At the start of the 2012 National Hurling League campaign, Waterford had lost only one more match than we had won in the history of the competition. There is a slight wrinkle in that statistic in that it looks like we gave walkovers to three counties in the first year of the League, which would count as defeats, but I’ve not been able to confirm that the games did not take place. It’s a moot point now though as the scales are firmly moving in the direction of the Lost side. The 31 points we shipped yesterday to Tipperary, quite apart from being the number of the Beast to Waterford supporters, is the fourth highest total score we’ve conceded in the NHL . . . .
. . . and the highest amount of scores ever conceded.
(Click on the row heading in this table to sort the matches by points or total score.)
Another wrinkle in these statistics is that League matches were only 60 minutes long until a few years back, but it’s a bad stat whatever way you cut it, made worse by Tipperary scoring an eye-watering 26 points from play. So it’s not surprising that some people are wondering whether dropping down a division would be such a bad thing. There’s some merit to the idea that we’d be better prepared if we could play in a few matches where we had a hope of victory. The absolute worst thing Michael Ryan could do now would be to ‘blood’ a few more youngsters as their confidence would be in bits before they ever had a chance. Just as being massacred when they made their infrequent forays in with the big boys never did the likes of Derry or Down any good, maybe a few matches against Clare or Limerick would build up our reserves.
It’s a superficially attractive idea, but wrong. As the Offaly contributor dotsflan points out, playing at what is meant to be their own level has done a lot of harm to the Faithful County’s prospects. The game is simply too ‘plodding’ to be any kind of preparation for the move up in the ranks. And besides, I want Waterford to be playing Kilkenny and Tipperary. It’s an extension of the idea I’ve being banging on about recently with the League of Ireland – you want to see the big teams, and with hurling you have the added bonus of knowing this is the best that the sport has to offer rather than just being the best this island has to offer. We still have a clear path to survival. Hope Dublin lose to Tipperary then jam it against the Dubs in Fraher Field. Oh, and we could beat Galway too, right?
Not only was this game a farce, from a Waterford point of view, but it is beginning to look as though our new selectors are a farce too. If they weren’t bothered about winning this game (and that’s the way it looked) they could have told us in advance, so that the thousand or so people who turned up could have saved themselves the €10 admission fee and cost of getting to the game.
There has been no apparent sense of purpose in the selection of teams in the Crystal Cup and pre-season challenges. There has been no systematic rotation of players so that all available players on the panel could get a decent chance in their best positions. Instead, some established players have played in all the games, while some squad members have hardly figured at all.
Several players are on the panel and getting games although it should be obvious by now that they are not fit for championship hurling. Michael Ryan has been criticised for having a number of Fourmilewater players on the panel, although we have seen very little of them. Yet it seems to me that there are a lot of Mount Sion and De La Salle players in the squad who have no business being there.
What has Eoin McGrath done to deserve a place on the panel, never mind on the team? What particular function is he supposed to perform? He played the entire game today, first at corner forward, then at midfield, then at left half forward – all to no effect, while young players with potential were left on the sideline.
From what I have seen, Dean Twomey is nowhere near the level required in terms of technique or ball control. He was eventually replaced by another De La Salle player, Paudie Nevin, who in my view is not up to intercounty standard either.
I have nothing against Mount Sion or De La Salle, but there are much better players than those mentioned who are not getting a look in. Clare had four of last year’s minor team playing today, and all played well. Waterford have had three good minor teams in the last three years, yet only one player from these teams (Martin O’Neill) played today. Why, when the team was doing so badly today, were only two substitutes used (and even then, one was an enforced substitution) while Clare used four substitutes?
Some of the tactics employed today defied comprehension. Waterford used a three-man midfield in the second half, even though they were chasing the game. This left them with a two-man full forward line of Shane Walsh and Martin O’Neill, neither of whom is blessed with pace. They were being marked by three pacy defenders, so predictably most of the ball that came in came straight back out again.
Waterford eventually reverted to an orthodox forward layout with Seamus Prendergast moving to full forward and, hey presto, they scored three goals and brought two excellent saves from the Clare goalie. And this without any presence on the left wing, where the Clare right half back was cleaning up on Eoin McGrath. At least Maurice Shanahan was winning loads of ball on the other wing, and he worked his socks off, even though his use of the ball wasn’t the most productive.
