Tag Archives: Wexford

Waterford 0-21 Wexford 0-11

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


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

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

Okay, maybe I care a little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The pupil (almost) becomes the master

Remember when Division 1B teams were at “a huge disadvantage” (John Allen, in case you are afraid of being Rickrolled) compared to those playing in Division 1A? A clean sweep of 1A wins in the 2014 quarter-finals followed by Waterford’s sole win over Galway in 2015, a result so awful for the Tribesman that it effectively left Anthony Cunningham needing to win the All-Ireland to survive it, confirmed the trend.

A trend we can now confirm to be nonsense. I’m no statistician, but I know enough to see a sample of eight doesn’t tell us much. A year on and the record is now 9-3, with Clare and Limerick toppling their respective opponents from Division 1A, the latter doing it away from home. Oh, and Waterford went perilously close to crashing out at the hands of a team who needed a couple of injury time scores to squeak past Laois and whose manager is the subject of the usual whispering campaign. I have no doubt that everyone took inspiration from our Triple Crown of wins last season.

‘If Waterford can do it, so can we’ is not a compliment. The Wexford People had an article during the week laden with all manner of sneaking-suspicion stuff that they were about to pull the rug from under us. I have a sneaking suspicion of my own that they would not have dared publish such an article had it been any of the other top-order teams they had been playing. And we should be concerned that they were almost right. What is a compliment to the team and the management is that the overwhelming feeling from yesterday’s result was relief rather than delight. Winning a League quarter-final is no longer like winning the All-Ireland (© every snide hurler-on-the-ditch) but a matter of routine. Let’s hope that two iffy performances in a row by the A-Team is not a matter of routine as well.

Waterford 0-17 (17) Wexford 1-13 (16) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

This was a very lethargic and error-ridden performance by Waterford. Maybe they had another one of their heavy training sessions during the week. There may also have been a bit of taking Wexford for granted. In Waterford’s first attack, Colin Dunford had an easy tap-over point from in front of the goal but decided to take on the full back line looking for a goal and got hooked. There was a bit of arrogance in this, plus another example of Dunford’s poor decision making.

That set the scene for a Waterford display full of sloppy ball control, bad passes, waiting for the ball to come to them, aimless balls sent to unmarked Wexford players. Wexford were more alert, were working much harder, were winning the rucks (usually a key area of Waterford dominance) and showing much better ball control. There were 0-7 to 0-1 up after 15 minutes and 0-8 to 0-2 after 20. Waterford started Austin Gleeson at full forward but no ball came in as Wexford were on top outfield.

Waterford did steady the ship and got the score back to 0-8 all before Wexford took the lead again just before half time. Waterford were a bit unlucky not to score a goal when the Wexford goalie dropped the ball but it ended up going out for a 65. Wexford sent a lot of high ball into Conor McDonald at full forward but he had a stinker of a game and was well marshalled by Barry Coughlan. Wexford never threatened the Waterford goal with Tadhg de Búrca covering very well, although he was as guilty as anyone else of dropping balls and giving poor passes and clearances.

Waterford equalised two or three times after the restart but Wexford kept coming back to go ahead, and got some really good scores. However, once Waterford got their nose in front they stretched their lead out to four points, mainly because of some really terrible wides by Wexford. Then coming up to the end, Wexford got a goal out of nothing when McDonald managed to get his hand to a long free in to finish to the net. From the puckout Wexford engineered a lovely equalising point, and at that stage I was hoping we would get into extra time.

Then Waterford got a free on the right sideline about 35 metres out. It was an awkward enough angle, but Maurice once again split the posts. He had one more chance from a long range free which was signalled wide although it looked good to me. However, he was our saviour on the day with 12 points in all – nine frees, one 65 and two from play (one a real beauty). He missed his first free from distance and also the last one. Wexford missed at least five handy frees.

It didn’t help Waterford’s cause that Austin Gleeson hit four sidelines badly wide and also missed two long-distance frees, although he did hit two beauties from play. Philip Mahony, Brick Walsh and Patrick Curran were our other scorers. I thought Philip Mahony was our most consistent player throughout, while the full back line generally coped well and Kevin Moran also worked hard. Tom Devine replaced Patrick Curran midway through the second half and made an impact. Brian O’Halloran and Mikey Kearney came on up front for Jake Dillon and Shane Bennett while Shane McNulty got a few minutes near the end in place of Noel Connors.

Waterford 0-17 (17) Wexford 1-13 (16) – media reports

Waterford made to work hard for semi-final spot by Wexford – RTÉ
Wexford allow Waterford off the hook – Irish Examiner
Wexford just pipped by league champions after valiant fight – Irish Times
Champs manage to ride out wild Wexford storm – Irish Independent
Maurice Shanahan hits 12 points to seal semi final berth for Déise – The42.ie
Holders survive Wexford scare – HoganStand.com

Bed blockers bounce back!

