Stephen Bennett is the symbol of all our hopes and fears for the recent past, present, and near-to-medium-term future of Waterford hurling.
Before looking at that click-baiting statement in more detail, let’s look at our current position. By any objective measure, Waterford went backwards in 2014. After being hot favourites for relegation in each of the previous years of the six-team division format in the National League, we fell through the trapdoor just when people were hesitant about tipping us to fall through the trapdoor because we kept on refusing to fall through the trapdoor. We went out at the same stage of the Senior championship, but there was a difference between the manner in which we nearly picked Kilkenny’s pocket in 2013 and how we clung on to the coattails of a Wexford team who would have been knackered after their efforts against Clare in the previous weeks in 2014. There were striking parallels between the efforts of the Minors over the two years – won a titanic Munster semi-final, lost to Limerick after a replay in the Munster final, went toe-to-toe with Kilkenny for 60 minutes – but while it was certainly a valiant effort, it was still a step backwards overall.
Although not half as big a step as the Under-21’s. While mulling this over, I had the thought that the loss to Cork this year was worse than the 2011 Munster final, worse than the 2008 All-Ireland final, worse than the 1998 Munster final replay. Now that it’s come to writing it, I realise that is ridiculous. However, in each of those cases we went into the game with modest expectations, and while we found we had much to be modest about it helped dull the pain. We also had events that followed that lifted the spirit: a homecoming for the ages in 2008 and thumping wins over Galway in 1998 and 2011. There was no such backlash in 2014 for the Under-21’s, merely the added dismay of watching Clare demonstrate that Cork really were no great shakes. It has been a bad year, and subsequent results have only made it feel worse.
So what has all this got to do with Stephen Bennett? Each of his interactions with the three panels spoke volumes about where we are at and where we are going. His absence from the Minor team could be reasonably said to have proven fatal to their chances. I can hear the chorus line telling me that every county has to face up to the loss of most of the Under-18’s each year, but I say it as a positive, not a negative. Despite losing so many players, Waterford still put up a great show. While one Munster title and one All-Ireland isn’t a spectacular return for our five Munster final appearances, it has been a period of high competitiveness in the province, with Clare and Limerick both winning titles as well as ourselves. Even in 2014 there is great satisfaction to be taken out of lowering the Banner on two occasions, showing that a county that has gotten it so right at underage level as to win three Under-21 Munster titles in a row is not able to live with us at Minor level. We are clearly doing something right ourselves – the chairman of the Wexford County Board said as much – and it should be something to be excited about.
Despite not being in the Minor panel then – in fact, precisely because he wasn’t – Stephen Bennett casts them in a good light. The problems start when you move to the levels where is eligible. The most alarming thing about the Under-21’s and the Seniors is how both seem to be following the same strategy, i.e. keeping possession at all costs, exemplified by the effective abandonment of the full-forward line. Derek McGrath and Peter Queally were rivals for the post of Senior manager last year, and Queally (in)famously had little preparation time with the Under-21 panel. Given that, it would have been reasonable to expect him to adopt very different policies with regard to the team. Instead we had the Waterford Under-21 team run out in a game where they were warm favourites and proceed to stink the place out with the defeatist mentality that had characterised the Seniors, culminating in the horror show which saw a short puck-out intercepted by Alan Cadogan to allow him to bury the tie, only moments after we had had our hopes raised when Cork were reduced to 14 men. It’s a sound idea, having integration between the various levels of the game. We seem to be sharing ideas between the worst-performing levels though, while the best one stands in glorious isolation.
