Okay, it’s corny but it’s slick. The image of Mickey Harte surrounded by Kerry well-wishers at 0:58 brought out goosebumps. And despite our mediocre year, they still managed to remember everyone’s favourite second county:
One of my enduring benign memories of Croke Park, benign because most of the memories from Jones’s Road are anything but, was of going to see Ireland play Australia in what I still think of as the Compromise Rules series in 2000. While Australia won handily enough it was an enjoyable day out, and a real treat to be in a crowd of 57,289 (says Wikipedia) who were all rooting for the same team. Before the game we had the equivalent fixture between Ireland and Scotland in hurling/shinty and when that finished the Jocks, replete with names like Fraser Colqouhoun and Alastair Campbell-McDonald that would have flagged what school they went to, took a lap of honour around the embryonic cathedral. It was impossible not to have a wry chuckle at the contrast with what the equivalent venue in Scotland must be like. You’re not in Kansas anymore.
Impossible, but how wrong-headed was such smugness. Quite apart from being a little bit rude, this weekend we’ll see what has built Croke Park and it has very little to do with hurling. Ian O’Riordan wrote an article in the 2009 Munster hurling final programme on the occasion of the 125th edition of the match where he noted that the GAA had two objectives when it was established: to revive 1) the Irish language, and 2) the ancient game of hurling. In those terms, the GAA has been a failure as both the teanga and the iománaíocht languish in ghettos. So it’s just as well that a lesser objective, that of tearing people away from the pernicious British sports of association football and rugby football that were beginning to put down roots, was so successful.
While researching the results archive, it struck me how the GAA once scrupulously maintained its calendar at inter-county level in such a way as to give everyone the chance to play both sports. Football and hurling never clashed during the League season. That’s no longer the case, and in truth it probably wasn’t ever that big a deal in a practical sense as proper dual stars were a rare beast. Still, the principle was there and an outsider might wonder why such respect was being accorded by the majority sport to that of the minority pursuit. This is especially true considering the scoffing that hurling supporters frequently come out with about the self-evident superiority of hurling in every sense – skill, excitement, drama, history, even skills with foot to ball after Nicky English’s goal in the drawn 1987 Munster final. Much as with the Irish language, it’s probably a reflection of the reluctance to abandon those early aspirations of the GAA that the football 80% (approx) of the association hasn’t told hurling to paddle yer own bloody canoe, you’ve got the equipment with which to do it.
We’ll see it large this weekend. The tsunami that is going to sweep out of the west upon Dublin is going to be epic. You might argue that mere numbers don’t matter, that the excitement will be a question of never mind the quality, feel the width. But this is going to be a truly national experience. Only the most arch of anti-GAA bigots could fail to be intrigued by what is going on, two teams who have cleared multiple difficult hurdles to find themselves 70 minutes away from fulfilling the dreams of generations of their fellow county men and women – or alternately crushing them once again. It’s going to be great, and despite being a hurling man first and foremost, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.
There are two me’s when it comes to the GAA. The online me, the one that fancies himself as the descendant of Déiseach and who has been carrying the online Waterford GAA flame since 1999. At the very least I’d like to think of this blog as being part of an embryonic 32-county community of Gaeldom with me ploughing a lonely furrow for Waterford now that Up the Déise is a shadow of its former glory. And there’s no doubt who owns the house that is known by the trees in this notional community – ‘Willie Joe’ (not his real name) of the Mayo GAA Blog. It’s a smashing resource for supporters of Mayo football, and it almost made me weep to see a recent post on Twitter where he said he’d had over 6,000 hits in one day. Speaking of weeping, it’s been a tough ride over the years for Mayo supporters – their loss to Meath in the curtain-raiser to our match against Kilkenny in 2009 is still fresh in my mind – so it would be marvellous for them in general and Willie Joe in particular were Mayo to finally land the Big One 61 years after they last won it. Hey, that’s how long Ireland went without the Grand Slam! It’s meant to be, isn’t it?
