale-force wind, the question was: is that enough? Had the matches between Tipperary v Offaly and Cork v Wexford been played earlier in the day, the evidence would have been uncertain. Tipp had roared into a 13-point half-time lead which would eventually be trimmed to six (red cards for Tipp would have muddied the number-crunching waters), while Wexford’s six-point advantage at the interval would prove to be insufficient as they only managed one second-half point. Seven minutes into the second half in Walsh Park, it was clear nine points was not enough in those conditions as Galway had swiftly cut the lead to four. Disaster loomed.

Looking back at the first half from that juncture, was it fair to label it lack-lustre? (NB not having a go at anyone here, just sharing different Déise perspectives.) Unlike the England cricketers, the Waterford hurlers had simply no way of knowing what was a par score, and nine points felt okay at the time. Had they known how much they needed in the manner of England chasing a 27-point win against France in the final fixture of this year’s Six Nation, it might have been different. Having said that though, I get the feeling Waterford’s tactics lend themselves to the idea of being lack-lustre, at least in the forward line. The task facing the two-man full-forward line of Stephen Bennett and Brian O’Halloran was positively Herculean. I dread to think how many metres they covered pursuing lost causes, and it was slightly mystifying why Waterford persisted in lobbing balls in with little reward. I’d probably need to review the game again, and will leave that to the likes of Giveitfong, but the likelihood is that these bombs were not the only tactic but the seeming high amount of them a function of how much possession Waterford had.

The other side of the loadsa possession coin is the shooting from distance, and in that respect Waterford were raking it in. The early exchanges saw Brian O’Halloran and Pauric Mahony scoring from the 45 while Kevin Moran and Austin Gleeson both managed to raise the white flag from the halfway line. The team facing into the wind were always going to rely heavily on frees and Joe Canning must have wanted to have a ‘word’ with those on the Keanes Road terrace when one of his frees, awarded after Moran had taken too much out of a targeted puckout from O’Regan, drifted wide to hoots of derision from the sliothar-chasing young fellas. He also missed a routine chance from well inside the 45 and would later hit the outside of the post from close in and fail to exert much pressure on Noel Connors from the rebound. Not one of his better days, and Pauric Mahony was showing him how it was done at the other end with his free-taking. When Moran struck another worldy from out past the halfway line Waterford were seven points up.

One of the big problems in recent years has been fitness. Too often we’ve been blown out of it then blown up at the end. There was little sign of it here with players hunting in packs and generally showing a willingness to get to the ball first, whatever the cost. On two occasions late in the half Galway nearly got away down their left wing and would have done had they evaded the last man but Tadgh de Búrca and Shane Fives respectively flung their bodies in the way of the ball to make sure that none shall pass, with the former even getting the bonus of the ball pinging out for a Waterford sideline, much to the chagrin of the Galway players. And speaking of sideline balls, Gleeson used the wind to curve a delightful cut over the bar. A long range effort from Mahony that drifted wide represented about the worst effort of the half, and despite a late free from Canning the nine point lead looked pretty good, right?

Wrong, or so it looked after ten minutes as Galway put over five unanswered points and could/should have had a few more but for some wayward shooting. It’s all very well having only two men in the mix when you have all that ball, but when you’re living off scraps you can’t afford to be wasting it and that’s how it was proving at the start of the third quarter. A rather undignified brawl, as opposed to the dignified type, under the stand gave Waterford a chance to pause for breath and make the straightforward swap of Maurice Shanahan for Stephen Bennett. The contrast between the giant who strode around players for the Minors and the much more man-sized player on display here was striking, and while there is no shame in not being up to the particular Sisyphean task assigned to him here, you fret about fitting such a talent into Derek McGrath’s gameplan.