A couple of statistics from the game. Waterford got two points from play (both by Shane Walsh); Clare got thirteen. Three Waterford players scored from play (Martin O’Neill and Seamus Prendergast got two goals each); the corresponding figure for Clare was ten.
Tony Kelly came on for Clare wearing No, 25 and scored a peach of a long range point.
Finally, congratulations to Dungarvan CBS, who beat Clonmel CBS in the semi-final of the Munster Colleges Senior B competition on Saturday, despite being short a lot of players due to injuries and suspensions.
Update: My apologies, I was wrongly informed. The Kelly who came on for Clare yesterday was Patrick, not Tony. My information now is that Tony, who was the star of the Clare minor hurlers over the last two years, was invited onto the senior panel but opted to return to school to repeat the Leaving Cert. This means that Clare only had three of last year’s minors on the team yesterday.
An Spailpín Fanach recently made the point that the Irish Independent, in the guise of Phil-Space-in-Chief Martin Breheny, routinely comes up with scare stories about the effect other sporting events have on GAA attendances and what a nonsense this line of thought usually is. “You only get proper GAA people at League games” he wryly observed. How right he is, and you wonder how many people came to this match with the intention of demonstrating just what an authetic Gael they are. It certainly can’t have been for the thrill of manly competition because this was as bloodless as a game played with metal-tipped pieces of wood gets. And for 10 yoyos there would not have been a single casual person at this game.
There was one thing that made this a worthwhile exercise though – seeing a Waterford man prowl the sidelines in charge of our senior team for the first time in nearly two decades. Could anything long-term be divined about Michael Ryan’s plans for the team? About the best that can be said is that he doesn’t look like a man given to tinkering. Not only did the Waterford team line out as on the clár oifigiúil, they even took up their positions as per 1-15. This isn’t just useful from the perspective of the amateur hack. It suggests the man knows his mind, is willing to give his experiments a chance, and not going to change them willy-nilly.
That’s the positive spin from this game. All of it.
It started pretty well. After a couple of quick scores from Clare, one a fine effort from midfielder Patrick Donnellan where he rammed a long Adrian Power puckout back down our throats with interest, Waterford settled down. Martin O’Neill could have had an early goal for us but wanted to turn onto his good side when the trigger needed pulling instantly, and Shane Walsh picked up where he left off on 2011 with two quick scores, the second an excellent over-the-shoulder effort. A foul on Eoin McGrath gave O’Neill the opportunity to open his account from a free which he duly took. The best player on the pitch at this stage was Donnellan, his rampaging run nearly putting Aaron Cunningham in with a goal-scoring opportunity but the forwarded opted to take a point. Waterford folk will have great hope for the positioning of Michael Walsh at centre-forward this year and a soft foul on him gave O’Neill the chance to put Waterford back in front before Seamus Prendergast swatted off a few challenges after some great approach work from Walsh to score the first goal of the game.
So far so good. Waterford looked neat and tidy at this stage, Jamie Nagle in particular impressing in the half-back line with some robust play. There was a moment of concern when Adrian Power and Declan Prendergast got their wires crossed under a dropping ball and and full-forward Colin Ryan should have done better with his booted effort as Power struggled to get across. You have to wonder when Prendergast will be put out of his full-back misery. But that seemed out of character with the performance thus far from Waterford, a point emphasised as Maurice Shanahan landed a long-range free, Kevin Moran went close with a typically butch effort from way out the field and O’Neill notched another free after a Clare back had taken too many steps under pressure. Yep, so far so good.
How bad was it about to get? Not scoring for another twenty minutes bad. Outscored 2-12 to 0-2 over the next forty minutes bad. in short, real bad. Tony Carmody scored for Clare, then was professionally fouled by Aidan Kearney to give Clare another score from a free. Clare’s number 25, unnamed in the programme, lobbed over another long-range effort to cut the gap to three, and Jamie Nagle was relieved that Cunningham was too hasty with his effort when Nagle attempted a daft over-the-head clearance right in the endline. At the other end, Martin O’Neill took a free way out on the left of the field despite being a left-handed striker of the ball, which suggests that he was advised to get some practice in. His free was only partially cleared but Seamus Prendergast flapped horribly at his effort to scoop the ball back into the mix and a free-out was awarded. He did something similar moments later, shooting widly when a point was definitely on, and Clare extracted maximum beneift from those let-offs as Carmody slipped away from Kearney again – worrying – and slotted the ball past Power.