It can get much worse too. Again, you’ll probably have people saying that Division 1B isn’t so bad, that we could regroup and notch up a few victories a year against weaker teams, and I think it’s fair to say that, in itself, life in Division 1B isn’t that bad. There are enough decent teams in there that it isn’t the dropdown that falling into an eight-team second division might be, and it might be nice to freshen up the array of teams that we play each year after several years of painting-the-Forth-Bridge efforts against the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. There’s a potential pincer movement at work here though. After several near misses you can imagine Limerick would be well up for showing us who was boss, Wexford seemed to have bottomed out, Laois are definitely on the way up . . . in fact, they’d all see us as vulnerable. There probably wouldn’t be any 20-point massacre, but we can forget about a quick return to the top table.

Yes, I was rather pessimistic about our prospects in Division 1B, and all that was posted before the draw left us with three away games against the the three best opponents. The thing is, pessimism was the appropriate stance at the start. The task set before anyone in such a small division is to not make a single mistake. One slip and you can forget about promotion, and for all the reasons outlined above there were plenty of banana skins.

Yet here we are, having successfully negotiated all those banana skins. No doubt we’ll have some downplaying of this, with a few pointing out that the team that got relegated in each of the last two seasons came straight back up. While true, that doesn’t tell us anything of consequence. Dublin did indeed get promoted in 2013, but that was despite finishing second in the division behind Limerick, who they then beat in the divisional final. Would we relish the prospect of taking on Limerick again? This should knock on the head any suggestion that the relegated team has some kind in-built structural advantage over the teams that have been in the division for a few years. And when Cork got relegated in 2013, you can be certain there were groans among the incumbents in 1B, especially when Cork came within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland. Waterford, on the other hand, would have had them rubbing their hands with glee. The team who were occupying their place in the top flight were finally having to vacate it and would indeed be shown who was boss! How satisfying it is to construct that strawman and see it get well and truly torched.

Just to make our cup runneth properly over, we have a proper instant reward in a home game against Galway next week. All four Division 1B teams lost to the 1A opponents in last year’s quarter-finals so that’s a possible trend that we are going to need to buck. Scouring the League records for insight, I couldn’t find much to begin with. We lost six on the bounce against Galway in the Noughties but have won three of the last four. Our home record is okay, eight wins against six losses, and the Walsh Park record of four wins against two losses is hardly significant. What is interesting is the record in knockout League games:

Galway League knockout record 1963-2014

Ouch. All of those games would have been at neutral venues and they also reflect Galway’s higher level of preparedness for the League given they would not get to the Championship until August, although why we would have chosen to treat the League with disdain over the years . . . no such excuses this time around.

Waterford 2-15 (21) Wexford 3-15 (24)

I’ve seen this play before. A traditional hurling county, after a long period of underachievement, suddenly (to those not reading the signs) hits their stride. A raw young team engages in series of matches where they repeatedly dominate their opponents only to repeatedly struggle to put said opponents away. They thrill the neutral and energise their own county, so long used to mediocrity or worse. Yep, Wexford 2014 are comparable to Waterford 1998.

Where that leaves Waterford 2015 remains to be seen.

As a long-standing advocate of the back door, this game typified what is best about the system. It gives counties who rarely get the chance to play each other an opportunity to do so in a venue appropriate to the occasion. It was a real pleasure to see the stand full to the rafters at Nowlan Park. Such pleasure quickly evaporated when it became clear that the Wexford faithful outnumbered us by a factor of probably 3:1. A cynic might question the use of ‘faithful’ there as there can’t have been many of these people present this time last year in Thurles when each Wexford score when they ran Clare to extra-time – another play I’ve seen somewhere else – last year was greeted with barely a ripple. You might think that. I, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly comment.

06 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

The early exchanges didn’t suggest that the Wexford support had called this one right as points were quickly exchanged between Shane Walsh and Podge Doran. What they did suggest was the Waterford support who had thrown their hat at it in exasperation at the tactics being employed by Derek McGrath and co were justified as the short puckouts that were such a blight on the midweek game against the Cork Under-21’s were quickly in evidence and quickly causing grief as Wexford pounced on the looseness for Paul Morris to slot over.  A cheap free won from a sideline ball allowed Pauric Mahony to level matters but Wexford, while occasionally guilty of over-elaboration, were getting possession and over-elaboration isn’t so bad when it leads to a score as it did for a fine effort by Conor McDonald. Waterford were already having to shoot on sight to compensate for the all-too-frustrating lack of bodies in the full-forward line, Austin Gleeson slashing aimlessly at one effort from distance while Mahony was unlucky to see an even longer effort also go wide.

