The red pill or the blue pill

For those unversed in the history of hurling and speaking with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, the panic that was sweeping through the ranks of Waterford supporters as the end of the first half approached in Mullingar would have been inexplicable. Sure, Waterford were three points down deep in the half, but this into the teeth of a significant wind. In the end, the difference between a top-flight team and one walloped in the third tier final told, as any reasonable observer might have suggested. Add in a borderline-hysterical commentary from WLR – Noel Connors being booked was treated as if the ref had permitted Westmeath to build a brick wall in their goalmouth – and a neutral observer might wonder whether the entire population of Waterford was unhinged.

To which I say – well, we vote for politicians who cheerfully do nothing while the city is abolished. Guilty as charged.

On a more serious note – or should that be less serious –  in order to understand the pathology afflicting Waterford hurling you could do worse than read a post from blue note on boards.ie on the way we are viewed in Offaly:

I’ve been with an Offaly girl now for the past 7 seasons and would know a lot of casual hurling fans in Offaly. Every win we’ve had in that time against teams like Limerick or Clare has been met with surprise. Our wins against Galway and Cork were met with restrained (at least when talking to me) shock.

The assumption that Waterford are only bluffing their way along and would eventually be found out has never faded. In fairness, the 2008 All-Ireland final won’t have helped, and its existence leads to a vicious cycle. The opposition think we’re bluffing, and in moments of stress we begin to wonder whether they are right, which reinforces the opposition’s belief that we’re bluffing etc. So when we found ourselves three points down late in the first half tonight, I was mapping out a scenario in my head where they got a goal to establish a six point half-time lead. This gave them the confidence they needed to push through the pain barrier as Waterford players flailed at their energised Westmeath opposite number, Noel Connors got sent off – who’s hysterical now, eh?! – and by the final whistle Westmeath had snatched a famous victory in a season full of thrilling surprises. And while the hurling world publicly rejoiced at such a wonderful shock, privately they were all laughing at our ineptitude. And it would burn at us for years to come…

Reading through all of the above, I’m wondering whether it’s just me. Everyone else is rational about our chances and all those people I saw going into meltdown on Twitter are figments of my Jacob’s Ladder-style hallucinations. Whatever the truth, this week has been a good one for banishing the demons. blue note’s Offaly girlfriend got to see Waterford give Offaly a glimpse of the next round only to gleefully slam the door in their face. Wednesday saw the Minors go toe-to-toe with Nemesis and despite several opportunities to come agonisingly short it was they who left Cork wondering what might have been. Then we had tonight. It was us, not Westmeath who got the late goal in the first half, and I’d like to think Michael Ryan opted to listen to the angels of his better nature during his half-time team talk rather than ranting worriers like me. The manner in which Waterford moved smoothly through the gears for a victory margin that would have been at the upper level of expectations in an away fixture suggests he might have done. Now if I could just shake off the ghouls telling me that Carlow went within two points of knocking out Wexford and that Dublin defeated Kilkenny, thus taunting me with the idea that we can live in a world where Anything Can Happen and it doesn’t have to be at our expense, I could happily take the blue pill.