Clare didn’t rest on their laurels, uimhir a Fiche Cúig continuing with his Cúilín Fada crusade and a colleague showing enough commitment to a lost cause that he nearly got skewered by the flag on the 65 in a effort to keep the ball in play. Some splendidly alert play by Colin Ryan as he charged from his line out to meet a short free from inside his own half gave him the chance to stretch the lead to two and he then drew enough players to himself to allow him to give the ball to Fergal Lynch in space to make it a three-point lead. Waterford ended the half with a score, Michael Walsh intercepting an attempted clearance and getting chopped down for his efforts and allowing O’Neill to land another score. But Waterford were an unholy mess and were grateful for half-time so they could change things around.
At least you thought that’s what was about to happen, but the only change I could observe as the second half swung into gear was Eoin McGrath coming out the field. Even a hurling klutz like myself would express skepticism at such a move and not fear ridicule, and it made no discernible difference as Clare serenely went on their way. One noteworthy feature of their play was their ability to keep the ball in hand, thus negating the need to try and pick the ball up off the muddy surface – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mankier set of sliothars. It helped that Waterford didn’t seem able to even compete for the ball, Maurice Shanahan being a particular culprit as at one point he saw himself horsed off the ball with shocking ease. Paul O’Brien showed him how it was down by drawing a foul and allowing Waterford to get a point back, but it was cringeworthy watching such a tall man being brushed aside by relative midgets.
Shanahan’s performance was symptomatic of a beaten team. It is at this point that you would expect a flurry of subs or switches, but there was so little activity on the sidelines that Michael Ryan might was well have gotten out his fiddle. Daire Keane scored another point for Clare, and with that the dam burst. Eoin McGrath saw himself dispossessed in the middle of the field and ‘No 27′ swept the ball over the bar from distance. Ryan had a tap-over after Carmody had taken on the entire Waterford back division and come out on top. Cunningham sent over another great score, entirely unmolested by anything in a white shirt. Then we saw O’Neill miss a free on the left and have the puckout be deposited in the lap of the player in his corner of the field. It as all part of the plan, see? Stick with it to see if was working. The problem is that it clear wasn’t working. When Cunningham was able to tap over the bar after a wonderful sweep out of defense from Clare where the ball passed through a half-dozen hands, then scored a goal after shrugging off some half-hearted challenges, it might have been more productive to have changed everything. We’re not going to get many more chances to experiment.
If you’re of a nihilistic bent, and after this game it seems like a more attractive philosophy, the gradual improvement from Waterford for the remainder of the game was frustrating as it might give the impression that things are not as bad as they seem. Clare surely stepped off the accelerator because little changed on the Waterford side of things. A charity free from the referee allowed Waterford to register Waterford to get only their second score of the half, then Waterford nearly benefited from Shanahan showing what he was capable of, a fine run allowing him to tee up O’Neill but a Clare defender somehow (luckily) got a stick on the ball and it went out for a 65 which was duly wasted.
Clare struck back with two quick points, one of which was a free that looked wide all the way from where I was sitting. It would have been difficult for the umpires or the referee to judge it, but the linesman would have been right in the same line as mine so why he didn’t interfere, I don’t know. Another arcane rule? Michael Walsh then found himself surrounded by four Clare players, a depressing indictment of the lack of wag in this particular 15. Somehow he managed to get it away clean and when Waterford earned a free abit further up the pitch O’Neill went for a goal from a silly distance. Perhaps he was only getting his eye in because moments later a sideline cut went all the way through to O’Neill and he rattled the ball to the net. It was the sort of defending that probably had Davy Fitz foaming at the mouth on the sidel . . . actually, where was he? Perhaps Michael Ryan could get away with his Anthony Gormley subject pose because Davy wasn’t lepping around beside him.
