We’ve all had a good laugh over the years at the expense of Ger Canning, and his suggestion during the 2004 Munster final that Tony Browne was “coming to the end of a wonderful career” certainly ranks up there alongside his assorted spoonerisms and malapropisms. Still, you really should view it with mirth rather than irritation because 1) he said nice things about the great man, and 2) was it really that unreasonable an observation at the time?
Saying that Waterford went 29 years without winning the Munster title in 2002 – now that was off the wall.
Speaking for myself, I was on a hair-trigger for a number of years with the retirement tribute. The photo above was taken conscious of the idea that it might be the last time that we saw him in a Waterford jersey. But that was nearly two years ago and when the moment came on Thursday, I wasn’t ready at all. Here was a man of such stature that I managed to feel a twinge of disappointment that my son was born on July 2nd, a day after the birthday of the great man. Had the passage of time and being up to my elbows in nappies meant that I couldn’t get inspiration to say something on his retirement? For shame!
Thankfully Twitter came to the rescue, erupting with so many tributes that #TonyBrowne started trending. It got me to thinking seriously about what made him great. It’s important to do this because the lull right at the end of his career might give the impression that his reputation was built around his longevity, which would do him a terrible disservice.
(photo taken from a hoarding in Cathedral Square)
He was, of course, a great hurler, a combination of style – witness his delightful flick of the wrists which finally pushed us past the point of no surrender in the 2002 Munster final – and teak-tough bravery – sticking his face in the way of the last shot in the 2010 final replay. Then there was his presence. From the first moment I encountered him up close, addressing the crowd after the Under-21 victory in 1992 with a panache that belied his tender years, he oozed confidence without ever being arrogant. In a sport dominated by culchie understatement, he had a townie swagger that separated him from his peers and made him stand out on the national stage. You only have to look at the various points of the four green fields from where the tweets hailed to see how he touched so many lives beyond his native county.
What made him so special in Waterford though was how he, more than any other player, restored our sense of well-being after the horrors of the 1980′s. The other legends of the 1992 team, Fergal Hartley and Paul Flynn, were great hurlers too. But Hartley didn’t have that swagger and Flynn was too mercurial, and when Waterford burst back onto the national stage in 1998 it was Browne who was the poster child for the county. It was he who was at the heart of the turmoil with Clare, it was he who pulled us up by the bootstraps in the quarter-final against Galway, it was he who kept us in that tension-soaked semi-final against Kilkenny, and it was he who finally gave us something tangible to show for it all – only our fourth-ever All Star and Hurler of the Year. My brother told of how Tony came to Tramore to award some medals and an old man approached him, tears in his eyes, and thanked Tony for giving us back our dignity. He set the bar very high that year, and he never let it drop over the seasons that followed.
The final word I leave to Enda McEvoy:
Anyone can win an All Ireland medal but only Tony Browne could have been Tony Browne. Happy retirement, legend.
— Enda McEvoy (@EndaEndamac95) April 17, 2014
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall a few years back when the Munster Council decided on the current system for the Minor hurling championship. The principle would have been that each county should get two games, but with six counties involved the challenge would have been to ensure that, after all the games leading up to the semi-final had been played, you wouldn’t have two teams who played each other in the ‘quarter-final’ meeting up again in the semi-final. I haven’t exhaustively looked at the permutations, but it doesn’t look possible to me, and you’d like to think that those looking at it did so thoroughly before concluding that it wasn’t possible and saying “feck it, alea jacta est!” Okay, maybe I wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, for fear of having my illusions ruined about the usage of classical quotations by members of the Munster Council.
The thing is, I like the system. The principle of ensuring each county gets two games is a sound one, even for Kerry. Yes, it’s hard to see them making it through but they’re clearly doing something right in the Kingdom if their Senior teams efforts in the League are anything to go by, beating Carlow twice on their way to the Division 1B/2A playoff against Offaly (it’s a scandal that they have to go through another playoff to get promoted, but that’s for another day), and they’re not going to improve if they shirk games against the best at Minor level. However, the issue with the possibility of teams playing their next game in the championship against the team they just defeated is a problem, compounded by the arcane manner in which the Munster Council treats home and away decisions.
