Prior to this game I reckoned that even though the Clare/Cork first round game was a close and high-scoring affair, this did not mean that the teams were any good. While minor teams can blow hot and cold, Clare certainly looked a poor team last night, or at least were made to look poor by a Waterford team which played with a lot of confidence.
Waterford also had a lot of big men playing well in key positions. Clare, like Wexford, don’t seem to be producing any big players these days. They found it difficult to penetrate the strong Waterford half back line and, while it looked early on that their full forward (their one really big-sized player) might cause some problems, the threat never materialised.
After the sides swapped a couple of early points, Waterford established a hold on the game in the 10th minute when a long ball in from midfield broke behind the Clare defence and full forward Conor Gleeson was on to it in a flash, driving past his marker to finish strongly to the net.
With Cormac Curran winning ball after ball and Austin Gleeson lording it at centre back, Waterford were the dominant team but missed some good chances and, with the aid of the stiff breeze, Clare were just able to stay in touch, going in at half time 1-10 to 0-8 down.
Waterford got the perfect start to the second half when Adam Farrell flighted an excellent sideline across the face of the Clare goalmouth where corner forward Michael Kearney, standing on the end line, did really well to bat the ball down for Cormac Curran to drill first-time to the net.
Waterford followed up with two points but Clare then upped their game and began to win a lot of ball around midfield. They did tack on two points and if they had managed to get a goal at this stage who knows how the game would have developed.
Waterford introduced Stephen Bennett (looking somewhat overweight) in the 40th minute and three minutes later he blasted a penalty to the net after Patrick Curran was taken down going through. This put Waterford into a 3-13 to 0-10 lead.
Patrick Curran was unlucky not to raise a green flag himself when his shot after a great solo run was well saved by the Clare goalkeeper. Waterford added three more points and then produced the coup de grace in the 55th minute when Curran’s super pass allowed the inrushing Bennett to leave the defence in his wake and slip the ball expertly to the net.
The Waterford goalkeeper got little enough to do in general play, but his puckouts lacked length and were very unpredictable in terms of trajectory and where they landed. Given Waterford’s ability to win ball in the air around midfield, they really need reliable and predictable puckouts for maximum effectiveness.
The Waterford fullback Sam O’Neill (who also looks overweight) looked a bit vulnerable to low incoming ball early on but made a couple of great high catches late in the game as Clare resorted to route one in search of goals. In the right corner William Hahessy did fine but in the other corner Barry Whelan seemed to lack confidence and focus.
Austin Gleeson gave a powerful performance, especially in the second half while Tom Devine to his right, back in his favourite wing back position, was also excellent. On the other flank, Shane Bennett made some great runs out of defence in the second half, but he still allowed the man he was marking, Bobby Duggan, to notch 1-2 from play.
Playing at left half forward, Cormac Curran gave an exhibition of ball winning and good control (especially for such a big man). It beggars belief that he did not start in the game against Tipperary, especially given his performances for Dungarvan Colleges and Dungarvan CBS. His point in the first half, when he grabbed a Waterford puckout and drove the ball over the bar against the wind from midfield, was a highlight of the game.
On the other wing Adam Farrell had a very good first half, scoring three points, but seemed to fade out after the change of ends. In the inside line, Patrick Curran gave another sublime exhibition of skill, pace and score-taking, finish with five points from play, while in the other corner Michael Kearney also played superbly, with three points to his credit.
A further encouraging feature of this game was the impression made by the substitutes. Stephen Bennett bagged two goals, Christy Breathnach landed a great long-range point with his first touch, and Kevin Daly made an instant impact when brought in at corner back. DJ Foran (surprisingly a non-starter) won the ball repeatedly following his introduction, and better shooting would have given him a better return than the one point which he did manage.
Ten different players contributed to the Waterford score. Interestingly, Waterford got no points from frees, due simply to the fact that Clare committed no fouls within scoring distance (apart from the penalty concession). By contrast, Bobby Duggan converted five frees for Clare (and missed a couple more). The media made a thing of the fact that Duggan was the only scorer for Clare from the third minute on, but most of his scores came from frees which were mostly earned by other Clare players.
Okay, I did not see that coming.
We have an okay record against Clare at Minor level – after last night it’s Played 21 Won 9 Lost 12 – but on only two occasions in the past have we really gone medieval on their asses, a 23-point win in 1968 and a 28-point win in *cough* 1948.
That’s a slightly random observation, so how’s about this for a more telling, but still cheerful, statistic. The Minors have managed to win at least one game in each of the last five seasons. You could argue that plenty of teams in the past might have won games had they received a second chance having lost to Tipperary, but it demonstrates how competitive we’ve been in that time. Not once in the last five years have we had a fill-yer-boots win over Kerry, and second chances are only useful if you have the capacity to take advantage of them – between 2003 and 2007 we played at least two matches a year but only won two out of twelve, one of them a facile win over (natch) Kerry. When we got clobbered by Tipperary last year you couldn’t help but wonder whether this glorious era for Waterford underage hurling – and I don’t think that is too strong a term – was coming to an end. I know everything could come undone against Cork at the end of June, but for now let’s luxuriate in the thought that the answer is ‘no. Mmm, 1948 . . .