Either way Waterford managed to shake off their torpor, Donal Tuohy being forced into a good save from Seamus Prendergast. O’Neill then got his second of the game thanks to some more woeful defending, somehow allowing him to get away a strike despite him letting the ball elude his grasp on numerous occasions. The gap was now down to five – could they pull off a crazy win? They might have done, two more goals were scored. Unfortunately one of them was when Adrian Power couldn’t pick a speculative effort from Colm Galvin out from under the bar and we only knew it was a goal because the umpire rather shamefacedly had to wave the flag. The next time the ball came in he batted it out in true David De Gea fashion. Maybe there was something in the air because at the other end Tuohy let a shot borne more out of frustration from Seamus Prendergast slide between him and the near post.
Five points in the end. It flattered us mightily. I’m clinging forlornly to a notion that Michael Ryan was determined to try certain people in certain configurations, and he’s entitled to some slack at this stage. But the beating we’ve taken at the hands of the Clare minors over the last two years overrides any sense of optimism. With only five matches to play we can’t afford to be going into the League cold. It might be an idea to encourage people to get out for this year’s League because if you had to pick a whipping boy from Division 1, it would have to be us, and we might not see the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary in the spring for 2013 and beyond.
Those white shorts looked good though.
(NB even more guesswork than usual in the teams this time around. I won’t miss Davy’s opaque team sheets)
Waterford: Adrian Power, Stephen Daniels, Declan Prendergast, Aidan Kearney, Jamie Nagle, Kevin Moran, Shane O’Sullivan, Dean Twoney (Paudie Nevin), Paul O’Brien, Maurice Shanahan (0-1f), Michael Walsh, Seamus Prendergast (2-0), Martin O’Neill (2-6, 0-6f), Shane Walsh (0-2; Thomas Ryan), Eoin McGrath
Clare: Donal Touhy, Domhnall O’Donovan, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney (Stephen O’Halloran), Seadna Morey, Enda Barrett, James McInerney (AN Other/27, 0-1), AN Other/25, (0-2), Patrick Donnellan (0-1), Colm Galvin (1-2), Daire Keane (0-1; Ross Horan), Fergal Lynch (0-1; Cathal Chaplin), Tony Carmody (1-1), Colin Ryan (0-6, 0-4f), Aaron Cunningham (1-2)
HT: Waterford 1-7 (10) Clare 1-9 (12)
Referee: John Ryan (Tipperary)
[The] captaincy should be viewed as a reward for services rendered, not the kind of decision upon which a team’s fortunes can be made or broken. Give it to Hyypia, because he’s given us back a sense of self-respect in defence. Give it to Owen because he’s a genuinely world class player. Give it to Gerrard because he’s Scouse. Give it to Carragher because he’s our longest serving player, and Scouse. But don’t give it to someone because they’re not a goalie or a winger or young or ineffectual in the tackle. To do so just wouldn’t be football.
When asked what was the biggest difficulty faced by any government, Harold Macmillan was supposed to have said “Events, dear boy, events”. Disappointingly it now looks like he probably never said it at all, but when the legend is better than the truth, print the legend (a quote I always ascribed to Samuel Goldwyn, but can’t find a reference for now on Google). And even if he didn’t say it Macmillan’s ‘comment’ still rings true for all manner of professions, not least journalism. So when De Paper announced that John Mullane had quit the Waterford team ‘indefinitely‘, the focus of the article was on how he had been overlooked for the captaincy. This nugget of information was offered up apropos of nothing, but the implication was clear – Mullane had flounced off in a huff over yet another snub.
Alas for the man who had Ger Loughnane buried while still very much alive, the truth about John Mullane has proven to be much more mundane, i.e. that he’s taken some time out from the regular panel to spend more time with his young family. In case you think I’m being unduly mean on John Fogarty, who did point out that Mullane only played two League matches last year, you only have to see how HoganStand.com put much greater emphasis on that fact to see how Fogarty was being economical with the actualité. This isn’t a case of being wise after the event. It’s a case of needing to wait until the event happens before commenting on it.