Compounding all this was the curious use of Stephen Bennett – yep, I’m finally getting to the point. At half-time in the Under-21 game, my brother and I were casting our eyes over the panel when our collective short-sighted eyes squinted their way towards the name of Bennett on the bench. With Gleeson, Kevin Daly, and M’s Harney and Kearney all making the step-up from the All-Ireland winners, it was a surprise to see the star of the team on the bench. It’s always possible that he hadn’t impressed in training or was jaded after the long slog of a winter with Ballysaggart. But that wouldn’t explain why, when Waterford were seeking a Clark Kent to explode out of a phone box, it was Bennett to whom they turned. And as if the parallels in terms of strategies between the two adult panels were not enough, Bennett was also kept under wraps by Derek McGrath until the situation was at its most dire against Wexford. Both changes reeked of desperation, and it’s surely a bit unfair to heap so much pressure on those young shoulders. Successfully blending the new talent into the Senior panel is essential to our future, and in fairness the performances of Messrs Gleeson, de Búrca and Dunford suggest it’s not all doom and gloom on that score, but the first steps for Stephen Bennett have not been the stuff of inspiration.
The message from the last couple of years are clear. We’re going gangbusters at Minor level and making a total hash of it at Under-21 and Senior level. That’s where we’re at. Where are we going, and how can we get to where we want to get? That’s for another day.
(originally posted on boards.ie)
This Waterford minor hurling team should be called the “Comeback Kids”, as in each of their games to date they have saved the day with a late scoring surge. However, if they have any ambitions of winning titles they will have to produce more consistent high intensity throughout their games.
In the first game against Clare they played second fiddle for 50 minutes and if Clare’s shooting hadn’t been so wayward they would have been out of sight before Waterford finally roused themselves. In the second game against Clare Waterford were played off the pitch by 14 men for 20 minutes in the second half but the lead they had built up in the first half meant that Clare were within reach when the late surge came.
Yesterday in Cork they were seven points behind when the surge began, but it still took a goal in injury time to get the draw. If Limerick had converted even half of their nine second-half wides there would have been no way back. While the overall wide count was similar for both sides (Limerick 11; Waterford 10) a lot of Waterford’s six first-half wides resulted from balls being overhit with wind assistance and running harmlessly out over the end line – in other words they were not clearcut scoring chances like the ones Limerick missed.
Waterford have shown in patches in all three games that they can play excellent hurling. However, they have to gain possession first, and that has been their problem. At half-time yesterday I said to my companions that Waterford had the hurlers but not the required intensity. Limerick were sharper, more alert and quicker off the mark all over the field. They were also more physical both in tackling and taking tackles.
However, when the alarm bells started ringing with ten minutes to go, Waterford finally raised their game and took control all over the field. It may be that Waterford were simply fitter, but my own guess is that, due to their earlier lack of application, they had more left in the tank in the closing stages while Limerick’s earlier exertions left them unable to contain the Waterford surge.
The Waterford defence also seemed to be upset by the constant interchanging of the Limerick forwards and at times the players did not seem sure who was supposed to be marking whom. There was also a lot of confusion over puckouts, several of which went straight to unmarked Limerick players. Waterford players were making runs expecting balls which never came. There also seemed to be a concentration in the second half on hitting puckouts to Shane Bennett which wasn’t working out (just as there was an overconcentration on targetting Cormac Curran against Clare in Dungarvan which also did not work as it was too predictable).
Last year Limerick unexpectedly moved their freetaker Ronan Lynch from full forward to centre back for the replayed Munster final and it proved a master move as Lynch was the dominant figure in the Limerick victory. While Lynch also played at centre back in this year’s semi-final against Cork and was named in this position for the final, he actually played in midfield where again he had a major influence on the game, scoring three points from play.
I thought Waterford’s decision to start two physically small players with similar styles (Darragh Lyons and Andy Molumby) in midfield was the wrong mix – even though both players did a lot of good work – and Conor Gleeson seemed to have a substantial impact when he was switched to the midfield area.
However, the key switch was that which brought Cormac Curran to full forward midway through the second half. Curran actually started at full forward but was unable to gain possession from several high balls which were sent in to him, and he was then switched out to wing forward where he improved somewhat but was still not imposing himself on the game.
I have always felt that full forwards actually do better when playing against the wind as the incoming ball holds up giving the target recipient more of a chance to get in position to challenge for it (and even if the ball is missed it is not inclined to run over the end line). When Curran did move back to the edge of the square he did really well in gaining possession or otherwise causing panic in the opposing rearguard. He scored the goal which launched the comeback. Although he missed the high incoming ball, Patrick Curran was right behind him and did really well when he dived to get hold of the bouncing ball near the ground and then hand-pass back to the inrushing Cormac who finished to the net.