It was gratifying to see there was a modest spike in hits yesterday evening as people came looking for information on the postponement of the Waterford-Clare Minor match in Dungarvan. Or maybe they were looking for a cure for insomnia. Either way, I wasn’t at the game so can’t give any peculiar insight. I spoke to a work colleague this morning who goes to all the games and usually gets there in plenty of time for a good seat. As it happened, she was delayed by the stop-go system just before the junction for the Military Road which meant she arrived at the entrance to Fraher Field at 6.35pm as they were taking down those ratty signs with the price. It came as no surprise to hear that the evil weather in Tramore (see above) was replicated 25 miles down the coast so nobody was complaining that the match was called off. The only surprise was that took so long for the penny to drop, which meant some patrons – is the GAA the only sporting organisation to use this figure of speech for supporters? – had already paid to gain access and have now lost their money.
Should they have called the game off earlier to avoid this fiasco? Yes. Could they have done anything to repay these ‘patrons’? No, or at least not given the fact that none of the patrons would be able to produce a ticket. You could argue, as several contributors on the subject on boards.ie have done, that a receipt of some description should be given on entry to the ground. But this strikes me as being an unnecessary level of complication to the match-going process. People want to get in and get out for matches like the one last night, and if someone were to propose lengthening that process by even a handful of seconds in preparation for the rare event that is a match being postponed after the gates have opened, you can be sure people would vote on that proposal with words of the blue variety. This is galling for those who paid to gain admittance. Even if you get to the rescheduled game there’ll be a kernel of grievance that everyone else is getting in for free. But the fact that no-one in the Munster Council didn’t see anything worthy of concern about 100km per hour winds doesn’t mean the GAA must now introduce an extra layer of bureaucracy to the match-going experience.
As an aside, the rescheduled game will give us the results to an experiment I’ve being dying to stage. You always hear complaints about the price of every GAA match, and underage games at €10 a pop are no exception. I’ve said in the past that prices are too high because it is too great a burden on the regular matchgoer who is meant to at the at the heart of the Association (along with everyone else), but that no-one should expect a boost in attendances. I expect that there will be a bigger crowd at the rescheduled game, but not so large as to demonstrate that there is a hunger for hurling that would be sated if only it were much better value. And you can’t say there’s better value than free. Speaking of which, I’m going to commence charging for this blog. Cures for insomnia don’t come cheap.
Why is 7pm in mid-April considered a good time to stage hurling matches? I have a theory that is, as usual, constructed on an edifice of anecdote and supposition. The late and much-lamented Dougie Partridge of Tramore was notorious for the vagueness of his timing for evening training sessions. An inquiry as to when training would start would be met with the Delphic utterance, “after tea”. To Dougie, a product of a time when dinner took place just after the first Angelus of the day and tea just after the second one, this was all the answer that was required. You’d head off to training after the last slurp of tea went down your gullet and not one second before. And I can’t help thinking that mentality persists. Throw the ball in at 6.30pm? How could one be expected to linger on mopping up the yolk of your fried egg with the heel of the loaf if you had to charge out the door just after the passion and cross were brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord? Better to be playing in pitch darkness than have that horror visited on Gaeldom.
So it was that Waterford and Tipperary’s Minor hurlers pitched up in Walsh Park with one eye firmly on the sky. While I may lament such things that the GAA does wrong, there was much to be pleased about with the team sheets as the Waterford team featured an astonishing thirteen different clubs. We must be doing something right to not be picking from a handful of city teams as you might instinctively expect, and it was one of the stars of Dungarvan Colleges’ All-Ireland colleges triumph who opened the scoring with an early free. The remainder of the full-forward line took up the next play when DJ Foran played in Michael Kearney but he hesitated when there seemed to be an opening to bear down on goal and by the time the chance was lost he was in a worse position than he had been to begin with ans his effort drifted wide. A cheap foul at the other end allowed Josh Keane to level matters from a free. He was out of position so a quick puckout was a good idea but the ref whistled it back. Never mind though, the puckout was expertly fielded by Adam Farrell and slotted over to restore Waterford’s lead.