One fringe benefit of bringing on a cult hero-type like Shanahan is that it gets the crowd going, not that much was needed as the attendance sensed that something horrible was about to happen if we didn’t turn this around pretty sharpish. Unjustified rage at a free not awarded to O’Halloran may have swayed Brian Gavin just a small bit when Waterford managed to disrupt Galway’s attempt to clear and earn a soft free. Mahony popped it over and the ship had been steadied a little. Now the gameplan was about to come into its own. Did I say hunting in packs? More like buzzing in swarms as every Galway attack was now pounced upon with stinging intensity. Somehow de Búrca seemed to pop up as the extra man every time, and at the other end the old soccer cliché about the forward line being the first line of defence rang true here as a limp Galway clearance was sent back in with pinpoint accuracy by Philip Mahony to Shanahan to send over our first point from play of the half.

Suddenly the game was moving into the final quarter and, having access to Twitter, I was able to compare how we were keeping Galway at arms length with the efforts of Wexford who were slowly being reeled in by Cork. It was now moving into territory where Galway were going to need a goal to make the comeback stick and that simply wasn’t going to come against this suffocating Waterford defence. I’m writing all this with the benefit of hindsight, but rest assured that such heretical thoughts – a Waterford full-back line coping with the strain! – were in my mind even at the time. A brilliant piece of control by O’Halloran allowed him to draw a simple free and stretch the lead to seven to send the crowd into ever greater levels of delighted yahooing. Yet another Galway attack withered on the vine, yet again a Waterford forward drew the foul, the yellow card and the score from Mahony. Amidst all the intensity Waterford managed to keep a high level of discipline. Having established such a lead, Waterford had the luxury of knowing that time was running out for their opponents. Win the ball or turn it into a throw ball. Either way, slow it down at all costs. Easier said than done obviously and there was one fracas as O’Halloran was perhaps lucky to stay on as he jabbed his Galway marker in the stomach, causing him to fall like he had been shot. It would have been a harsh red, although I’ve seen less get more. Either way, fully ten minutes passed without a score and a couple of late Canning frees were too little too late. Indeed, they seemed to only serve to irritate Tom Devine as the sub provided a splendid late cameo, first popping over a point from a narrow angle after some great support play from Shanahan then drawing three Galway backs to play a perfect pass to Michael Walsh in space and stretch the lead back to eight. The last few minutes were the domain of Ian O’Regan as he pulled off one good save/clearance, and generally showed sound judgement to keep the gap out where it deserved to be. For make no mistake: Waterford were not flattered by this win. Apart from that seven minute blip at the start of the second half, Waterford were on the front foot for the whole game.

It is a negative game we play, no point in pretending otherwise. We’ve been spoiled over the years by champagne hurling, and we’ll be lamenting its passing should Tipperary smear us all over Nowlan Park on Sunday two weeks. No better people to expose any frailties that may have not been shown up yet and they’ll be filled with the Hell’s Kitchen spirit of Tony Reddin. But we’ve tried the champagne and we remain unfulfilled. Time to give good hearty (Mc)Guinness a chance.

Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadgh de Búrca, Austin Gleeson (0-2, 0-1 sideline ball), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Stephen Bennett (Maurice Shanahan, 0-1), Kevin Moran (0-2), Jake Dillon (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Pauric Mahony (0-10, 0-9f; Martin O’Neill), Michael Walsh (0-1), Brian O’Halloran (0-2; Tom Devine, 0-1), Colin Dunford (Shane O’Sullivan)

Galway: Colm Callanan, Johnny Coen, Paul Killeen (Greg Lally), John Hanbury, David Collins, Padraig Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Andrew Smith (0-2), Iarla Tannian, Joseph Cooney, Joe Canning (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Jonathan Glynn, James Regan (Niall Healy), Cathal Mannion (0-1), Jason Flynn (Aidan Harte)

HT: Waterford 0-14 Galway 0-5

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

Super Bowl D

There are simpler ways of telling how Liverpool are faring in any particular match than looking at the number of pages on the appropriate match thread on The Liverpool Way website. Yet there is something soothing as you try to work out how well/badly things are going while not enduring the potential blow that is, well, the simpler way of looking up the score, in looking at the page count. If it is low, Liverpool are winning. If it is high, they are not. If it is very high . . . it was very high against Man Utd last weekend.