Patrick Curran got his injury in this incident when his marker fell on him, driving his knee into Curran’s back. First reports indicate that the injury is not severe, and hopefully he will be okay for the replay.
Cormac Curran then set up the equalising goal when he superbly flicked an incoming ball to Shane Ryan on his right, with the team captain finishing expertly to the net. Cormac had previously been unlucky when, after Shane Bennett’s 20 metre free was blocked out, he got a great flick on the loose ball only for someone on the line to somehow keep it out. Bennett, who played amazingly well given his recent hand injury, deserves great credit for the way he nailed a late free from out on the right sideline (after Patrick Curran got injured) to reduce the deficit to three points paving the way for Shane Ryan’s equalising goal.
While the overall team performance was rather uneven, I thought that Michael Cronin did well at left corner back and Colm Roche had a good second half at centre back. Andy Molumby, Peter Hogan and Aaron O’Sullivan all paid their way with two points apiece. For the replay I would be inclined to move Shane Bennett back to wing back where he was so effective last year. I think Eddie Meaney is due a start in the half forward line, perhaps with Conor Gleeson moving to midfield and Darragh Lyons to centre forward (with a roving role). Meaney could also come in at midfield, where he did well in a recent challenge against Dublin.
There is a lot of quality in this team and they definitely have what it takes to win the replay, but they need to hit the ground running and to stay running right to the end.
How good are Wexford? It’s a question that throws up a lot of variables after their thrilling 180-minute brawl with Clare. The amount of times they had to go to the well and still came out ahead of the All-Ireland champions tells us that this was no fluke. They are back-to-back Leinster Under-21 winners for a reason, and will take some beating next Saturday.
On other hand . . . what the hell was that?! When Waterford were trying to make the breakthrough back in the late 90’s, it often felt like we needed to be four or five points better than the opposition just to break even. Wexford’s performance against Clare was this mentality turned up to 11. In both matches they found themselves with twin advantages that you’d normally expect to be decisive, ten points and a man up in the first game in Ennis and two men up yesterday in Wexford, and on neither occasion could they make those advantages stick. Even the satisfaction of finally getting over the line having played 15 v 15 in extra time should be tempered by the reality that the Clare dirty baker’s dozen were really dirty, really knackered after a quite Herculean second half had seen them somehow cling on to Wexford’s coattails. Liam Dunne routinely displayed a curious contempt for Waterford in his newspaper column over the years, always seeing us a soft touch to anyone looking for a morale-boosting win. Having dispatched the All-Ireland champions Wexford will be favourites, but if Derek McGrath isn’t drumming into his panel that these guys are more brittle than a poppadom lacework, he’s not doing his job right.
Before then, we have the underage teams attempting to keep alive the dream of the last county who have a chance of winning an All-Ireland hurling treble, a statement that manages to be both totally factual and utterly meaningless at the same time. For the second year running the Minors enter the lions den of a match against a Limerick team who will be bolstered by the presence of a large contingent following their Seniors. It’s always hard to predict with Minors, the teams being so different from one year to the next, but that quasi-home advantage still applies and the sense of injustice that is surely still smouldering in Limerick over the Hawk-Eye debacle can also be transmitted from one set of young fellas to the next. While the day has not yet arrived where we can blasé about a Munster underage title – seven hurling cups in our entire history – the fact that defeat today wouldn’t be the end of the road does take the edge off proceedings. More interesting is the prospect of a tilt at the Under-21 title. Having given the eventual Munster and All-Ireland champions the biggest rattle they received last year, and with the chance to incorporate a smattering of last year’s Minors, is it too much to hope for that we might get it right after such a woeful record in recent times? Probably, but that won’t stop me hoping.