Consider this scenario. Tipperary and Limerick were playing each other after the other two games in this year’s Minor championship, so each county knew who they would meet in the next round, whether that be in the semi-final or in the loser’s round. With Waterford beating Clare, they would have known that the winner would play Cork and the loser would play the winner of the Clare v Kerry game. Given the Munster Council’s rigid adherence to rotating home and away advantage – the same rules that mean Waterford will next play Limerick as the away team, because the drawn Munster final in Limerick last year in front of tens of thousands of Shannonsiders was treated as a neutral venue – it is not inconceivable that one of the counties might calculate that a win would leave them playing Cork away, while a defeat would see them play Clare/Kerry and Waterford at home. No doubt the purists would recoil at such suggestions of chicanery and say that no Munster team is ever going to go out and deliberately lose, and this would be fair comment – when it comes to bitter rivals, everyone is. However, you find yourself seven points down with ten minutes to go . . . it ain’t the end of the world if you have to win two home games rather than bust a gut to get the ‘honour’ of playing Cork in their own back yard, is it?
Even if you don’t believe a team would ever put in less than 100% effort in a championship game, there’s the issue of fairness. As it happens, ceteris paribus - those Munster Council boyos aren’t the only ones who can talk real purdy – Waterford have a 2:1 chance of getting a home draw in the semi-final. We last played Clare (this year) and Kerry (2006) away and Tipperary (last year) at home. But it doesn’t seem right that we could be at a venue disadvantage in a match against Tipperary despite winning our only game, especially when it’s a problem that is easily resolved. The team that comes out of the losers round of games should always cede home advantage in the semi-final to the team that got there by winning their quarter-final game. This would mean that if Tipperary come through, they have to come to Waterford. It’s a simple, elegant solution to the problem, and as such has no hope of ever becoming the way of things.
I had decided a few days ago that I wasn’t going to produce a report for the relegation playoff against Dublin. This was entirely because I wasn’t confident that I could maintain focus on events on the pitch in Walsh Park while events were unfolding hundreds of miles to the north-west in Anfield. I needn’t have worried myself on that score. Checking my phone at a couple of minutes past four, around the time things were beginning to unravel for Waterford, I chuckled to myself that Liverpool had better be 1-0 up. Imagine my delight to see that they were, and things were to only get better. Alas, the same could not be said for the game going on in front of me.
While there were no other reasons for not taking notes other than that, there would be additional factors which made it a wise decision. The last time I didn’t keep track was against Cork in Fraher Field last year . Like then, it was absolutely perishing and gloves were definitely the order of the day. Anyone who wants to re-jig the season so that weightier Championship matters are played at this time of year needs shipping off to Antarctica. Then there was the programme. It’s been a long-running scandal that the Waterford County Board have the chutzpah to charge €2 for what is effectively a team sheet. The programme for the previous game against Dublin doubled up for both that match and the football game out in Carriganore against London. It was terrible value, containing an article for each game – both were perfectly fine, but you can get as good online for free, literally in the case of Tomás McCarthy – and the team sheets. The programme yesterday though couldn’t even claim either of those things, with no articles and lineups that were so inaccurate as to be worse than useless. Both sides had different starting 15s, which is to be expected at this stage. To add further, entirely original insult, Dublin started with players who were not even in the programme while Waterford had Tadhg Bourke and Noel Connors in the wrong jerseys. Trying to keep track of who did what would have been a pain, so it’s just as well I didn’t bother.
What of the game itself? It’s fair to say that the optimism created by the first three games, containing a close away defeat and two fine wins, has completely evaporated after three soul-destroying defeats. Waterford had started well, rattling over five points in the first seven minutes and looking entirely like they had Dublin’s measure. A goal from a 21-metre free, correctly awarded, kept Dublin in touch but the lead had stretched back to a handy four points thanks to a goal from Darragh Fives, well set up by Seamus Prendergast. With Dublin having hit a string of horror wides while we had been a model of economy with our efforts, it was looking good.