For all of my bleating about the light, or potential lack of it, in every other respect these were perfect conditions for hurling – dry, no wind and no sun in your eyes (ahem) – and the forwards were clearly going to make hay. Waterford nearly made a whole bale in one go when Colm Roche intercepted a clearance and sent the ball back into Foran who managed to wriggle his way into a goal position. Unfortunately his shot his the post when perhaps it should have gone nowhere near it, although that was nowhere near as unfortunate as Curran’s failure to react quickly enough to it, slashing ineffectually at the ricochet with the goal at his mercy. Still, he showed commendable calm in the face of that disappointment when Brian Hogan in the Tipp goal ran the ball out of the play and Curran scored from the 65. It was a reasonably satisfying outcome, but if anyone felt that way about the interception that led to it all, it soon evaporated as Austin Gleeson at centre-back gifted two points to Tipp with two intercepted gaffes of his own, the first allowing Colm O’Riordan to score and the second rammed over the bar with a vengeance by Seán Ryan. With Curran knocking over a free in between after his run had been ened rather abruptly, we have seen seven scores in the first seven minutes. Clearly it wasn’t going to be a war of attrition.
The ridiculous openness of the game continued, Keane stroking over a long range point after a chop on one of his teammates to level matters, Curran responding immediately with a lovely catch-and-strike, then O’Riordan providing an indentikit score at the other end from the puckout. Quick as you like Waterford were back on the attack and Kearney drew a free to allow Curran to put Waterford back in front Sport is usually better when there are more scores, but this was like a basketball game and (dare I say it) was a little bloodless as a result.
Then again, you could live without the excitement generated when a Waterford player gets caught out in the manner goalie Seán Clancy was when Keane managed to nick the ball off him as he advanced from his goal to clear. There seemed nothing between the Tipp forwards and the Waterford goal but the backs did just enough to put the Tipp forwards off, or someone screwed up mightily. Either way the ball was went wide, most likely from a boot, and we could all breath again. Waterford made good use of that let-off as Tom Devine pounced on a loose clearance – can you spot a pattern emerging here? – to open up a two point lead, then Mark O’Brien benefited from some tidy forward play down the right to give us a three-point lead. When Curran drew yet another foul to get yet another free for yet another point to leave us four points up, it was looking very good.
Alas, that was as good as it got for Waterford up until (literally) the last puck of the half. For all of the points we had scored we looked more open to breaks behind the full-back line and were relieved when Conor Lanigan was hustled out wide when a more direct route to goal was available. Brian Hogan’s puckout is clearly a weapon available in this regard and there was snow on a effort from the 45 that was cleared by Waterford but in trying to emerge from the back line Cian Leamy stumbled and touched the ground with the ball in his hand. We knew this because a Tipp know-it-all behind us said so. In fact, he said it at least five times to the assembled Déisigh whose vocal groans of exasperation demonstrated that they clearly didn’t know the rules of the game. Thank heavens he was on hand to educate us all. Keane slotted the ball over the bar, then did the same for a much longer effort after Kevin Daly had swung around the neck of O’Riordan in a foul so blatant that even us townie ignoramii didn’t need to be told.
It might look at this stage like Josh Keane was just taking frees, but he was popping up everywhere in much the manner Seamus Callinan did a few weeks back. The Waterford full-back line were living on their wits and Keane almost got in around the back again only to hesitate - can you spot a pattern emerging here? – and be crowded out. Moments later he was the ball again under the stand, tied his marker in knots, and was unlukcy to see his effort drift wide. He then put Ryan in the clear where he was fouled and Keane knocked it over. More carelessness in the Waterford back line followed and there was a sniff of a goal in the chance before Shane Hennessy drilled it over to level matters.
And it was about to get a whole lot worse. A wild pull by Shane Bennett on a ball that was dropping nowhere near him typified how rattled Waterford seemed to be, and what seemed inevitable – Keane getting behind the full-back – happened as inevitable things do, Tipperary sweeping up the field after some loose play by Curran. Leamy did what he had to do, dragging Keane down as far out as he could. It looked to me to be outside the area, but the ref indicated a penalty and you couldn’t complain given the blatant nature of the foul. He duly dispatched the penalty to the net with the minimum fuss and almost immediately followed it up with a magnificent effort from way out right to stretch the lead to four. We were listing alarmingly, so it was just as well that there was time for one more attack. Austin Gleeson drove a long ball into the corner which was expertly gathered by Foran. He popped the ball to Kearney who eschewed previous hesitancy by driving a superb shot over the crowd of players between him and the goal into the top of the far corner of the net. It was a cracking score, just the tonic for Waterford right on the stroke of half-time.
I noted earlier how bloodless it had been, something I put down to the Munster championship setup which effectively sees the loser barely worse off than the winner, so it was surprising to see multiple digs being put in as they went off. It’ll be a poor day when matches between Tipperary and, well, anyone don’t matter. So it was great to see the Waterford County board introducing the low farce into the occasion that makes us cringe about the GAA but is what we love all the same. On came a deputation from Kilcohan Park with what the gentleman with the microphone referred to as “a fine baysht”. Echoes of the late Mick Lally’s gloriously batty turn in Oliver Stone’s Alexander where he referred to “a baysht fit for Philip of Macedon!” No disrespect to greyhounds, but this ‘baysht’ was no Bucephalas. Still, the dog night is in a good cause (the training fund). And it’s certainly a lot more worthwhile than Alexander.
