In all the time I’ve being following Waterford, I’ve never seen them play anyone other than another county team, so this match against Cork Institute of Technology – future collegiate chums of WIT in a future Technological University of the South? – certainly had some novelty value to it. The novelty was reinforced by the presence of Stephen Daniels – future Waterford half-back? – on the CIT panel. And thank goodness there was that much novelty because there wasn’t half as much as you might have expected in the Waterford team. Those of us hoping for a swathe of young Turks about whom to get unreasonably excited were going to be disappointed. I’d heard of Frank McGrath, having worked with his father back in the dim and distant past, so I know he won the Croke Cup with De La Salle back in 2007, which left Darragh Fives and Chris Ryan as the only players of whom I’d heard nothing. Then McGrath was swapped for Liam Lawlor on the starting XV so even that little bit of unfamiliarity was lost. You’ve got to wonder what Davy Fitgerald thought this game was going to tell him about Michael Walsh that it was so essential to parachute him in as well before the start.
The game started off with Jamie Nagle shipping a bone-juddering challenge which required some on-pitch repairs and may have affected his overall performance because this was not going to one of his finest 70 minutes. CIT hit a couple of wides before Stephen White got on the scoreboard for them, then Richie Foley hit a relatively easy free wide which would be a recurring theme in the first half. Michael O’Sullivan had a goal change in the sixth minute for CIT, pouncing on some loose play in the Waterford backs but he wanted to take one step too many and ended up throwing the ball having been crowded out by the Waterford defence. Foley finally got Waterford on the scoreboard in the seventh minute from a rather soft free after a foul on by Maurice Shanahan. Ryan Clifford got in on the bad free-taking act with a woeful effort. He made up for it somewhat in the ninth minute, knocking over a free after Liam Lawlor had fouled. Maurice Shanahan made his contribution to the blooper reel, trying to swat the ball through the posts from the free he had won and only succeeding in dragging it wide. Patrick O’Connor scored a good point on the run after Nagle’s clearance had been blocked and CIT were two points up after ten minutes.
Waterford were looking ragged, Gary Crotty spurning a good opening by giving a horrible pass to Seamus Prendergast, Nagle at one point treating the ball like a bar of soap then hitting a terrible sideline that allowed CIT to go straight onto the attack. The referee was punishing any suggestion of over-carrying at every opp[ortunity – a new dispensation for 2011, perhaps? – and it was an instance of this from Foley that allowed Clifford to get CIT’s fourth point. They weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders themselves, falling victims to the ref’s pedantry more than Waterford, but they were accumulating more moments of quality especially in the forward line where they looked full of typical Cork nippy Joe Deane-types. Dissent from a Waterford back moved Clifford into scoring range in the eighteenth minute from which he duly profited and Tony Murphy capitalising on that nippiness with a point after excellent combination work from the forwards to push CIT five points clear. All Waterford had to show for that middle period of the te half was another pair of wides from Foley, one from a free and another after Prendergast had served it up on a plate for him. That would be the last piece of bad play from him though. If changing his shirt from 11 to 31 had anything to do with it then I vote he should have a blood injury every week.
Maurice Shanahan tacked on a point in the 26th minutes from a free well-earned by Stephen Molumphy then Prendergast got our first point from play, an excellent strike from out on the right to trim the lead to three. O’Connor scored on the run to push the lead out to four then he failed to capitalise on some dire Waterford defending, knocking a simple chance wide. He added another point in the thirty-fourth minute and Murphy scored from a free to leave them six points up approaching half-time. A fight broke out over not-very-much and the ref thought it wise at that point bring the half to a close.
It had been grim stuff, and you hoped that it was the wind or the extra preparation for the Fitzgibbon Cup that accounted for the difference in quality. Surely a team with so much experience weren’t about to by stymied by a bunch of Under-23s, were they? The answer came within a couple of minutes of the restart, Gary Crotty rattling over a point within seconds then Foley slotting over a free. Two-thirds of the first half total in the first ninety seconds – we could relax. Shane Casey almost unlocked the CIT defence with a mazy dribble and even a splendid pivot-and-strike point from Murphy could disguise that CIT were already huffing and puffing, Stephen White hitting s shocking wide when it seemed easier to score. Maurice Shanahan waltzed past the half-back line but opted to turn back into trouble when it required him to put the head down, but Foley added a long range point from a free. Then another free from way out dropped in short and resulted in another free. This was definite goal range and with the wind behind his back, both literally and figuratively, he was bound to go for goal. I didn’t see his shot – that’s the price you pay for trying to bet a decent photo – but the crowd told me all I needed to know.
CIT scored a good point in the forty-sixth minute, Colm Casey turning Jerome Maher inside out to draw the free which Clifford put over, but that was the last point they’d score in the game. Brian O’Halloran scored an all-my-own-work point to reduce the gap to one then, after a long pause while the ref consulted his umpire over . . . something in the CIT square, it was hard to tell, Foley drilled over a long range free to level matters.
There was nothing decisive about Waterford’s performance, merely an overwhelming accumulation of pressure which suggests that it was the wind that had accounted for their six point half-time lead. Or perhaps they ran out of puff. Both DIT and UCC had big half-time leads against Galway and Cork respectively and ended up losing. Whatever it was, Waterford were now in charge. Foley, who has really in the zone now, heaved over a long range point and then added another from a free after Prendergast had been tripped.
You would think Waterford would have been put out when Maurice Shanahan was sent off, probably for a wild pull in the middle of a 15+ man scramble for the ball, but it had little impact on the flow of the game. It seemed to become a little more open, the ball pinging from one end of the field to the other with abandon for a few minutes without anyone getting a sniff of the posts. Eventually it all ended with another free and another point for Foley. Three points up and you felt CIT would be there all day and wouldn’t get a goal so it was time to sit back and enjoy the finer points of a game such as a Michael Walsh breakout which had all the panache of Serge Blanco in his pomp. It’s nice to have the time in a game to be able to do that because generally you are constantly fretting, even in a supposedly-meaningless Waterford Crystal Cup game, that if Waterford screw up the knives will be out, both in the media and internally in the county. It’s a hard gig, following Waterford. Then you see a titan like Walsh giving it their all purely for your pleasure and it somehow all feels worthwhile.
Enough cod philosophy. Foley knocked over the insurance point in the sixty-eighth minute giving him a matchday haul of 1-8, albeit entirely from frees. It was hardly a vintage performance and it would have been nice if some now blood had made an impression, although it’s good to see Eamonn Murphy, so good with the Minors last years, in the frame. It’s early doors, and avoiding humiliation will do for starters.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Darragh Fives, Jerome Maher, Chris Ryan (Frank McGrath), Liam Lawlor, Michael Walsh, Jamie Nagle, Stephen Molumphy, Gavin Crotty (0-1; Paudie Mahony), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Richie Foley (1-8, all frees), Maurice Shanahan (0-1f), Brian O’Halloran (0-1), Shane Walsh, Shane Casey (Eamonn Murphy)
Cork Institute of Technology: Tommy Quaid, Shane Kearney, John O’Callaghan, Ross Cashman, Colm Casey (Kevin Roche), Michael O’Sullivan, Simon O’Brien, Jack Herlihy, Stephen McDonald, Craig Leahy, Stephen White (0-1), Lorcan McLoughlin (Nicky Kelly), Tony Murphy (0-3, 0-1f), Ryan Clifford (0-4f; Michael Bowles), Patrick O’Connor (0-3)
HT: Waterford 0-3 Cork Institute of Technology 0-9
Referee: T Ryan (Tipperary)