Then came the red card for Shane O’Sullivan. It looked harsh from where I was on the terrace at the Keane’s Road end. He didn’t strike Michael Carton, but caught him as the opponent came at him quickly, so everyone in the ground was surprised when he flashed the red card. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that I was an awful long way from the action. I have no reason to suspect skullduggery on the referee’s part, and presumably he saw O’Sullivan raised hurley catching Carton way too high, in the neck-face area. Fine margins and all that, but if the action was dangerous then he had to go, however benign his intentions might have been.
Could we get lightning to strike twice and win with 14 men again? No, we could not. They kept in touch for the remainder of the half, and a late goal put an undeserved gloss on the scoreline to give Dublin a half-time lead, but it was clear early in the third quarter that Waterford were not going to salvage this. Dublin were amazingly over-elaborate as handpasses and short balls to find men in space were flung about to tantalise their Waterford opposite numbers, but it had the feeling of a team determined to try something experimental in a game they knew they had won. Maybe I’m seeing a plan that wasn’t there, but whatever it was worked out pretty well as two goals in the space of as many minutes gave them the breathing space they needed. Having watched Waterford implode so badly in the second half against Kilkenny last week, it is a small source of relief that this didn’t happen in this game. Dublin would probably have had an extra gear if it were requiredthough, and brains were well and truly scrambled in the Waterford team, something exemplified by the decision of Pauric Mahony to take a point when awarded a free close in with eight minutes left that had goal chance written all over it. All well and good if the intention was to keep the bare look off the scoreline, and there would have been a certain logic to that. But why did they then try to engineer goals in the remaining minutes from much less promising positions? A lack of joined-up thinking from someone in the Waterford panel.
The high-octane nature of each game in the National League these days means we know a lot more than we traditionally expect to know at this stage, and it isn’t good. Three tough defeats means we are behind where we started, and there are no more chances to try and resolve it before the game against Cork at the end of May. Derek McGrath and co are going to have to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Get your rosary beads out.
Last Saturday we did something we have been long planning: we went to Mount Congreve. I’ve seen and heard a lot of hype about it over the years so my expectations were high and am happy to report it was even better than I could have hoped. We’ve been to many stately piles in these islands with grand gardens attached over the years and this was a match for any of them, a perfect marriage of nature and artifice in a glorious setting, I couldn’t help but feel a shiver of local pride as I gazed across the Suir at the relatively uninspired countryside opposite. This was what Tolkien must have envisaged when he pictured Aragorn looking from Caras Galadhon at the lands surrounding Lothlórien.
Unfortunately that was as good as the weekend got for Co Waterford as the hurlers sank to a crushing defeat at the hands of the denizens of the aforementioned uninspired countryside. Like Orcs they are, Orcs!
The numbers tell their own tale. The 20-point defeat slots comfortably into the top ten of hidings we’ve ever received in the National League, and you have to go back to the 1988/9 season to find the last time we shipped beatings of ten points or greater in two successive League matches. You often see Waterford supporters bemoaning narrow defeats as if they are as bad as batterings – no more moral victories etc – but these last two results demonstrate the folly of such nihilism. If you consistently keep the scoreboard tight then occasionally you’re going to come out on the right side of results. When the opposition are regularly able to run up scores in excess of thirty points, you can forget about snatching games every now and again with a late surge or a last minute goal.
And the numbers don’t even tell a fraction of the tale. I missed the first half – I know, I’m a jinx – and was treated to an absolutely ghastly second half on TG4. On a couple of occasions early on a Waterford forward managed to put the head down and set off towards goal only to be easily dispossessed by the Kilkenny backs. At the other end the goals had a horrible inevitability to them, forwards pirouetting around backs and leaving Stephen O’Keeffe totally exposed. By the time the third goal went in heads went down all around the pitch, and if Kilkenny had been so inclined it would have been far worse than the NHL nadir back in 1957. At least it wasn’t a 23-point defeat to Kilkenny. That would have really got tongues wagging.
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. Thankfully we’ve snatched a home draw against the Dubs but there are testing times ahead for Derek McGrath and company. Perhaps a soothing trip to Mount Congreve in advance of the game is in order?