A final thought before the trouble begins. In order to clear the decks for televised coverage of the Clare-Tipperary semi-final, the Under-21’s of Waterford and Cork were initally due to play on Thursday. This meant the game was only two days before the Seniors were due to play Wexford. In a shocking outbreak of cop-on, the Under-21 match was brought forward 24 hours. You can imagine that, if they had been so inclined, Cork could have made it very difficult for this change to take place, a change that obviously benefited Waterford. Fair play to them for their sense of fair play. And that’s the last time you’ll ever read me saying that.
(originally posted on boards.ie)
I wonder what the results would show if a monitor was attached to the heart of an ardent hurling fan for a game like the Waterford/Clare minor semi-final on Wednesday night. The machine would probably blow every fuse and gasket it had long before the game was over. Is there any evidence that hurling fans have shorter life spans or greater vulnerability to heart failure than the rest of the population?
Think of the exhilaration of the first seven minutes as Waterford cut Clare to ribbons with some marvellously quick and accurate hurling to go 1-6 to 0-0 ahead, and it should have been 2-6 had the Clare goalie not got his body in the way of Patrick Curran’s shot from the edge of the square.
Then, all of a sudden, the scoring tap was switched off. To an extent it may have been due to Clare raising their game boosted by Aaron Shanagher’s two-goal burst in the 10th and 12th minutes. However, the fact is that Waterford continued to create scoring chances, but managed to hit nine wides during the remainder of the half, and some of them were really bad misses. Perhaps the concession of those goals served to undermine their self-belief.
The worst miss was when Peter Hogan (I think) soloed through the Clare defence and then managed to hit the ball wide of the post from the edge of the square. They were also unlucky when a Waterford forward (Aaron O’Sullivan, I think) at the edge of the square got his hurley to Cormac Curran’s super sideline cut but the ball was stopped on the line by a Clare defender.
At the same time, Waterford were lucky that Clare’s shooting was equally inept at the other end of the field. They missed five scorable frees, including two from the 20 meter line by the usually reliable Shanagher.
The Waterford mentors can take no credit in allowing (or instructing) corner back Eddie Hayden to follow his man who was brought out to midfield by Clare. This made it much easier for the tall, skillful and athletic Shanagher to both get possession and make ground when he had possession. You will never see Joe Canning one-on-one with his marker when playing at full forward against Kilkenny. In situations like this a team should move one of their own corner forwards out to midfield to pick up the free man if he is causing problems.
Having said that, Shanagher was very lucky with his first goal, as he was hooked from behind as he took his shot only for the rolling ball to slip under Billy Nolan’s hurley as he came out to collect. That wasn’t Nolan’s only mistake. Later in the half, after he blocked out a high ball into the square and went after it, he made the basic error of turning back infield with the ball only to lose possession which was compounded by one of the defenders doing the same thing. Clare worked the ball into the goalmouth only for MJ Sutton to make a desperate (and brilliant) clearance off the line. However, fair dues to Nolan for an excellent second half performance, capped by that unbelievable save from point-blank range at the death.
Waterford appeared to regain the initiative just before half time when Patrick Curran offloaded an excellent long pass out of defence with a superb sideways pass to the inrushing Shane Bennett who flew past the Clare last line of defence and blasted the ball to the net (although the Clare goalie might have done better as the shot went right through him).
The sending off of Clare’s Michael O’Malley five minutes after half time should have further strengthened Waterford’s hand. However, rather than buckling at this setback, Clare really got stuck in and completely dominated play for the next 15 minutes, moving from six points down to two points ahead.
A major problem for Waterford in this phase of the game was the persistence and predictability of aiming all puckouts to Cormac Curran on the left wing. Not only was Curran not at the top of his game, but Clare were able to crowd the landing area and repeatedly win possession. Waterford should have varied the puckouts more and in particular made more use of the extra man who should have been deployed in midfield, where Waterford were finding it impossible to get possession.
However, just as it appeared that Waterford’s goose was cooked, they managed to turn the tide. There were a number of factors involved in this. Switching centre back Colm Roche and centre forward Conor Gleeson proved to be a master stroke. Bringing on Eddie Meaney gave Waterford a lot more possession on the right side of the attack. As Meaney had a similar impact when brought on in the first game against Clare, one wonders what he needs to do to get a starting place.