Well, no. For facing them in the opposite corner is the featherweight that has beefed itself up into a heavyweight. Watching Donegal sweep Cork aside in the All-Ireland semi-final was a gobsmacking experience. Jim McGuinness got a lot of stick last year for the destructive manner of their style of play, but that was just a prelude to the well-oiled machine that Donegal have become. While they’re clearly a fit team – I enjoyed the comment of one wag on the GAA Discussion Board that “Chuck Norris was first to puke when he trained with Donegal” – that alone does not explain the bewildering array of angles that each of the Donegal players takes when not on the ball. Any time a Donegal player was in possession he could be confident that there would be two or three team-mates in the vicinity, usually making a beeline for the opposition goal. All the talk on the Mayo GAA Blog and on Twitter about how Donegal are over-confident does not mean that Donegal have nothing to be over-confident about. Everything has to go right for Mayo for them to end that 61-year wait, and luck is not something you associate with Mayo.
Not that feeling Donegal are going to take some stopping is a reason to hope they win. No, it is because of the other me that a victory for Dún na nGall would be a great thing. Note that it is ‘Dún na nGall’, not ‘Tír Chonaill’, because Tír Chonaill does not include the Inishowen peninsula. I know this because it was explained to me by my best friend Pól, the best man at my wedding. Were Donegal to win the All-Ireland it would mean so much to him and it probably mean even more to his father, a man whose wool is so GAA-dyed that he saw fit to invite me to see the Donegal Minor footballers take on Derry in a friendly match in Celtic Park on the one occasion I was at the family homestead in Letterkenny – a vote of confidence in me if ever there was one. I know (of) many Mayo people online thanks to Willie Joe. I know one Donegal family in real life thanks to Pól. Will I be rooting for the needs of the virtual many or the substantive few? I’ll find out on September 22nd.
What was that? Who will I be cheering for this Sunday? Don’t be daft. Come on the Tribesmen.
The cup was now paraded around the pitch. Brian Flannery set the ball rolling, charging toward the Uncovered Stand with the trophy held aloft. I doubt if it were planned, but he was an oddly appropriate choice, the outsider gone native. A newspaper article from earlier in the day had traced his development from Tipperary underage teams to the Waterford seniors. His statement that “every time I pull on a Waterford jersey, I give thanks for my second chance” was a lovely sentiment, especially when you think he might have ended up back at Tipperary a few years ago.
Listening to updates from the fourteen men of Waterford’s valiant effort to extend their stay in this year’s football championship – is it me or do we rarely seem to end big games with the full complement? – was a surreal experience as there was far more fuss made of the “thirty-to-fifty second” appearance of Seanie Johnston for the hurlers of Coill Dubh in the Kildare county championship.
I’m not going to get het up over the wider significance of Johnston’s switch to Kildare. There does seem to be something fishy about his eligibility to switch clubs but given the hoops he had to jump through to secure the switch it seems unlikely that his is a path that others will follow. There are plenty of ways of switching that honour both the letter and the spirit of the law so don’t expect a flood of Seanie-style refuseniks clogging up the in-trays of county secretaries any time soon.
And it was one of those who did it the ‘right’ way who came to mind while listening to Seanie trying to work out which end of the hurley was the bas. Walking through
the L&N SuperValu in Tramore earlier on in the day, who should I spy but Brian Flannery. Cue a farcical scene as I tried to surreptitiously point him out to my wife and she assumed I meant the old man behind him because all the heroes in the GAA either have grey beards or are dead. Hold fast to the past.
When I got home and listened to the farcical scene in Clane, it struck me that Brian Flannery’s heritage didn’t bother me at all. Looking back through the blog via the search function in the top right, I was relieved to see that I haven’t left myself any hostages to fortune about Flannery. I remember a comment made by a Waterford supporter in the vicinity at a match when he was a little bit loose with the hurley where said supporter noted how Flannery brought “the Tipp stuff” to Waterford. As if no-one in Waterford ever lowered the blades, but Tipperary didn’t spawn Hell’s Kitchen for nothing. In short, Brian Flannery is now one of us. He didn’t have to go through a charade like Johnston did on Saturday to play for Waterford, he did his thing in the trenches of Mount Sion first, to the extent that when they had the choice of captain for the senior captain in 1999, they chose Flannery.