Awaking this overcast St Patrick’s Day morning, I scrambled to my phone to find out whether I had imagined yesterday’s events. Had there really been that avalanche of goals in the opposition’s back yard? Had the the recent better results proven to be an illusion, one shattered as superior scoring talent rolled forward in waves and inflicted a humiliating defeat? Yes, it was true. Liverpool had indeed walloped Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Oh yeah, and WaterfordwerebeatenbyClaremovealongnothingtoseehere…
I haven’t seen the game, but in the light of my optimistic comments before the game it would be remiss not to provide some kind of follow-up, and the raw facts tell their own story: Clare possess dynamite up front. In writing about the Championship clash between the two teams last year, I referenced the arrival of Peter Duggan on the pitch, an old school mullocker in the style of Christy Heffernan brought on to soften up the Waterford backs. While Duggan would play a role in the turning point in that match and lead to a stream of invective in the comments that day and yesterday – curious how people with different handles and email addresses could have exactly the same viewpoint and style of writing – it was instructive that Duggan would play no role in the All-Ireland final victory or in the Cusack Park massacre. Who needs fixers when you have the likes of Shane O’Donnell and Podge Collins in your ranks, old school wristy forwards who terrorise defences with their brilliance?
It’s never nice to get a shoeing, and the short run outlook has turned grim as we have gone from being well placed for a League knockout appearance to needing to beat Kilkenny to avoid the relegation playoff (Update: probably. KevIRL on boards.ie has crunched the outcome numbers). The long run outlook hasn’t changed though. If we are going to prosper, we need to integrate the Minors into the Senior ranks. Easier said than done, but at least Derek McGrath can be under no illusions about the scale of the task ahead. And no team’s position is set in stone. If in doubt, just ask Man Utd fans.
I was the subject of a most grevious tweet during the week:
— Waterford Hurling (@DeiseHurling) March 10, 2014
UPBEAT! Them’s fighting words. Are we not meant to dismissive of our chances at all costs? Are we not at our best when we are underdogs, having retreated deep, deep into the long grass?
Well, I would argue that we are not. The sample size of when we are at our best is so small, i.e. when we’ve contrived to win matches, that I would dispute the idea that underdogs status is a good thing. We’re usually underdogs because we’re considered to be the weaker team, and weaker teams invariably lose. In fact, talking teams down is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You could see the pincer effect of one team being burdened down by history while another was buoyed up by the same history in Paris yesterday as a French team that have been mostly a rabble throughout this year’s Six Nations came perilously close to spoiling Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell party. Ireland got there in the end, but it was way closer than an objective assessment of the teams before the game might have suggested.
With respect to the Dublin game, I was upbeat because Waterford were bloody good. Now, I have a tendency to be overly effusive after any Waterford win because they all feel so precious. Anyone who read my report on the thrilling win over Tipperary in the League last year would think Michael Ryan and his charges were poised on the verge of a glorious new era of unending success. It didn’t work out that way of course, and I’m not suggesting that we’re on the brink of a McGrath Reich either. If nothing else, it’s all too close in Division 1A for anyone to suggest they’re on top of the rest. Dublin’s win over Kilkenny last night would have told us that.
This was much more promising than the win over Tipperary though, or anything else we accomplished in the League last year. While it was great to win close games in the manner we did over Tipp or Clare, or the way we hung in there for that pulsating draw with Cork, this was better because we were so superior to Dublin. The scoreline did not reflect how our 14 men squeezed the life out of them. The frenetic last few minutes were not indicative of what had gone before, and it spoke volumes that the large crowd were streaming towards the exit in injury time despite there only being a goal in it. The expectation was that we would hold out, and we duly did. Had Waterford been expected to do that for another 70 minutes, you’d have been confident the result would have been the same. It was not a win born of being fortunate enough to be a point ahead at the final whistle. They had thoroughly deserved it, hence the upbeat mood.
It could all fall apart today as we take on Clare in their own backyard today. Out of the ten matches played in Division 1A thus far, only one has been won by an away team, and while that is probably not a statistically significant number of games there is also the small matter of them being the All-Ireland Senior and Under-21 champions. For now we’re in a good place though, and have been for the last week. And when you consider all this was done without any input from our own All-Ireland Minor champions, why shouldn’t we be upbeat?