A soft free for a foul on O’Riordan allowed Keane to pick up where he had left off in the first half, while Waterford seemed not to have shaken off the funk that had enveloped them like the dusky gloom over Walsh Park. A player I couldn’t identify was fortunate to get away with a tackle around the neck on Tipp midfield Willie Connors and while Keane showed feet of clay when dropping the ball short Waterford were fortunate again to get a free out when Kevin Daly could just as easily have been done for steps as he emerged with the ball. Given the conditions, the game was not that hard to referee which made the odd decisions Jer O’Connell made look even odder. On two occasions he had to throw the ball in and proceeded to fling the ball past everyone near him like he was road bowling. Maybe we’ll see him in Fenor in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile the cracks in the back line were being barely patched up by Waterford, with Conor Lanigan getting the freedom of the park to open his account. We were still carrying some sting at the other end though, Foran winning the puckout and teeing up Farrell who got a garroting of his own and allowing Curran to get one back. Lanigan had a chance to strike back but it was almost as if he had too much time and his shot drifted languidly into Clancy’s lap. His clever quick pass to his corner-back set Waterford right back on the offensive which ended with substitute Conor Gleeson scoring on the run and when Hogan directed one of his monster puckouts out for a sideline, you began to hope that the spell that had seen Waterford go from four points to four points down was behind us. When the ref inexplicably ignored a Waterford player scything the legs from under a Tipperary player who was about to catch the dropping ball, you began to feel this might be our say, a feeling reinforced when Waterford nimbly cleared a ball out of defence with some close passing and a ‘foul’ on Farrell gave Waterford a free that gave the Tipp fans collective heart attacks and Curran the chance to level matters.
Ah, don’t ever get yer hopes up, because then you have further to fall. Another poor effort by Lanigan seemed to be bouncing harmelessly wide, or at least that seemed to be what Clancy thought i nthew Waterford goal. But instead it stayed in and William Hahessey had to go and collect it. It’s hard to tell whether he fell over or was pushed by Josh Keane. The ref clearly thought the former and that’s how it looked to me. Either way, Keane was suddenly in acres of room and made no mistake with the goal from point blank range. Even the Tipperary supporters seemed too shocked to celebrate, so abrupt was this turn of events.
Not that Tipp rested on their laurels, with Connors scoring a point of almost impudent ease from the puckout. Curran managed to pull one back from a free after, as is his wont, drawing the foul but Tipp wer eclearly on the front foot. When Seán Ryan had a shot charged down Willie Connors steamed straight onto it and smacked it over the bar. Austin Gleeson was lucky to get away with some extremely loose play when Lanigan picked the ball off the ground when it seemed easier to use his hurley.
It was probably fortunate for Waterford at this stage that the game settled into a messy period when the ref could have whistled up for fouls on numerous occasions but instead opted to ‘let the game flow’. It’s a man’s game, doncha know. This had the effect taking a little of the wind out of Tipp’s sails and when he did decide to whistle up it was for a foul on Mícheal Harney from which Curran did the needful to keep the gap at a manageable three. Another Keane free soon took the gap back to four but we were still in this and when a long-range free dropped into the mixer there was a moment when Tipp were finding to so hard to clear that you thought it had to end up with a goal. More and more players were sucked into the maelstrom and there was the bizarre sight of the best part of 20 players hacking away in the Tipp square before they finally cleared the ball and, in a game of few goal-scoring chances, Waterford’s hopes went with it.
Jer O’Connell then got walloped by a passing sliothar leading to treatment, some cruel chuckles in the stand, and a throw-in which this time he got right. From the resultant play Waterford got a free and Curran once again took the point. It was a fantastic display of deadball play, and given the woes we’ve experienced over years with freetakers is very encouraging for the future. In the here and now it brought the gap back to three but there was never a feeling that we were going to get on top of them and so it proved. The Tipp know-it-all said from that they “need one more to win” so it was a great surprise that when Keane scored that “one more” he didn’t get up and head for the exit. Chance would have been a fine thing. Still, it felt like an insurance score and with news coming through Cork’s win over Clare thoughts began to turn to lowering the Banner next week. Tipperary were now cocky enough for Keane to knock a free short to Lanigan to score and he rounded off the day with a score on the run when he might have taken it on for goal had he been so inclined. In between those scores Waterford had a free from Stephen Bennett saved, and it’s a bit chasteningto think we were relying on some miracle effort from him when he’s not meant to be fully fit. Our very own Lionel Messi, eh?
If the game had ended at half-time due to bad light, this would have been a vintage Waterford performance. In the cold light of day (ho ho) though, we need to question why Waterford barely turned up in the second half. They relied almost entirely on Patrick Curran for scores, which isn’t a bad tactic in itself but you’re going to need more variety from the forwards if you’re going to win matches. In a ma game of many mistakes and much cavalier play, it’s to be hoped that Waterford will learn a lot from this. They’ve only got six days though, and Clare’s underage record is more formidable than ours in recent times. They’d better learn fast, before the lights get turned out on the Minors for another year.