You could argue that Seanie Johnston has the chance to rise to that level. All it will take would be a cup or two for the Lilywhites to eradicate any misgivings about the manner of his arrival on the Kildare. But Flannery earned his spurs long before that glorious day in Cork in 2002 (see above). Playing for a county team is a splendid thing, but there’s no point in playing for any old county team. You have to play for your own, and Brian Flannery did. I wonder whether we’ll ever be able to say the same for Seanie.
A little piece of me died on Saturday. When Didier Drogba stroked home the decisive penalty in the Champions League final, it was disappointing enough that such an odious cast of characters had landed the choicest prize in club soccer. And yes, I realise there’s hypocrisy in feeling that way when I support a club that contains Luis Suarez. And no, Fernando Torres is not someone I count among the ranks of the odious.
The feeling brought on by this attitude faded quickly enough. Much was made of how Barcelona won every trophy they competed for in 2009 – League, Cup, European Cup, Spanish & European Super Cups and World Club Cup – which ignored how perilously close they were to being beaten by Chelsea in the semi-final, requiring a wonder goal in the last minute and a string of contentious penalty decisions to go in their favour before they could overcome the chavs. A year earlier they had been the width of a post away from winning the competition on penalties. Fortune has not been kind to Chelsea, so in that context it was not difficult to feel some admiration for the manner in which they ground out the victory. Now they could claim to be half as good as Nottingham Forest.
A feeling that persists though is dismay that Chelsea were able to overcome their history and spirit away the Grand Prix. It had been an article of faith for me that the European Cup was a trophy that could only be won by inadequate teams if they possessed a granite-solid back story. Liverpool may have only been good enough to finish fifth in 2005, but even Djimi Traore could be lifted up to Olympian heights when playing for a club that had won the competition on four previous occasions. And Chelsea’s near-misses in recent years seemed to confirm such this prejudice. Now they’ve made a nonsense of this idea. It wasn’t ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ that allowed Liverpool to win the Champions League. It just happened, and teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought.
Of course, the upside to that is that teams are not quite as beholden to their history as I thought. There’s lots of teams who could take inspiration from being able to cast off the shackles of precedent. Alas, one of them found out within 24 hours that reality is a cruel mistress. When Mark Ferncombe did an Arjen Robben and missed a penalty to take the lead against Limerick you just knew the Waterford footballers were toast, and so it proved in grisly fashion as they failed to score at all in the second half. Unfortunately this was a case where history proved to be a reliable indicator of what was going to happen next.
I’m at a loss to explain the inability of Waterford football to make an impact beyond our borders. It’s not as if football is a new thing in the county. Having first been staged in 1885 there can’t be an older title in the country and to this day the football championship is more competitive than its hurling equivalent. Some years back a clever chap on An Fear Rua’s website presented an image displaying the geographical split between hurling and football within the county, which clearly showed how large swathes of the county are football territory. Despite this, our biggest claim to fame at senior level since the shock victory over Kerry in 1957 was putting a stop to London’s gallop last year and getting on to Sky Sports News. We haven’t been to the Munster final since 1960 and while much of that could be down to a
rigged seeded competition for much of that time ensuring Kerry always met Cork in the final it hasn’t been that way for a couple of decades now and not once have we managed to put two wins together against our fellow minnows.