There is a broader context to this latest example of hacks putting legs on a story, one that has been put into stark contrast by the shenanigans engulfing the English FA. As noted in the article linked above . . . whaddya mean you haven’t read it?! Ahem. As noted in the article linked above, the English take the issue of captaincy way too seriously. They invest a mystical power in the armband, reasoning – not that there’s any ‘reason’ to it – that the wrong man can transmit his negative waves throughout the entire team while the right man can use the power of the armband to lift his teammates up where they belong, verily even unto where the eagles fly on a mountain high. It’s utter tosh, but it’s an attitude that seems to have even gotten to Fabio Capello. Okay, his prime reason for walking away now was that he knew he had little hope of whipping the team into being contenders for Euro 2012 and now he can walk away before the xenophobic crap – “wop a disgrace”, anyone? – hits the fan in the smouldering central European summer heart. But if Capello has any knowledge of English soccer history he would know that when Don Revie jacked it in because things weren’t working out he was pilloried forever for his treachery. Incredibly Capello can now claim to have walked away on an issue of principle and not have anyone laugh in his face, and all because disputes about the captaincy in England are treated with the reverence of the pronouncements of 12th century Archbishops of Canterbury.
Yet for all of that scoffing at such nonsense, it seems to have infected our supposedly Anglophobic selves. Suggestions that John Mullane is upset that he didn’t get the captaincy are endlessly recycled because no one is likely to say that he couldn’t give a monkeys about such a modest bauble. Worse still, you have to wonder why he isn’t getting it. The link between the captaincy and the county champions was severed by Justin McCarthy several years ago, the eminently sensible logic of such an action being to give it to someone who is bound to be in the team rather than being faced with the dilemma of trying to ram a player in just because he’s the man nominated by the county champions. Only Michael Walsh and Tony Browne approach John Mullane’s standing in the team in terms of ability and longevity, and they’ve each had it in the past. At the very least Buggin’s turn should have seen the captaincy fall on Mullane. The fact that he didn’t get it gives the impression that Michael Ryan is concerned about Mullane’s past ‘reputation’, exactly the sort of thing that exercises our neighbours across the water. As always in Irish life, we can cheerfully blame all our woes on baleful influence of the Brits.
Why oh why do supporters of Waterford feel the need to look for a crisis where there are none? Michael Ryan’s first big decision as manager, leaving Eoin Kelly off the panel, has produced a predictable bout of angst. Ryan is flexing his muscles, it’s a publicity stunt, there has to be something more to it etc. We even had the bizarre sight of Damien Tiernan darkly suggesting that “there is more to the Eoin Kelly/ Waterford hurling management dispute than has been said”. Um, isn’t it your job to find out for us? A case for Prime Time Investigates, perhaps. Then again, given their record, we never know what might come out of that.
The truth seems straightforward, or at least people would want to have stronger evidence than a-feeling-in-me-waters to dispute Michael Ryan’s account, one that doesn’t seem to have been contradicted by Eoin Kelly. He was asked to discuss his lack of fitness and refused to do so, fully cogniscant of what that refusal meant. Please don’t take as a cut at Eoin Kelly, a suggestion that’s he’s lazy or feckless. God knows how much effort he put into turning himself into an inter-county quality free-taker, effort that no other player would have had to put in. This is clear evidence of his commitment to the Waterford cause throughout the years and his willingness to put in the hard yards. And there’s no obligation on him to put in any effort if he doesn’t want to. But there are consequences to rebuffing the manager. There have to be, and he knows it. Yet that still won’t stop people speaking on his behalf, because [sarcasm] he’s always been such a demur character up until now [/sarcasm]. Thank goodness we have the unsilent majority to speak up for him.
It’s almost as if we want to justify our failure to land the McCarthy Cup on the basis that there is too much feuding in the county rather than much more obvious sources such as bad luck (yeah, I’ve said it) or not being good enough. And the killing part is that these things become self-fulfilling prophecies. People post on the internet about the infighting in Waterford GAA that they’ve read about on the internet. We really need to give Michael Ryan some space. At least give him the chance to screw up before we start calling him a screw-up.
In the end, it was straightforward. Take submissions from interested parties and put out feelers to parties of interest. Assemble the interview panel. Conduct interviews. Recommend best candidate. Appoint candidate. It would have been nice if the plain people of Waterford had been kept posted as to progress through each stage of the process, but you can’t accuse the selection committee of leaving any stones unturned or not giving everyone a fair chance. You might argue that if it had acted more promptly that we could have gotten the ideal candidate quicker, but that assumes there was a universally popular JBM-style candidate out there. So kudos to the selection committee for giving Michael Ryan a clear mandate as the new Waterford senior hurling manager.