Feel free to blame me personally for jinxing the team today.
(originally posted on boards.ie)
A marvellous combination of work rate, team work and no little skill saw Waterford carve out a great win over Dublin in Walsh Park today, despite playing over 43 minutes without skipper Brick Walsh who was red carded in the 30th minute of the first half. In fact, the win was a little more comfortable than the final score indicates, as Dublin got their goal in the last minute of normal time and a point in injury time. They did have time to launch one final assault on the Waterford goal but Conal Keaney was penalised for charging with the ball and that was that.
It was a dry, mild and very overcast day with a slight breeze blowing towards the city goal which Dublin played with in the first half. However, the pitch was very soft making it difficult to pick the ball and leading to frequent throw-ins. The official attendance was a decent 4,363.
Dublin started very impressively, with their good interpassing and strong running off the ball causing Waterford all sorts of problems in the early minutes, and allowing the visitors to build up a three-point lead, 0-4 to 0-1. However, the Waterford full back line then established a vice-like grip on the Dublin inner line which they maintained right to the end of the game, and with the half back line getting to grips with the game the Waterford comeback began. They eventually edged ahead in the 20th minute and then four minutes later the vital breakthrough goal arrived. Seamus Prendergast had been causing a lot of difficulty for All-Star full back Peter Kelly, and his persistence set up the opening for Pauric Mahony (who played the first half in the corner) who collected beautifully and surged through to give Gary Maguire no chance.
Waterford were then stunned in the 30th minute when referee Cathal McAllister red carded Brick Walsh after consulting with a distant umpire. Waterford initially moved Jamie Nagle to centre back with Shane McNulty moving to the wing, and managed to get to half time five points in front, 1-10 to 0-8. Pauric Mahony accounted for 1-6 of this (1-1 from play) with Seamus Prendergast weighing in with two marvellous points while Kevin Moran and Ryan Donnelly also registered excellent scores.
At the break, Kevin Moran was moved to centre back with Nagle reverting to the wing and Shane O’Sullivan moving out to centre field. That was the move that probably won the game for Waterford, as Moran put in a powerful second half and completely dominated the middle. Dublin maintained their formation which meant their extra man was in the full back line, which made it very difficult for Waterford to create openings with long balls out of defence.
However, at the other end they performed heroically, and the amount of blocking down they did was unreal. Dublin hit several bad wides, but usually while shooting under pressure. It took them until the 28th minute before they finally raised a white flag from an Alan McCrabbe 65. At that stage Waterford were seven points in front thanks to a Mahony free and a great long-range effort from substitute Brian O’Sullivan. Waterford could have been further ahead but Mahony’s radar went a bit askew after the change of ends, as he missed with three difficult long range frees.
At the other end, Stephen O’Keeffe brought off a marvellous save from Dublin substitute Eamon Dillon while a fantastic last-ditch block by Noel Connors denied Conal Keaney as he was about to pull the trigger. Amazingly, with loads of free possession around their half back line, and 6-7 points down, Dublin kept sending low probing balls into their forwards which were repulsed time and time again by the Waterford rearguard. Ironically, the one time they tried route one, it worked for them. A high ball into the goal area was brilliantly fielded by Jamie Nagle in the 70th minute, but his intended hand pass was blocked in heavy traffic with Keaney finishing to the net. With Dillon adding a point there was only a goal in it, but Waterford were not to be denied. Conor McCormack, a late Dublin substitute, was red carded just before the end when he pulled across Jamie Nagle as the ball ran away from them over the sideline.
By now, Waterford must have the tightest defence in Division 1A of the league, with an average of 1-12 conceded in the three games thus far. The entire sextet were immense today. It is hard to believe that Tadhg Bourke was playing just his second senior game today, so assured was his display. His abilities to block opponents and stop them getting possession are extraordinary, while his own skillset on the ball is sublime. Shane Fives followed up with another authoritative display, repeatedly winning possession and bringing the ball out of defence, while Noel Connors was, well, Noel Connors.