I don’t like being critical of those who run the sport in the county, and I’m certainly not going to be associated with those trolls who litter the Waterford thread on boards.ie with their jeremiads about how the time invested in football is not only futile but actively limits our success in hurling. Still, something is wrong with football organisation in the county. In 2003 we were able to win the Munster Under-21 title, with some character called Michael Walsh playing in midfield. This year the team (if ‘Easterly Gael’ in the late-and-much-lamented Tramore Hinterland was to be believed) was cobbled together at the last minute because of confusion over whose responsibility it was to select the manager. No surprise that they went down in flames. We may not have Chelsea’s option of being able to lob out millions to improve things, but you don’t need a Russian oligarch to threaten you with Siberia to know how to pick a manager. With the back door ensuring that a panel can look forward to more than one match in the championship, the only ones we can blame for not being able to give it a proper lash are ourselves. The ghosts of history can ram it.
It’s hard enough for the Waterford county football champions to take on whatever team emerges from the Kingdom in the Munster club football championship. But the entire county?
Now that’s harsh.
Mrs d has a great love for all things medieval and monastic, so on our second trip together to Ireland I suggested that Mount Melleray might be a nice place to visit. As we set out for west Waterford she inquired as to what state the buildings were in. A moment passed while I tried to work out what she meant, and then it hit me: she thought the building was a ruin. Her face when she realised that there was a working monastery in Waterford was even more of a joy than usual to behold.
And the Waterford County Board must be grateful for the existence of Mount Melleray as a place where they can carry on their deliberations on the identity of the next senior hurling manager. As with the departure of Davy Fitz the vacuum of information is total and we are left to rely on sources that might as well come with inbuilt inverted commas. A column from Dermot Crowe in yesterday’s Sindo typifies the genre, with Jason Ryan being touted as the front-runner. This is despite Ryan saying:
he had not applied for the job and that he wasn’t nominated by the clubs, while also stating that there were other candidates in contention who deserved respect and due recognition. However, as with any management appointment process, informal discussions can take place and it is believed that a six-man sub-committee has been in contact with Ryan.
“It is believed”? In other words, he’s guessing. About the best can be said for this is that Dermot has had a conversation with someone who is convinced that the six-man panel (whoever they are) are gravitating towards Ryan. Woodward and Bernstein it ain’t.
Still, articles like this do serve a function in that they give us something to talk about. And I have to admit that the notion of Ryan taking over is an intriguing one. His success with Wexford was built on neither a robust inheritance from underage teams (it was only this year that they won anything at those levels) or the talismanic powers of a great player (their run to the Leinster final this year was achieved without Mattie Forde). His achievements there far outweigh those accrued at inter-county level by the other people being mooted for the job. Yes, even those of Liam Dunne.
Of course, there is the small matter of him never having managed a hurling team, something noted by @LDelpiero on Twitter:
Why not ask Trapitoni if he is interested then? They are different games!
One is tempted to be glib and observe that Trap would at least stop the full-back line from leaking goals. On a more substantive note, anyone who has played Gaelic games in Waterford will be familiar with both sports at some level and Stradbally is proudly a dual club. What Ryan would hopefully bring to the table from his time with Wexford would be the ability to organise a team that can win what Nicky English referred to as the fourteen little battles. You’ll win more than half of the games where you are superior in eight positions, almost all of them where you are on top in nine, and where you win in ten or more positions you’ll have the 2011 Munster final. The Wexford County Board saw something in Jason Ryan four years ago that made them take a risk on the young Turk. Waterford would do well to take such a risk too. And if I’m wrong, I’ll become a monk at Melleray and take a vow of silence. It’s win-win!
It took me a while to ‘get’ Twitter, and even now I can’t quite get my head around the desire to tell everyone about your most recent visit to the latrines. Still, it’s very useful for getting an instant snapshot from people with the same passions as yourself. The dream of even the lowliest tweeter must be to start a trend, or at least establish a commonly used hashtag. It’s highly likely that #mayogaa was brought to prominence by the indefatigable Willie Joe of Green and Red. It is through that hashtag that I’ve being following the collective delight in Mayo at the supposed dismissive attitude of the entire punditocracy at their chances of beating Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Oh, just what Mayo were looking for! This would get them fired up like nothing else, and besides shure don’t Mayo approach a match best when we’re underdogs, right?