Waterford: Seán Clancy, William Hahessey, Sam O’Neill, Cian Leamy, Kevin Daly (capt; Cormac Curran), Austin Gleeson, Mícheal Harney, Mark O’Brien (0-1; Conor Gleeson, 0-1), Tom Devine (0-1), Shane Bennett, Colm Roche, Adam Farrell (0-1; Stephen Bennett), Patrick Curran (0-11, 0-9f, 0-1 65), DJ Foran, Michael Kearney (1-0)
Tipperary: Brian Hogan, Austin Tierney, Jason Ryan, Darragh Peters, Barry Heffernan, Ronan Maher, Tom Kirwan, Tom Fox (capt), Willie Connors (0-2), Seán Ryan (0-1; Fionan O’Sullivan), Colm O’Riordan (0-2), Shane Hennessy (0-2), Conor Lanigan (0-3), Josh Keane (2-8, 1-6f), Mark McCarthy (James Mackey)
HT: Waterford 1-9 (12) Tipperary 1-10 (13)
Referee: Jer O’Connell (Cork)
When Ireland won golf’s Dunhill Cup in 1988, their success came only after their semi-final against England had to be suspended on the Saturday after Nick Faldo objected to poor visibility. With the Jocks never being slow to put the boot into the Sassenachs when the opportunity arose, Faldo came back the next day to his ball to find students displaying a banner saying “CAN YOU SEE THIS, FALDO?”
This incident came to mind yesterday evening when Brian Flannery tweeted about the inky murk enveloping Waterford city 24 hours before the Minor match against Tipperary:
As is the nature of Twitter there’s a lot of going back and forth with more heat generated than light (pun unintended), but the Munster Council were not taking this lying down, firing back:
They clearly were not concerned, and they could probably also point to us playing Clare in the 2010 Munster quarter-final on April 28th in Walsh Park. I don’t recall any issues with the light that evening. And as it happens, at the time of writing (about an hour before the throw-in) the sun is shining brightly over Waterford so it might all be a moot point.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Brian Flannery has it right here. You can see the difference between the light levels at the start of the game and the end of the game in 2010 below. There’s nearly a three week difference between the 11th and 29th of April, amounting about 15 minutes of daylight of difference each week. Add in extra-time, and it conceivably makes the image below on the right an hour earlier than where we will be at the end tonight. Perhaps I won’t be writing tomorrow about a stirring game of Minor hurling, but about yet another tedious example of officialdom not thinking things through, akin to those who chose Nick Faldo to be Ryder Cup captain.
Oof. I didn’t see that result for the Minors last night coming, although it wasn’t even among the top ten of worst results at this level:
We’ve had a very good run at Minor level in recent years (which is why I didn’t see it coming) winning only our fourth ever Munster title, qualifying for three successive finals and, go bhfoire Dia orainn, beating Kilkenny:
I hope highlighting all this doesn’t come across as criticism of the players last night. To play for your county is a marvellous thing, and presumably a few players from the teams that got hockeyed in the 1956, 1957 and 1958 Munster finals would go on to represent the Senior team with distinction in the years that followed. And there’s always the Under-21′s. Onwards to the 19th July in Cusack Park.
Well ain’t that just typical. For the last three years I’ve had a job where I worked into the evening or night on two weeks out of three which made it unlikely I could make it to midweek matches in the Sports Field. Now that I work in a civilised 9-to-5, Monday-Friday kind of place, not one of Waterford’s Minor or Under-21 matches in either code was scheduled for Walsh Park. They’ll have to win it without my titanic presence in the stands.
Did I say ‘titanic’? I meant ‘geeky’. Easy mistake to make. The record above isn’t that bad when you take into account the four defeats in a row from 1976 to 1991, a period when we routinely sent teams armed with knives to a gunfight. Then lo! hurling started again in 1992 and the record since has been a respectable 6-4 to them, although they’ve beaten us in the last two Munster finals and spanked us on each occasion. They’ve had a great run at underage level in recent years. Can we drag ourselves to their level? We’re about to find out.
Update: pah, I needn’t have worried. We have a 100% record at Cusack Park. Two wins from two, and the previous win was in 2009 when we won the Munster title. The ‘reward’ for victory is to play Tipperary in Thurles, but Clare will have to beat (probably) Cork and (definitely) Limerick if they are to have another crack at us in the Munster final so it’s not easy for anyone. Final word on last night to the ever-perceptive Tomás McCarthy:
I try not to be critical of players, management or the officials of the Waterford County Board. Not just in a don’t-mind-as-long-as-it’s-constructive way, but try to never criticise them at all. There was a remarkable image in Monday’s Indo of Davy Fitz umpiring at the All-Ireland camogie semi-final between Wexford and Cork in Nowlan Park. You’d think given all the brickbats that have been thrown in his direction over the years, not least in recent weeks, that the last thing he’d want to do in his me-time was gorge on more hurling. Yet there he was, mucking in for the greater good. It’s humbling for a keyboard warrior like myself to see that kind of commitment, and everyone I see or write about displays a degree of devotion far in excess of what I provide to the association. If I see something being done wrong, it’s incumbent on me to get off my arse and do something about it. And spare me the idea that the dinosaurs in charge are preventing fresh blood from having their ideas implemented. My father once mentioned to a committee member of 52 years standing in Tramore GAA that our family were only ‘blow-ins’, a comment that brought a startlingly furious reaction. “I hate that phrase!”, he thundered. “It only puts people off coming down and helping out”. Not that such a statement encouraged me to chip in. It sounded too much like hard work.