As the game became more open in the closing stages, the advantage of the extra man became increasingly important for Waterford. And, given that Waterford won the first game with a similar late spurt, it might be that they were simply fitter than Clare.
This game will have brought Waterford on a ton. I would not rush to move Colm Roche out of the centre back position, as this was his first competitive game in several months. However, I do believe that Shane Bennett would be of most value to us at left half back. I also think we need a ball winning presence in midfield which could be provided by Cormac Curran or Eddie Meaney. We might also need a rethink in the full back line, as Limerick have three very nippy full forwards.
I was at the Limerick-Cork game on Thursday night, and Limerick certainly did not look world-beaters in a game in which there was a lot of poor play (again, the long lay-off for both teams may account for this). Cork lost two of their starting players to injury in the first half, missed a penalty, and had a late free saved. They panicked a bit when they went five points down early in the second half and, despite getting a lot of possession, they repeatedly ran at the Limerick defence looking for goals which, with one exception, never came. Had they taken their points, the game could have had a different result.
The Limerick full back line looked solid, Ronan Lynch is a strong presence at centre back, Colin Ryan did well at centre field (and at free-taking) and their captain Cian Lynch won a lot of aerial ball at left half forward. Their star turn was Tom Morrissey at full forward who scored five points from play. This is the guy whose goal, after taking 12 steps, brought Limerick back into the game in last year’s final. He is a very different proposition from Aaron Shanagher, not particularly tall but very skillful and fast and he likes to take his man on. That said, Limerick never forced the Cork goalie to make a save and seemed content to keep taking their points (they got 23 of them).
Two interesting features of this game were the very low number of wides (seven by my count compared with 22 on Wednesday) and the fact that all the officials were from Waterford. The referee was Paul Foley (who did a good job, I thought – which you couldn’t say about the referee in Dungarvan) with Michael O’Brien and Michael Wadding running the lines and Alan Kissane as 4th official).
Fourteen years ago, my siblings and I went to O’Moore Park to see Waterford take on Laois in the National League. We went in anticipation of a thumping win having won four-from-four up until that point, and Laois were in a pretty sorry state. I’m not sure if my suggestion in the match report I wrote at the time, that their Under-21 footballers were playing that day, was correct. My memory tells me they were playing a challenge match in preparation. But what I can say with some certainty is that we outnumbered their supporters by anywhere from five- to ten-to-one. As it happened, that day is as close as they have come to beating us in the last thirty years, a run of ten straight wins across League and Championship. Things were bad for Laois. And they were about to get worse.
Five years ago, the first of the next generation arrived in our family and he happened to be born in Laois. This gave me cause to consider their place in the GAA firmament again. Would my nephew have cause to support his father’s county, like we had done in our youth when Waterford were a complete mess and Cork, the land of our forefathers, were bossing it in both hurling and football? Things can change. After all, in the time it had taken us to reach adulthood we had gone from being stuffed by Cork at every opportunity – three defeats in the early-to-mid 1980’s averaging a 24-point loss a game – to a level where we have won as many games as we have lost against them since the turn of the millennium. But it didn’t seem likely in the case of Laois. Could they turn it around from a point where they had lost to Carlow in the first Championship season in which my nephew had been on this planet?
Looking back on those two memories now gives one a hollow feeling. The lack of hoopla in the county in the lead-up to the game on Sunday against Cork – I’ve only seen two cars flying flags, and that may have been the same car twice – testifies to the lack of confidence. The parallels with Laois all those years ago are stark. There were no more than 5,000 Waterford supporters at the Championship opener against Clare last year, so there’s not going to be any more than that this year. Cork fans will likely be cock-a-hoop after a year which saw them come within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland. How close were Cork? Had James Owens, who notoriously blew the final whistle right at the end of injury time in our match against Kilkenny last year, been in charge of the drawn game against Clare and done the same thing, Cork would be All-Ireland champions. That’s how close. As with the Laois fans on that day in O’Moore Park, we’re going to be outnumbered by a factor of several on Sunday. As with the Laois fans on that day in O’Moore Park, the underage team are likely to get a bigger following when the Minors take on Clare in the Munster semi-final than the Seniors will get this weekend.