Not that Wexford were immune to poor shooting. History tells us that it’s a curse down there, and it was well punished by Waterford as Jake Dillon did land one from distance. Wexford worked another point for McDonald and then had all the time in the world to put Paul Morris in the clear for simple tap-In goal. It was sign of the alarm in the Waterford ranks that when Colin Dunford’s great solo run ended in him being hauled down for a penalty, there was never any question that Waterford should go for anything other than goal. We were surely going to need it. Gleeson’s effort was poor, visible even from the other end of the ground, and it felt like a good result that it was knocked out for a 65 which Mahony duly converted. Not long afterwards Shane Walsh was called ashore. Given the litany of injuries he has had, one wonders whether we have seen the last of him, which added another downbeat layer to our papier-maché model of misery.

23 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014 Action 1

While Wexford were cocky – their fans around us seemed so, at least – and Waterford’s negativity was given our support gas, the game had yet to ignite. If Wexford couldn’t ram home their advantage then Waterford still had a chance. There was a glimmer of a chance on the break for Waterford which led to a Wexford back committing a professional foul rather than let anything in and Mahony was able to reduce the gap. Then Liam Lawlor went on a fine run but his pass to Jake Dillon asked way too much of him and Wexford were able to clear. The next Wexford attack was immensely frustrating for Waterford, repeatedly spurning chances to clear and Wexford were eventually able to score and keep the goal lead. It was only at this point that the penny dropped with me that Michael Walsh was playing in the midfield and Kevin Moran at centre-back. There’s me complaining all year about dodgy line-ups and then I miss a move like this. What was it in aid of? It wasn’t wrong in the style of playing Walsh at full-back in the 2011 Munster final, but it didn’t add to the team, akin to swapping your bishops before a chess game. It could have been either player who teed up Mahony with a super break, and it could have been any one of the Waterford forwards who shot weakly wide.

It did indicate a way out for Waterford though – stop shooting from distance, start having the backs and midfield get forward and squeezing the Wexford backs who were having it so easy up to this point. Getting more in their faces allowed Gleeson to pounce on a loose ball to cut the gap to one,  then he benefited from a run from deep by Shane Fives to slot over another score to level matters. It required a lot of the backs, something that would be significant later, but for the moment it was an amazingly quick turnaround, especially when a Mahony free left Waterford ahead, almost completely against the run of the play in the first half hour. A stunning long-range shot from Dillon showed Waterford were now on top.

11 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

This is probably unfair on the management, but it looked as if it were the players, particularly Walsh and Moran, who had wrought this change, talent reacting to changing circumstances. Wexford got one back but Walsh and Moran immediately combined to release Gleeson for another score. You could see Waterford tails were now up, Noel Connors making life miserable for Liam Óg McGovern and forcing him to hit a poor wide. The capacity for self-destruction was still there though for Waterford. The ref picked up on a jersey tug when it seemed like Wexford were going nowhere, and Waterford literally put most of the team back on the line for the free so Wexford were happy to take the point. That was as nothing compared to those goddamn bloody insane maddening short puckouts, and Waterford were once again caught out to allow Wexford to level matters.  Then again, what was the point of hitting the ball long when Gleeson, upon winning the puckout, had to go backwards to the corner-back? There’s only so many times you can drive forward like Waterford were doing and right at the end of the first half, disaster struck. I was convinced that Lawlor had his hurley tugged as he approached the dropping ball. Whether it was that or a moment of lost concentration, Wexford were right in around the back and Conor McDonald could score with ease. Now it was Wexford’s turn to have their tails up, and we had reason to be grateful for a couple of shocking wides that there was just a goal in it at half-time.

We had had our moments, but could we get goals? There were hopeful signs in the early exchanges in the second half, Matthew O’Hanlon brilliantly cutting out a long pass in the first attack and Dillon hesitating when he had a small opening and was blocked by several defenders who managed to get back. Wexford showed no such hesitation at the other end as Doran lashed a puckout straight over the bar, then David Redmond galloped down the middle of the field unopposed to drill home Wexford’s third goal.

What a shambles. Surely the benefit of being negative is that you don’t have to worry about being sliced up like that? I was seriously worried at this stage that this was going to be a complete bust, and had Wexford scored with their next effort on goal it might well have done, but O’Keeffe somehow flung himself to his left to keep out the goalbound effort. Two changes immediately after a poor Mahony wide from a free, including the obvious arrival of Seamus Prendergast, showed the sense of desperation. It had the desired effect though. Mahony got one from a free and then Waterford managed to get that elusive goal. It was a cracking piece of play from Kevin MoRAN, as the presenter on Sky Sports News would refer to him, playing a pinpoint ball across to Dunford to score. Seamus teed up Gleeson to trim the gap to two, and after Wexford hit a 65 Dunford really gave them a right kick in the crotch, emerging with the ball after a magnificent pileup in the square and unbelievably we were ahead.