The process that sees supporters revel in going online to bathe in the acid of failure while giving a casual shrug to victory was also reflected on the boards.ie Waterford GAA thread. There was almost complete silence during the game and even in its immediate aftermath. It was only through the week as the game today against Galway came into view that the debate was fired up again, and whaddyaknow the heart of the discussion was about how you couldn’t play like that against Galway and the negative tactics were a shame and Wexford weren’t up to much and Division 1B was no preparation for what was coming down the tracks…

Enough about all that. Having achieved the target for the year’s League campaign today’s game is the equivalent of a free ball, so let’s relax and look at a statistical quirk that has come together:

National Hurling League record - the first 499 games

Yes, today is Waterford’s 500th National Hurling League match! And how delicately poised is that overall record? P499 W233 D33 L233. This isn’t the whole story – you can find that here. This summary includes two walkovers, a concession to Offaly in 1925 (our very first scheduled game in the NHL) and the infamous strike postponement in 2008. It does not include three games from the 1920’s that were scheduled but I haven’t been able to find any record they were ever played or walkovers given. But enough with the negative waves! Let us instead enjoy the improbable symmetry of today’s game. And who knows? We might even win! Expect tumbleweed on boards.ie if we do.

Football not-so-crazy

The footballers. I had high hopes for them this year and, alas, they have not been fulfilled. Maybe if they had been in contention for promotion I would have written a match report or taken a lot of photos of their game against Antrim last Sunday. Instead, I contented myself with watching the game and a series of lazy bullet points about the experience.

  • A-ha! You expected me to say that “if they had been in contention for promotion I would have stayed and watched them”. But I did stay and watch, so there. A blizzard of retweets on the Waterford GAA feed followed those who dared to leave, and it’s possible that the players were a bit deflated to see that. I’m not convinced though. They regularly play in front of a man and a dog, so the few hundred who did stay behind probably represented a bigger crowd than they are used to for a similar fixture. The players are, by definition, proper GAA men and they should be under no illusions. The 1,500 souls who turned out for the hurling game was in itself a relatively poor turnout. Had it been Kilkenny, you could have expected two to three times as many people, so the people who paid money for the first game are the committed few even before the football was thrown in. So let’s go easy on those who left. The kind of person who will sit for three-and-a-half hours to watch sport is a bit of a saddo and could do with the life that the people who left had to get back to.
  • The game was very good. My brother and I joked about how it was going to be difficult to watch the leaden pace of a football match after the high-octane extravaganza we had just seen. How wrong we were. It’s not just because the football game was a genuine competition compared to the turkey shoot that was the hurling. The football game was played in a good spirit and the shooting was of a high standard – I’m always impressed that anyone can get one of those cannonballs more than a few yards, and there were several top-notch scores with few awful misses. It was well worth staying for, which might better explain the frustration of those complaining about those who left. It would certainly make me more inclined to watch a football match in the future.
  • Despite the larger object, working out if it’s a score is trickier than it is in hurling. In the small ball game, the ball flies over the bar. In football, the shot will take all manner of apologetic wobbles as it heads towards the posts. I’m guessing it’s something that gets easier with experience. Like an lbw decision in cricket, you see enough of them to know that this one matches that one you saw before.
  • Has the blanket defence and/or “puke football” (ugh) changed the way football has been played, or has it always been this chess-like? I saw that in a non-pejorative sense, at times it was quite absorbing watching the game unfold. The game was effectively won and lost midway through the second half as Antrim reacted to a looser, more aggressive Waterford that came out after the break with a formation change of their own. Banks of Antrim players would move slowly up the field, picking their way through the holes and picking off the points. The game seemed to consist of the application of several gambits, and it was Antrim’s gambits which proved decisive in the end.
  • Of course, maybe it’s c) neither of these things. This was just one game. Watch more football before commenting, you insufferable windbag!
  • Whither Waterford? They are not whipping boys at this level. Despite my intimations that Antrim won it in the middle of the second half, Waterford could still have pinched their pocket with a late penalty when there were only three points in it, but Paul Whyte rolled the ball wide. Even then they had another chance but the ball went over the bar. To have a points difference of -8 after five games yet have only won one match seems statistically improbable, but that’s where Waterford stand. A lack of ruthlessness? Bad luck? Not good enough? The sample size is too small to tell, and the killer is that it might be all over before we ever find out. It all shows how hard it is to make progress. In the aftermath of another underage beatdown, I don’t envy the good folk of Waterford football the task which has been set for them.