I fear a battering, the like of which we haven’t seen against Cork in a generation – literally; the last time we took a proper beating from them at Senior level was in 1990. Are we on the cusp of a crossover, on the way down while Laois, Leinster Under-21 finalists two years ago and Leinster Minor finalists last year, are on the way up? Will I be living vicariously through the happiness of my nephews in the way I thought they would be doing through their father only a few years ago? I’m probably being overly pessimistic. In case you haven’t heard, we’re the All-Ireland Minor hurling champions. Still, everything changes. Might as well brace ourselves for the possibility.
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.
What is it with Waterford and handing out medals? In 2002 we had a load of to-ing and fro-ing as the County Board tried to engineer a grand beano for the handing out of the Munster championship medals. This didn’t sit too well with the players who were understandably a little reluctant to consider this an unalloyed triumph after losing to Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final. If memory serves me correct, they ended up posting out the medals.
Fast forward to 2013/14, and they seemed to get the carnival side of things right with lots of tales of a happy night for all in the Woodlands. But what’s this? A rumour began to ripple though the web that some of the players received shoddy medals valued at €4-5. This couldn’t be right, could it? It looks like it’s only partly right, with the County Board admitting that some of the additional medals that needed to be struck to ensure everyone involved got one over and above the 24 issued by Croke Park were incorrectly stamped/engraved but dismissing speculation about the prices of those extra medals as “totally inaccurate”.
What to make of it all? There’s always the chance that the County Board are not being entirely truthful about this affair. They have form in trying to deflect blame when a controversy erupts, even when they must have known that the truth would emerge. However, it seems reasonable to assume that if a member of the panel had received a medal that looked like something off the top of a bottle of WKD (not that they’d recognise that, no sirree) then we’d have had some reference to it on Facebook or Twitter. The fact that there has been no outpouring of teenage angst suggests that this was not the case and the explanation that a few medals were incorrectly engraved is the sum total of this story.
As scandals go, this is small beer. Mistakes are made when it comes to engraving all the time. The Stanley Cup is a notorious repository of the phenomenon:
In case you think I’m understating this, consider how much steam the story would have had if you stripped out the lurid suggestion that some players were effectively given fake medals and it had instead just been about a mistake in engraving. It’s not ideal, but it’s hardly a cause for outrage. I’ve seen it suggested that the County Board should have deputised someone to check the medals and ensure they were correct before they were handed out. Does that mean that lead time should be built into the process for every medal presentation to have errors corrected? You’re never going to eradicate human error, so fix the mistake and move on. How hard can that be?
Except that would be to miss the point of the fuss. There is a constituency out there who are convinced that everything the Waterford County Board does is inept. They were only too happy to believe a story that would cast the Board in the worst possible light, safe in the knowledge that even if they’re proven wrong it’s only dumb luck on the part of the Board – remember, they are ALWAYS inept – that they were not even more inept.
— DeclanD71 (@DecD71) January 12, 2014
Is it too much for people to take time to get the full story before making their minds up? If we proceed from the point that everything the officers of the Board do is going to be ridiculed even when it happens to be untrue, then what person, the type who might have the talent and drive necessary to take the county forward, is going to want to take on the the task, thankless at the best of times. We have enough problems in the county without having to make up problems in order to make a point.
For too long, Waterford has been the go-to place for how not to handle things in the GAA. So I almost cried with joy when Diarmuid Devereux, the chairman of the Wexford County Board, chose to go west when it came to finding reasons why he felt obliged to dispense with the services of the county Minor hurling manager, Eddie Walsh:
We put a plan in place similar to other counties, such as Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. If it works for those counties, why not for Wexford?
Are you sure, Diarmuid? Maybe he meant Kilkenny and was too bitter to admit it. But then I think of what our Minors accomplished this year, and how even that wasn’t good enough to keep Seán Power in his post when faced with the plan to promote managers in line with the players they have mentored since U-14/Tony Forristal level, and I think that he really does mean Waterford! Thanks for the compliment, but don’t go learning the lessons too well.