So believe me when I say that what comes next is not uttered lightly or with any sense of malice. But the evidence of the last couple of weeks suggests that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong in Waterford hurling. The woes at Senior level are well-documented, but it was the performance of the Minors that was a real wake-up bomb. Aertel may have thought it was a ‘classic’ and a 60 minute match that has a combined score of 11-32 is certainly memorable. Let’s be blunt though. You can admire the courage of the Waterford team in putting respectability on the scoreline yet not pretend that the ultimate margin of defeat was anything other than flattering to Waterford. Just as in the Munster final we were utterly horsed out of it by a physically superior team. A good big ‘un beats a good little ‘un, and we have a lot of good little ‘uns.
When I started going back to hurling matches in 1997, one player who stood out in club matches was Ballygunner’s Tony Carroll. He looked so slick at such a tender age, effortlessly pirouetting past opponents and slotting the ball over from the silliest of angles. In my youthful ignorance – gosh, I must still be young – I eagerly anticipated his promotion to the county team. When that moment arrived, it was immediately obvious he wasn’t able for the step-up to the majors. A handful of appearances in the South-East League and a brief cameo against Cork in the NHL when the match was already lost seems to have been the sum total of his Waterford inter-county career at Senior level. Imagine a nine-stone weakling taking on the likes of Brian Corcoran or Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Bears and rag dolls spring to mind.
And looking at Waterford on Sunday, we seem to be adept at producing rag dolls. What are we doing wrong? Much has been made of how much has been invested in underage hurling in Dublin. We had our own master plan in Waterford back in the day when Colm Bonnar was brought in to whip young Déisigh into shape. Boy, was it needed. I recall the delight when he came to our school. To be in the presence of a person who had won a Munster championship medal was inspirational – this was 1988, he hadn’t even won an All-Ireland yet he seemed like a colossus. On a more fundamental level, there was no coherent plan for bringing through talent. How do you expect to get decent hurlers when a right-handed young fella can play all his life with the left hand on top of the hurley? Where was the coaching to pick up on such a grotesque flaw? While living in Galway, a work colleague who was sufficiently good to have played Fitzgibbon Cup hurling and have been on the fringes of the Galway Minors was aghast. “That’s impossible!”, he said when I noted my handicap. It’s certainly impossible to be any good, that’s for sure.
Oh yes, the person with the gammy grip was me. Did you not guess?
Bonnar brought a fresh impetus to coaching in the county, and while it would probably be a leap to suggest the burst of underage success that characterised the early 1990′s was down to him – too soon – Waterford hurling was on a consistent upward trajectory from the nadir of the 1980′s. Hurling has burrowed its way into the collective psyche to a remarkable degree. When RTÉ’s Monday Night Soccer programme came to town to do a feature on the Blues’s run in the 2009 FAI Cup, they conducted a vox pop on what sport you associate with Waterford and the response was unequivocal: hurling, hurling and hurling. To be able to say that in a traditional bastion of the garrison game is something of which Waterford GAA can be immensely proud.
Yet watching us over the last couple of weeks, it seems clear we’ve plateaued. It’s not just Dublin. Clare have flattened us in successive Munster Minor finals and now we have Limerick roaring back from the brink. 100,000 people watched them win the Munster Under-21 title on TG4, an absolutely stupefying figure for a minority contest in a minority sport on a minority channel. God knows how many hurleys were picked up on Shannonside in the aftermath of that game. You could argue that underage success doesn’t necessarily translate into Senior level, and no-one could testify to the truth of that better than Limerick whose three All-Ireland successes in the early 00′s did not translate into a single bauble for the grown-ups. Still, it can’t hurt, and it might be said that while it is not a sufficient condition for Senior success it is a necessary one. And a necessary one that we’re struggling to accomplish.
With that in mind, the continued competitiveness of the Waterford Seniors for the last decade is nothing short of miraculous. The Waterford panel is stuffed with players who are routinely found wanting by the demands of summer hurling, yet they linger on like zombies because there’s no-one to replace them. An Moltóir does a fine job on his website analysing why Waterford came up short, but there’s no sense of what could be done differently apart from ‘don’t do stupid things’. Watching the Minors against Limerick, it seems the skill is there. But what separates the merely good from the great is the ability to make the right decision in the handful of picoseconds you have before the opposition get in your face. Nothing buys you a few more picoseconds better than having the physical chops to resist the first assault. And when you look at the lightweight nature of even successfully introduced players like Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, you fear that the robustness isn’t there.