Apart from Kevin Moran’s second half performance – and accompanying leadership – Jamie Nagle turned in another masterful performance while Philip Mahony was little behind on the other wing. Things didn’t really go right for Shane McNulty at midfield and his inexperience showed, but he did a lot of good things and he is definitely one for the future. Up front, Pauric Mahony and Seamus Prendergast were the main men. Mahony shipped a heavy tackle in the middle of the second half but recovered to win some great ball in the closing stages. Stephen Molumphy also won some good ball in the first half but faded out a bit after the change of ends. Ray Barry’s lack of physique told against him at times against the hard-tackling Dubliners but he still put in some good work and I was surprised when he was substituted halfway through the second half.
The ball did not run well for Ryan Donnelly (although he took the one chance he got) while Shane O’Sullivan put in a typical hard-working 70 minutes. All five Waterford substitutes did their bit when brought on. Brian O’Sullivan carved out three scoring chances but only nailed one of them.
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadhg Bourke, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Philip Mahony, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane McNulty; Ray Barry, Stephen Molumphy, Shane O’Sullivan, R Donnelly (0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-2), Pauric Mahony (1-8, 0-7 frees).
Subtitutes: Brian O’Sullivan (0-1) for Donnelly (46); Stephen Roche for McNulty (46); Eddie Barrett for Barry (56); Barry Coughlan for Molumphy (58); Gavin O’Brien for Prendergast (63).
Dublin: Gary Maguire, Cian O’Callaghan, Peter Kelly, Niall Corcoran, Shane Durkin, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton; Colm Cronin (0-1), John McCaffrey (0-1), Joey Boland (0-1), Ryan O’Dwyer, Alan McCrabbe (0-3, all frees), Dotsy O’Callaghan (0-2), Conal Keaney (1-1), Mark Schutte.
Subsitutes: Eamon Dillon (0-1) for Schutte (44); Seán McGrath for O’Callaghan (59); Conor McCormack for Cronin (59).
This match was truly a red-letter day in the history of the GAA. For the first time ever, I was in the possession of a ticket for a National League group game! Unless you count those grubby little stubs as tickets. If nothing else, it showed someone in the GAA having the ability to think outside the box when it came to the ticketing arrangements for the Association’s hidden-in-the-attic child. Not only do the committed types who plan ahead get a discount on the price of their ticket, while slyly locking them in should the weather on the day prove to be off-putting, it was a good example of positive marketing (yeah, I know) as SuperValu/Centra advertised the games and the games brought people into SuperValu/Centra. Add in the horror for Superquinn-types as the GAA was brought into the shopping experience, and you have a winner all round. Kudos to whoever came up with the idea.
And speaking of ideas, the decision to retain the much-derided six-team divisional format was looking sound as Dublin rolled into town with everyone having a record of P2 W1 L1. Waterford had the less extreme pair of games, with a narrow but decisive result in both the win and the loss column. The Dubs, on the other hand, experienced a savage beating at the hands of Galway only to turn over Clare, the All-Ireland champions cock-a-hoop after a thrilling win over Kilkenny, in the following round. We would all have been conscious of the need to maintain the 100% record of home teams thus far if we are to continue making the six-team divisional format such a bone of contention by refusing to vacate the top table for one of our betters.