Waterford 4-30 (42) Antrim 0-10 (10)

“Are you not entertained?” asked O’Maximus as another bloody limb went flying. “Is this not why you are here?” Well yes actually, we are entertained and this is why we are here. In defence of such Tipp-style beating down on the afflicted, we couldn’t be sure during this game whether we would need the points difference to be heavily in the credit column before the Wexford game this weekend. But that’s not much of a defence. It was enjoyable in itself watching Waterford whale on a team in what would prove to be our record-equalling victory in the National Hurling League. Coming next – dunking kittens into buckets and pulling the legs off spiders. Get your tickets early in SuperValu.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (19)

Not that many did that. Getting tickets early in SuperValu, that is. There was a small enough crowd at throw-in and even if it did swell a little after a few minutes, it does demonstrate the downside of Division 1B hurling that was referred to by the Limerick County Board chairman a few years back, i.e. it’s hard to get supporters and sponsors enthused when you can’t offer a game/games against the likes of Kilkenny, Cork or Tipperary. No offence to Antrim, I’m sure they feel the same way about us when we head up north, and besides: there will be plenty of offence to follow. Giveitfong seems to be of the opinion that the early stages did not suggest Antrim were about to be pulverised, and I’m loath to disagree with his smarter take on hurling. But I was pretty calm in the early stages and I’ve managed to lose my calm in the early stages against the likes of Derry and Down. Even early on there were little vignettes that suggested Waterford were a cut above Antrim. The ball sticking to a hand here, a deft flick of the wrist into space there. All the players on the field are well capable of acts of ingenuity, it’s doing it at speed that separates the men from the boys, and while there would be a blatant example of it later in the game to prove the point, the initial signs of Waterford’s extra craft were there.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (8)

That’s not to say that some of the old failings were not present. A few terrible wides were exasperating, and a mis-hit free by Pauric Mahony which went out for a 65 (subsequently missed) when he could have conceivably kicked the ball over the bar were enough to give to the heebie-jeebies. But the first goal was enough to banish the blues. A short puckout – even they all seemed to go right – to Shane Fives, a pass down the line to Colin Dunford, a streak past his marker, a deft ball into the middle and a thunderous finish from close range from Stephen Bennett. Lovely stuff, and not even a dozen Championship starts between the three of them. Dunford in particular looked the part in those early exchanges. Remember what I said above about pace? At one point he got the ball from a standing start and simply ran around his marker. He missed that chance to score, but immediately after the goal he took a point himself from the other corner, then set up Bennett again for another score to leave us 1-9 to 0-3 after just 25 minutes. The shooting at this stage was still a little ropey, and for all of his sterling winning of the ball it was a little concerning to see just how slow Michael Walsh was compared to those around him, but the backs were serving up so much ball that it scarcely seemed to matter. Kevin Moran was charging onto the ball with his usual Roman-taxi-driver spirit, while Tadgh de Burca was making it all look effortless, and even the introduction of a battering ram in Matthew Donnelly, the kind of overweight cult figure that Waterford used to specialise in, didn’t bother him one joy. A half time lead of eleven points did not flatter us.