Wrong. There might be a smidgin of merit in the notion that trash-talking a team beforehand gives them an added incentive to ram such talk back down the throat from which they originated, but it’s a microscopic smidgin. Conor Counihan will be a little irked at such talk on the basis that there’s no need to leave any hostages to fortune, but it’s hard to believe inter-county players routinely operate at below-capacity levels of effort (NB for the purposes of this piece, please ignore Galway’s performance last Sunday). If they do, they’re not doing it right. Lots of players would be offended by comments to the effect that the likes of John Mullane is great because he always gives it his all, as if the rest of them don’t give it their all. The reason the other players don’t take umbrage is that it’s just a corny media cliché trotted out to spare hacks the need to come up with anything original, something that will only get worse now that they can’t hack phones.
An idea with even less merit is the one which states that a team prefers to come into a game as underdogs. Waiting in the long grass, coming in under the radar, nothing to lose, no pressure. Listen folks, there’s a reason Mayo are underdogs against Cork and Waterford are underdogs against Kilkenny – Cork and Kilkenny are the better teams. That’s not to say neither Mayo or Waterford should bother turning up, but the superiority of the opposition players means an awful lot needs to go their way for the respective underdogs to upset the odds and no amount of deflecting pressure onto said opposition will change that.
There’s a simple way of looking at it. If Waterford/Mayo were to play Kilkenny/Cork one hundred times, we/Mayo would be doing well to win twenty times. Those are ball park figures, and in a lame attempt to avoid drawing the ire of #mayogaa I’d hazard that Mayo could probably expect to do a bit better than that. But all we/Mayo can do is prepare well and hope that the next match is one of those twenty occasions. By all means embrace the underdog status as a means of preparing for the worst. But saying ‘we’re underdogs and that’s the way we like it’ is nonsense. We’ve been underdogs more often than we’ve been favourites, and given our record . . .
. . . I wouldn’t mind giving this ‘favourites’ thing a lash.
Update: since I started writing this post, John Fogarty of the Irish Examiner has put up a better summation of the lack of mileage to be had from constantly invoking slights as motivation. Money quote from Kieran McGeeney:
It’s never put to bed listening to some of the punditry! Somewhere along the line you’re going to lose and what they say about you is gonna be right.
As they say on the stage, never argue with the man with the microphone.
Pride In The Jersey have posted images of every Waterford kit dating back to 2002, including the footballers and the monstrosity worn by Clinton on Sunday. The detail is incredible – did you know the 2003 football jersey had the Lawlor’s Hotel logo somewhere around the navel? – and well worth a few minutes of your time.
The footballers were on the BBC last night! Okay, it was only the BBC News Channel which is only watched by Dave Spart looking for oppression of revolutionary forces and Outraged of Tunbridge Wells needing material for their next missive to the Telegraph outlining what a waste of license payers money it is. And it was presumably in relation to the fact that we’re playing London today – I couldn’t tell for sure, the sound was off in work, but it seems a reasonable assumption. Still, Waterford on the BBC for something other than industrial strife. Next stop, the New York Times! Or the next round of the qualifiers. Yes, that would probably be better.
Update: I expressed disquiet on boards.ie yesterday about the selection of Eoin McGrath, supposedly made on the basis that he’s ‘flying in training’. Surely the League should count for more when it comes to the Championship? And whaddya know, the League standings held true in football as Waterford swatted aside London in Ruislip. With there being no Ulster and Connacht championship when we won our only Munster title in 1898 and with no qualifier win before tonight, this is the first time ever Waterford have won a game outside Munster. The 124-year famine is over. When you look at the way in which Galway’s hurlers mowed down Cork today and with the likes of Limerick, Antrim and possibly even Wicklow awaiting Waterford in the next round of the football qualifiers, could our big ball practitioners last longer than the hurlers this year? Probably not, but it’ll be fun finding out.