What is to be done? I have no idea. Surely we can’t have genetically inferior stock in Waterford (although I’ve seen online Kilkenny know-it-alls make claims along those lines, sturdy Norman yeomanry and all that). Are we the only county not juicing it? The aforementioned Galway lad told me how a college room-mate from <county censored> had a regular regimen of, uh, vitamin pills. It’s not likely, but something has to account for the disparity between our scrawny pool of hurling talent and the seeming leviathans around us. If we don’t find out what we’re doing wrong we’ll be needing anti-depressants.
Alas, work commitments mean I won’t be able to see the Minors take on Dublin tomorrow in Croke Park. Were I not working, I would have thought nothing of spending half of my precious weekend traipsing up to Dublin and paying €40 to see a team of kids. No, it’s the work thing all the way. No doubt about it.
There seem to be two schools of thought as to why the GAA chose to schedule the Minor match with the Dublin Senior semi-final rather than that of Waterford: utter contempt for the Déise or utter devotion to the Jackeens. The first one is easy to dismiss. Come on, why would the GAA authorities hate Waterford? There may be a few embittered Kilkenny folk who would happily lose both their legs if they thought it would deny someone from Waterford a wheelchair, and with two of the last ten Uachtaráin hailing from Kilkenny they seem to have a disproportionate status in the Cumann. My father always cackles with delights at the heartbreak constantly endured by Paddy Buggy who once bewailed how, as a resident of Newrath, he went to bed one night in Kilkenny and woke up in the morning in Waterford. But the rest of Gaeldom yearns for a Waterford All-Ireland triumph as reward for all the entertainment over the last decade or so, even if only at Minor level.
The other idea, that the GAA loves the Dubs, has more merit. Colm Keys, writing during the week about the €6 million that has been spent on development of the sport in Dublin, referenced the idea that Dublin is ‘different’ to everywhere else:
Yet the perception away from the capital is that Dublin hurling is the GAA’s ‘pet project’ and that anything that can be done to make it succeed will be done. The money issue rankles in places like Wexford, a county which has felt the heat of much stronger Dublin teams across all levels in recent years.
Their argument is that if the same resources were put into Wexford hurling that have been put into Dublin over the last number of years, the same results might accrue.
But that ignores the wider argument that every GAA member must embrace. If the GAA loses the battle in Dublin, where almost 30pc of the country’s children are now born, then it could eventually lose the war.
It seems plausible then that Dublin are indeed treated as a special case, and the scheduling of their Seniors and Minors adds to this idea. Considering the difficulties they had finding their way to Thurles for the football quarter-final a few years back, we don’t want to make it too hard for the little darlings, eh?
Despite all that, I’m inclined to believe there’s a third factor at work which tipped the GAA’s hand. Everyone commenting on the outrage has taken it as self-evident that making Waterford travel twice trumps all other considerations. Yet there are other considerations. Dublin fans will be expected to pony up for not only the football semi-final in a couple of weeks – don’t sneer, if Waterford were there we’d be bringing it up too – but for the Under-21′s as well. How many seperate matches are we expecting the hardcore Dub to pay for? Then there’s the fact that of the four teams playing from Waterford/Dublin/Senior/Minor, only one are the provincial champions. Making the schedule suit them makes sense, as to do otherwise would be to effectively punish them for winning their province.
I wouldn’t totally dismiss the possibility that there’s a committee of moustache-twirling fiends in HQ laughing maniacally at the misfortune they are visiting on the denizens of the Gentle County. Actually, I would. The GAA found themselves with a scenario where someone had to disappointed and in this case we were the unlucky ones. Their reasoning was sound though and it would be better for our long-term sanity if we did something we’ve done quite well in recent times – building a bridge and getting over it.
Waterford minor hurlers qualified for an All-Ireland semi-final tilt against Dublin following their win over Kilkenny in Walsh Park on Saturday evening. This was a gritty and committed display by the Déise, who showed from the throw-in that they were determined to put their below-par performance in the Munster Final behind them. Their first touch was much better, they got stuck in all over the field and fought tigerishly for every ball. They were, if anything, too anxious in their approach leading to some poor decision-making and hurried and poorly-directed striking, but they were certainly the better team and fully deserved their hard-fought victory..
Waterford showed a lot of changes from the Munster final lineout, some of them enforced due to injuries. Shane Forristal came in for the injured Paddy Cooke in goal and Jamie Barron came out from the right corner (where he was replaced by Ian Kenny) to right half back, with Jim Power coming in at left half back. Shane McNulty moved to midfield with Gavin O’Brien moving to wing forward while Peter O’Keefe, Donie Breathnach and Cathal Curran all came in, at centre forward, right corner forward and left corner forward, respectively.