The team sheet looked encouraging for Waterford, with a lot of new faces. Three of the names – Tadgh Bourke, Shane McNulty and Ryan Donnelly – were complete unknowns to me so getting to know them was something to anticipate. Dublin are a familiar sight at this stage – including their thrilling game against Cork after the Minor game last August, I’ve seen them in each of the past four years – and they seemed to be straight into their stride. Waterford were playing a two man full-forward line and the initial high balls into Seamus Prendegast were not giving us much joy. Dublin won most of the early exchanges and gave the Waterford goal a few scary moments, one of them seeing Stephen O’Keeffe pulling off a great block only to over-elaborate on his clearance and was fortunate only to concede a point on the return. A 65 and a free from Pauric Mahony, both won by Prendergast making a nuisance of himself, were all Waterford had to show as Dublin cruised into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
That was as good as it got for the Dubs though. Perhaps it took Waterford time to adjust to their style of play, perhaps the boggy pitch – it looked awful; had the footballers played in a curtain raiser it would have been a complete quagmire – took its toll on Dublin more than us, or maybe the opening period was simply too short to be indicative of the wider game, but Waterford would boss the remainder in what is hopefully a harbinger of things to come. The half-forwards, perhaps boosted by the extra body, now got on top, winning lots of dirty ball and racking up the frees which were put away with aplomb by Mahony. Prendergast managed to make use of the extra space to fire over two great scores, and it was from some very dirty ball that Waterford managed their first goal of the season. Prendergast should have earned a free but from the scramble that did arise Stephen Molumphy – great to see him back – emerged from the scrum and put Mahony clear though on goal where he rifled an unstoppable shot past Maguire. When Ryan Donnelly popped over a tremendous effort from way out wide, we had outscored Dublin 1-7 to 0-1. Dublin might still be winning high balls but Waterford were pouncing on the breakdown and passes were sticking to palms. Carry on like this, and what could possibly go wrong?
A red card, that’s what. I could tell something had gone wrong for the incident which saw Michael Walsh connect with Alan McCrabbe, but the hue-and-cry from the Dublin contingent was more concern over McCrabbe’s welfare than rage at the atrocity which had befallen him. No free was awarded and the game carried on for a good half-minute before it stopped and attention came on for McCrabbe. I was so unconcerned that I wasn’t watching when Walsh was red-carded. Had the linesman spotted something? Did a hole appear in the space-time continuum that allowed Cathal McAllister to see the incident? Whatever it was, Walsh was off and we were shorn of our captain. We possess a top-drawer replacement for centre-back in Kevin Moran, but there isn’t a team in the country that wouldn’t be diminished by the absence of the Brick. No, not even them.
The game petered out strangely in the lead-up to half-time. It was almost as if both teams were in shock at the absence of such a giant of the game. There was time in the interval to look at a possible future giant as a young Ferrybank tyro put in an entertaining shift in the primary game, what with scoring a goal, lashing out in frustration by picking up the ball and throwing it, and generally putting him (her?) self about to the delight of the crowd.
Maybe Dublin had been too busy watching him/her because they didn’t seem to have worked on how to make use of the extra man during the break. An early dopey challenge gave Pauric Mahony the chance to stretch the lead to six, which he took with reassuring ease. Dublin meanwhile looked hopelessly adrift. Shoulders seemed to drop a little when the ref gave them an advantage that they promptly screwed up and he failed to bring the ball back like he should have done. They hit two horrible wides and got themselves in a complete tizz when they had a chance to bear down on goal leading to a third wide that was the worst of the lot. The Waterford half-backs were completely on top and while much to the ball was ostensibly wasted as they drove it into the stripped back forward line, the energy-sapping conditions meant Dublin were not getting it back up the field with the speed you’d normally expect from a top hurling team, thus eating up more valuable time.
Whether this was the function of one of those fabled occasions when a 14-man team is inspired by the fate of their fallen comrade or Derek McGrath et al have mixed up a winning formula remains to be seen, but the tenacity of Waterford was awe-inspiring. Now boy Tadgh Bourke in particular was a treat, one incident where he refused to be shaken off by Eamon Dillon before brilliantly blocking a shot out for a sideline (end result: wide) being a stand-out moment. As the game ticked into the final quarter there was no sense that Waterford were going to get this wrong or Dublin were going to get it right. When Dillon did manage to evade the Waterford backs his shot from a narrow angle was well save by O’Keeffe and Noel Connors put his body on the line to pick up the rebound leading to a free-out that raised the roof in the ground. The confidence almost turned a bit cocky when Kevin Moran was a bit loose with his handpass after yet another dominant piece of mopping up, but once again Connors was on hand to fling his body in the way of the attack and push the ball out for a 65, leading to a bear hug from O’Keeffe. It was intoxicating stuff, and the clearing of the 65 seemed almost predictable, so dominant were the Waterford backs. The bench was emptied without any loss of intensity. The Dubs were licked.