24 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014 Action 2

What an effort, but that was the thing – the effort. Are Waterford not prepared properly, or are they not good enough to the extent that they had to burn through 70 minutes of energy to keep in touch after 50? Wexford reacted quickly with two points to regain the lead, the first of the efforts a goalbound effort that was deflected over for a goal. Dunford kept up the good fight by drawing a foul, but Mahony could only send another free wide.

At the other end Noel Connors was left exposed and had to give away a foul. This drew a yellow card from the ref and rather crass cheers from the Wexford fans. Anything I say about the Wexford fans will be dismissed as sour grapes, and that’s the reader’s prerogative. The huge Wexford crowd was part of the story here though, so I think I’m entitled to some latitude. There sure is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds, and the size of the Wexford one told us that they could see something was a-brewing with this team, which is great after so many years in the doldrums. Still, did they have to bring everyone in the county who had never attended a GAA match? It seemed like every wide was greeted with a big cheer, a breach of rule number one: don’t celebrate the score until you see the green/white flag. Was I imagining all this? Possibly, although the loon who had been necking a bottle of Jägermeister throughout the game picked up on it too, yelling “YEESS!” at a particularly inappropriate time to chuckles from everyone around. He did it again moments later. There were no laughs. Tough crowd.

16 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

Such blather prevents me from facing up to the reality. It was a one score game, but Waterford were shot. Wexford stretched the lead to three when a sniff of a chance was pounced on by corner-back Liam Ryan who roared down the field to set up the point and lift every yellow belly in the ground, veteran and ingénue alike. Stephen Molumphy showed the benefit of fresh legs with a flying score, but it was going to take something improbable to save us. Stephen Bennett certainly fits into the subset of those capable of the improbable and he came on just as he had in the Under-21 game, so much pressure on such young shoulders.

A little luck also helps, as the ref played a ridiculous advantage when Wexford would probably have looked for the free and the ‘advantage’ ended up hitting the outside of the post. We were going to need oodles of it, and got some more when O’Keeffe stepped past a dropping ball and the defence somehow kept it out. Even more luck came in the form of some abysmal Wexford shooting. The game had completely broken down at this stage and it meant that there was a slim chance we could pick their pocket.  Molumphy and Bennett each had half-chances but Wexford managed to close them down and force the wide. As the game ticked into the last couple of minutes Bennett had better than half a chance, but Ryan was there again to block and clear. A late chance to drop it in drifted wide and with that they finally got to the finish line with us still clinging to their coattails.

Seven minutes into the second half and seven points down, I really feared a pounding like we had endured against Cork. It didn’t happen, and for that we have reason to be relieved. The loss to Cork at Under-21 was far more grievous. And while I couldn’t help having a wry cut at Wexford above, it was gratifying to see them enjoying a win over Waterford with such gusto. We ain’t dead yet. We might be soon, but we ain’t dead yet.

21 Waterford v Wexford 19 July 2014

Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe,  Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor (Stephen Bennett), Noel  Connors, Darragh Fives, (Stephen Molumphy, 0-1), Kevin Moran, Tadhg de Búrca, Michael Walsh (capt), Paudie Prendergast, Shane O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (0-7, 0-6f, 0-1 65; Martin O’Neill), Austin Gleeson (0-3), Colin Dunford (2-1), Shane Walsh (0-1; Gavin O’Brien), Jake Dillon (0-2; Seamus Prendergast)

Wexford : Mark Fanning, Liam Ryan, Matthew O’Hanlon (capt), Keith Rossiter (Willie Devereux; Ian Byrne, 0-1),  Andrew Shore, Eoin Moore, Ciarán Kenny,  David Redmond (1-0; Garrett Sinnott), Lee Chin, Paul Morris (1-6, 0-3f), Podge Doran (0-2), Harry Kehoe (Diarmuid O’Keeffe, 0-1)  Jack Guiney (0-1), Conor McDonald (1-2), Liam Óg McGovern (0-2; Rory Jacob)

HT: Waterford 0-12 (12) Wexford 2-9 (15)

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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.

Do the right thing

For too long, Waterford has been the go-to place for how not to handle things in the GAA. So I almost cried with joy when Diarmuid Devereux, the chairman of the Wexford County Board, chose to go west when it came to finding reasons why he felt obliged to dispense with the services of the county Minor hurling manager, Eddie Walsh:

We put a plan in place similar to other counties, such as Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. If it works for those counties, why not for Wexford?

Are you sure, Diarmuid? Maybe he meant Kilkenny and was too bitter to admit it. But then I think of what our Minors accomplished this year, and how even that wasn’t good enough to keep Seán Power in his post when faced with the plan to promote managers in line with the players they have mentored since U-14/Tony Forristal level, and I think that he really does mean Waterford! Thanks for the compliment, but don’t go learning the lessons too well.