This victory was based mainly on excellent defending which saw only one of the starting Kilkenny forwards scoring from play. The reconstructed half back line presented a major bulwark to the Kilkenny attack, with the gifted Jamie Barron having a whale of a game (especially in the first half) with strong support from centre back Darren Foley and Jim Power who was particularly good in the second half.
With the midfield partnership of Shane McNulty and Ray Barry also performing admirably, this took a lot of the pressure off the full back line which nevertheless coped very capably whenever the ball did come through to them. Behind them, goalie Forristal proved a very able replacement for Cooke, with his lengthy puckouts and clearances giving an extra boost to the Waterford effort.
On an otherwise perfect evening for hurling, there was a significant breeze blowing towards the city end, and with this at their backs, Waterford dominated the early exchanges. However, a series of poor wides (they had seven in all in the first half) meant that they only led by a single point (0-2 to 0-1) after ten minutes, both points coming from the impressive Breathnach. On several occasions, their forwards got possession in situations where they could have run at the Kilkenny defence to either draw frees or create goal chances, but instead opted to shoot hurriedly with little result.
Waterford finally found the range to go four points in front (a free by Jake Dillon and points from play by Cathal Curran and Ray Barry). Kilkenny then fought back to leave the minimum between the sides (0-5 to 0-4) after 20 minutes but they failed to score again before the interval, with a dominant Déise adding further points from Dillon (two frees), Breathnach and O’Brien to lead at halfway 0-9 to 0-4.
Kilkenny gained control of the game on the resumption, and for a while appeared to win every ball in the middle third of the field. However, they made very poor use of their possession, repeatedly running fruitlessly at the unyielding Waterford defence. Nevertheless, by the 10th minute they had reduced the deficit to a single goal (0-10 to 0-7), the Waterford point coming from O’Brien. However, rather foolishly, the Cats at this stage went for a goal from a 20 metre free which was stopped and cleared, and this gave Waterford a great fillip as they dominated the next ten minutes, adding four more points without reply (two Dillon frees and great points from Breathnach and Barry).
Kilkenny continued to look for goals when points were there for the taking, and continued to get little change from the Waterford backs, adding just two points while O’Brien notched his third at the other end. Waterford fought tigerishly to defend their lead in the dying minutes, with three consecutive attempts by the Kilkenny full back line to clear their lines being blocked down at one stage. The Cats did come desperately close to finally breaching the Waterford citadel when a shot from the right hit either the butt of the upright or the goalie’s foot to shoot across the goal to safety. A goal at that stage would have made for a fraught final minute but Waterford eventually gained a well-deserved victory, 0-15 to 0-9.
Waterford only played Kilkenny once before in the minor hurling championship, when they beat them in the 1948 All-Ireland final, as curtain-raiser to the seniors’ first ever title when they beat Dublin. Since then, the county’s minors and seniors did not make as much progress together as they have this year, so perhaps this is a good omen for our prospects from here on. Unfortunately, the GAA in its wisdom has decreed that the two teams should play their semi-finals on different Sundays. One possible advantage of this is that it gives the injured Waterford minor players an extra week to get fit for the clash against Dublin, especially Adam O’Sullivan (the two-goal hero against Clare) and Cormac Heffernan, who showed when introduced as a substitute against Limerick how powerful his presence can be.
Waterford: Shane Forristal (Mount Sion); Ian Kenny (Ballygunner); Damien Ahearne (Ferrybank); Colin Walsh (St. Saviours); Jamie Barron (Fourmilewater); Darren Foley (Clashmore); Jim Power (Butlerstown); Shane McNulty (De La Salle); Ray Barry (Lismore) 0-2; Gavin O’Brien (Roanmore) 0-3); Peter O’Keeffe (Lismore); Jake Dillon (De La Salle) 0-5, all frees; Donal Breathnach (An Rinn) 0-4; Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart); Cathal Curran (Dungarvan) 0-1.
Substitutes: Mícheál Harney (St. Mary’s) 55 mins; Cein Chester (Roanmore) 57 mins; Colin Dunford (St. Patrick’s) 60 minutes.
Kilkenny: Aaron Duggan (Dicksboro); Ciarán Doyle (Barrow Rangers); Jack McDowell (John Lockes); Eoin Moriarty (Emeralds); Jack McGrath (James Stephens); Eoin McGrath (John Lockes) 0-1; Diarmuid Cody (James Stephens); Chris Bolger (Clara) 0-1; David Kearns (Mooncoin); Richie Reid (Ballyhale); Kevin Kelly (St. Patricks) 0-4, all frees; James Maher (Lachtain’s); Thomas O’Hanrahan (Thomastown); Conor Martin (Emeralds); Peter Vickery (Conahy) 0-2.
Substitutes: John Hayes (Kilmacow) 0-1; Peter Kenneally (Dunamaggin); Mark Mansfield (Mullinavat); E Bergin.