Oh, cruel world! With the All-Ireland finals being staged in the second and fourth Sundays of September this year, it means that, should the GAA revert to the more traditional and recent habit of playing them on the first and third Sunday, we will be only able to lay claim to the Irish Press Cup for fifty-one weeks. Life just ain’t fair.
So it’s important we make the most of it. Up the Déise posted an image from the semi-final win showing DJ Foran setting off towards goal with over 25% of the Kilkenny team in hot, futile pursuit:
A great image on its own merits, and credit where credit is due to the photographer. But it was this comment that really captured the moment:
And so say all of us.
I always fret that I make too big a deal about the success of the Minors, so it was reassuring on the day to see the lavish coverage served up by TV3 – what a step-up from the days when the game was an interruption of the analysis of the Senior game – and Seán Power’s post-match emphasis on how big a deal this was. A lot of planning and effort has gone into Waterford hurling since the nadir of Division 3 in the 1980’s, and it would be fair to say that a healthy club scene is a positive thing in itself. Still, the battle for hearts and minds is about more than just giving people the opportunity to play the game. We want everyone in Waterford to support Waterford. To put things into context, check out this house in Tramore:
Admittedly this wasn’t taken on the day of the Minor final, but on the 22nd of July when Clare steamrollered Galway in the Senior championship. And there’s nothing wrong with a family supporting their native county even when living ‘abroad’, right? No, there isn’t. Not intellectually, at least. But this family are not from Galway. Nor are their parents from Galway. One of their grandfathers is from Galway. Yet they support Galway at all levels, even unto playing against Waterford. When you consider all the Cork (ahem), Kilkenny and Tipperary-supporting families in our midst, it’s borderline miraculous that we have anyone supporting the county team. Winning All-Ireland titles, even at Minor level, can only help hold back the tide.
The match went off swimmingly, and the trophy came across the Suir for only the third time ever. As the MC on the night of the homecoming pointed out, imagine how many times it went through Ferrybank on its way to Slieverue and Glenmore, pausing only to mock the Redmond/Rice bridges – named for men from Wexford and Kilkenny; we’re way too tolerant. But now it was on The Mall to huge roars from the delighted crowd. The heroes of the night strode from the bus with the grace of Apollo . . . bloody hell, they’re only boys! Whether it be watching them live in Walsh Park or on the telly in Croke Park, the lack of other points of reference means you look at them in much the same way you would an adult team. Looking at them now though, trouser arses around their knees and flinging themselves at the cameras with youthful abandon, it hit me that the team I had been following so eagerly all summer were, quite literally, young enough to be my children. I’m not saying it was a bad shock, just that I never gave any head space to the concept before that moment. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of opportunities to get used to the idea in the future.
Ah, the future. A poster on the GAA Discussion Board on Monday afternoon was of the belief that it was important to “keep their feet on the ground and Waterford may reap the benefits 5, 6 years down the line”, and looking at the bumfluff-clad faces later on I could see his point. However, if the team were getting any notions of grandeur they would have been swept away by the middle of the week as the reality of club hurling hit home:
Minor Hurling Results: Div 2. Sacred Heart 1-18 St Olivers 3-12; Naomh Brid 7-12 Brickeys 7-10. Cappoquin 2-16 Passage 0-18.
— Thomas Keane (@ThomasKeane1973) September 11, 2013
Minor Hurling Results: Div 3. Portlaw 10-10 Tramore 5-5.
— Thomas Keane (@ThomasKeane1973) September 11, 2013
Looks like every teenager in the county had been on the beer. Except the players themselves. I spoke to someone who had been at the Portlaw-Tramore game and he said that DJ Foran scored seven of Portlaw’s goals, and Barry Whelan scored three for Tramore and could have had three more. The kids will be all right. The cup will hopefully be in Tramore before too long and we should all get our photos taken in the forty-nine weeks it’ll be here before some young git climbs the Hogan Stand to take it away from us. Unless, of course, we win it again. Feet on the ground, feet on the ground . . .