Incredibly Dublin did not score a second-half point until the 64th minute, and Mahony promptly knocked over another free, albeit after a slight wobble as he lifted the ball, to keep the gap at three scores. It seemed appropriate that the referee should ‘atone’ for his dismissal of Walsh by brandishing a red card for substitute Conor McCormack, again to the general bemusement of everyone in the crowd. There was almost an olé feeling to the crowd as the game entered the last couple of minutes and Jamie Nagle came out with yet another tremendous display of ball-winning, and the ebullient atmosphere in the crowd of 4,363 may have influenced him as he ran into a clutch of Dublin forwards and decided the way out was to pass the ball back to the goalie. The ball dropped horribly short and Conal Keaney managed to stab it past O’Keeffe to get a goal that they was scandalously undeserved. Nagle crumpled to the ground in disbelief at his act of madness and a point from Dillon a few moments meant Dublin were going to get a chance at redemption. Sport is full of stories like this, but to the credit of the Waterford backs they held their nerve, sticking every body in the way and daring Dublin to try and find a way through. A free-out signalled a thunderous whoop of relief and finally led to the final whistle.
I know in my head I’m being too gushing here. It’s only the League. The pitch made quality hurling difficult – early in the second half I opined that Waterford’s strategy would be to turn every encounter into a throw-in and at times it felt like that is exactly what they were doing as each restart took an age to sort out. Dublin are still prone to brain-fart performances like this. But my heart tells me to screw the nay-saying. How else are you meant to measure progress if not via the League? Both teams played on the same pitch, and surely a team with a man advantage for two-thirds of the game are the ones who should benefit in such limb-curdling circumstances, yet at no stage did Waterford look like relenting. Ultimately it was that unrelenting pressure that led to Dublin’s implosion. All this was done without throwing a clutch of Minors onto the bonfire. It was great, and shot through with the prospect that it can get even better.
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh Bourke, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh (capt), Philip Mahony, Kevin Moran (0-1), Shane McNulty (Stephen Roche), Shane O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (1-8 0-6f, 0-1 65), Stephen Molumphy (Gavin O’Brien), Ryan Donnelly (0-1; Brian O’Sullivan, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast (0-2; Barry Coughlan), Ray Barry (Eddie Barrett).
Dublin: Gary Maguire, Niall Corcoran, Peter Kelly, Cian O’Callaghan, Shane Durkin, Liam Rushe, Michael Carton, Joey Boland (0-1), Johnny McCaffrey (capt, 0-1), Alan McCrabbe (0-3, 0-2f, 0-1 65), Colm Cronin (0-1, Conor McCormack), Ryan O’Dwyer , David O’Callaghan (0-2, Seán McGrath), Conal Keaney (1-1), Mark Schutte, (Eamon Dillon, 0-1).
HT: Waterford 1-10 (13) Dublin 0-8 (8)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)
I never pretend to have an inside track into what is going on in Waterford hurling. The limit of my contribution to the grassroots of the game is buying a couple of tickets every fortnight for the club lotto, and even then it’s the nice man who comes to my door who does all the hard work. Incidentally, he’s a member of a genuinely famous Tramore soccer family. His heavy involvement in the GAA strikes me as being akin to apostasy and I’m dying to ask him what his story is. But I digress . . .
Knowing nothing about what goes on behind the scenes doesn’t make me incapable of interpreting what is out there in the open, but I’m questioning my ability to even do that now though after Derek McGrath made no fewer than six ‘last-minute’ (as if they were decided upon just before throw-in) changes to the team that had been published to play Galway. I had thought after the swift announcement of the team that he was eschewing the daft (in my opinion) habit of releasing what was effectively a dummy in the mistaken (in my opinion) belief that this might throw the opposition off the scent. I understand there were a few post-Fitzgibbon injury concerns, but six enforced changes seems improbable.
The upshot of the weekend just past is that, far from being a straight-as-an-arrow type that I thought he might be, Derek McGrath is just as sneaky as the rest of them. In addition, maybe these mind games are not as ineffective as I thought as Waterford swept to a wonderfully impressive win over a team who had gone nap in the previous round. It’s sobering to find out you know even less than the little you thought you knew. Thank goodness for the wonderfully impressive win to ease the pain, eh?