When Waterford won the Munster title in 2002, the still sadly-missed Breaking Ball had an interview with Paddy Joe Ryan were he said that upon becoming the chairman of the County Board he had identified the need to bring in an outside manager as his top priority. It wasn’t a case that it would be preferable, it was essential that any manager came from outside to avoid what Ryan presumably thought was the insoluble faction-fighting that plagues Waterford hurling. Whether you think this was reasonable or not, the perception was there and few would have quibbled with his assessment – or, as he sat there clutching the Munster Cup, the results
You would have hoped though after fourteen years of outsiders that such nonsense would have gone the way of Division 3 hurling for the county. Alas, the perception is still there as Michael Ryan finds himself having to scotch suggestions of a rift with De La Salle. There doesn’t seem to be anything sinister to it but if you want to start as you mean to go on then it’s not the most auspicious of beginnings. Time for us all to take a leaf out of Peter Queally’s book and stop playing silly buggers.
One final thought on the whole management selection process. We’ve had the names of Jason Ryan, Kevin Ryan and Michael Ryan bandied about. Where are all the Powers? It’s bad enough that we’ve had an outsider all these years, but even when we pick one of our own they have a Tipperary name. Whether it be quotas, name changes or forced marriages, something must be done to bring the name of De Paor back to the forefront of Waterford hurling. Put in a plan now and we might have one within fourteen years.
One of the reasons the GAA will never be able to compete with cross-channel soccer in hogging newspaper column inches is the lack of churn. All those lovely transfers on which to endlessly speculate and pontificate upon. And if there aren’t any transfers, you just make them up. It’s not as if anyone will check today’s fish & chip wrapping to find out what you said yesterday.
With that in mind, pronouncements on the certainty of Michael Ryan being appointed as the next Waterford manager should be treated with caution. If nothing else, the article in the link mentions that he will the first Waterford-born manager of the county since ‘Jim Mansfield’. Good to see NAMA bailing out one of our own. The story is speculative by nature, but there is some thought behind it, i.e he’s the last man standing. To avoid a long paragraph filled with commas, let’s look at the alleged candidates in list form:
- Jason Ryan: the man to whose mast I had so brazenly nailed my colours is staying with the Yellabellies.
- John Allen: Limerick-bound. I can’t say I’ll be lamenting missing out on him. His articles in the Irish Times over the years showed a man who fancied himself as a latter-day Myles na Gopaleen – NB this is not a compliment, Myles was meant to be a clown – and his All-Ireland success was a legacy from Donal O’Grady. Speaking of whom . . .
- Donal O’Grady: not interested in anything by the looks of it. A pity. Not only did he turn Limerick around, people forget the mess Cork were in when he took over – crushed by Galway in 2002, under O’Grady they’d be Munster champions in 2003 and All-Ireland champions in 2004. He’s clearly not a man given to Brian Cody-style empire building, so he might be available again in another five years.
- Kevin Ryan: not interesting the selection committee. This is a weird one. Why should Kevin Ryan not applying for the job or being nominated rule him out, while Jason Ryan neither applying or being nominated leads to him being so surreptitiously courted?
So unless a left-field candidate like James O’Connor emerges, that leaves Michael Ryan. What to make of him? He has experience of winning All-Irelands with the Waterford ladies footballers, and his hurling credentials are formidable with De La Salle (an obvious weakness for Jason Ryan). And yes, being from Waterford is a positive thing. It’s not that external candidates offend against our sense of Waterfordness or that I think a local will be able to tap into some hitherto undiscovered pool of passion. But it’ll be good that we feel confident enough in our own structures that we don’t need to look outside for someone who can look past our parish pump politics in putting together the county panel (see: Boggus Gaagaa).
Still, there’s going to be a last-chicken-in-the-shop feel to the appointment of Michael Ryan. Steve McClaren never recovered from the ridicule heaped upon his head as being ‘Second Choice-Steve’ after the English FA finally accepted that Brian Clough was in no position to take the job. It shouldn’t be so blatant with Ryan, but the contrast with how unexciting an appointment it will be in comparison to Jason Ryan (just saying) will be obvious. With the best will in the world, it’s not a dynamic appointment. And surely more-of-the-same isn’t going to cut it.