Waterford flew out of the traps like Master McGrath in the second half. An early long range free from Mahony was followed up by a puckout where Antrim goalie Chris McConnell hit a delicate lob out to Stephen Bennett who gathered it and rammed it over the bar. An awful moment for O’Connell who had a good game otherwise, pulling off some decent saves. The sheer awfulness of what was in front him was demonstrated when Walsh hit a good chance wide, only to get the possession with the very next attack. You could see he was thinking “this one is going over the bar if I have to climb the post to do it”, and duly it went over with a little less fuss than that.

Time for Maurice Shanahan to make an appearance in place of his doppelganger Bennett  . . . the helmets really are a pain to identify players. You know something is wrong when you are confusing Bennett for Dunford . . . Maurice is that strange player who looks invincible in League hurling but, while more than adequate, can’t make the step-up in the summer that his big brother made. He has talent to burn but the lack of pace is always going to be a problem. Still, I confidently predicted as he trotted on that this would be a setting in which to fill his boots. Since I rarely make predictions because I don’t know what I’m talking about, I think I’m to retire after this one as Shanahan went nap.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (13)

But not before we saw the way things used to be in Waterford hurling as a fine Antrim move ended with the ball dropping at the feet of cult hero Donnelly who had time and space to pick the ball up and bury it. Instead he slashed at it first time and the ball flew high and wide. At the other end Shanahan somehow emerged with the ball from a melee – no, seriously, I could not tell how he got the ball into his hand – to pop it over the bar and stretch the lead to fourteen points. There was still 22 minutes to go, and the runs, er, points kept coming. Shanahan got his first goal after being teed up by Walsh. The ball was flying over from every part of the field now and it was a question of sitting back and enjoying the spectacle.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (15)

A young boy sitting behind kept up a relentless commentary that on another day might have made me want to throttle him. As it was, I couldn’t help hoping he didn’t think it was going to be like this every day.  Tom Devine, who I found out was to be pronounced De-VEEN rather than De-VINE missed out on a goal by overcomplicating things but made up for it five minutes before the end with a strike to the roof of the net. Antrim did manage to make to double figures for scores but the game ended with yet another belter from Maurice to ensure that any points difference discussions would be for other teams to worry about.

A record-equalling victory, matching wins over the might of Louth in 1985 and Laois in 1975. A day-and-half or so on, and it feels mean-spirited to take delight in such a patent mis-match. We’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few of those over the years though. Only last year we took a 20-point pasting at the hands of Kilkenny, and the prevailing attitude would have been that we should just get relegated and find a level to which we were more suited. We’ll probably find out what level that really is on Sunday in Wexford Park. All there was to do now wait for the cold turkey of football after the coke binge that was this game . . .

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (18)

Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors (Shane McNulty), Tadhg de Burca, Kevin Moran (capt, 0-1), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Martin O’Neill (Shane O’Sullivan, 0-1), Jake Dillon (0-2), Michael Walsh (0-3), Pauric Mahony (0-11, 0-6f; Paudie Prendergast, 0-2), Brian O’Halloran (Tom Devine, 1-0), Stephen Bennett (1-4; Maurice Shanahan, 2-5), Colin Dunford (0-1)

Antrim: Chris O’Connell, Ryan McCambridge, Neal McAuley, Aaron Graffin, Simon McCrory, Conor McKinley, Michael Bradley, Neil McManus (capt, Conor McCann), Ciaran Johnson (0-2f), Niall McKenna (Conor Johnston, 0-2), Tomas McCann (Eoghan Campbell), Paul Shiels (0-5, 0-4f); PJ O’Connell, Shane McNaughton (0-1f; Tomas O Ciaran), Ciaran Clarke (Matthew Donnelly)

HT: Waterford 1-13 (16) Antrim 0-5 (5)

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)