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 intellecutually, 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 . . .
All-Ireland Minor hurling champions. How sweet it is. It’s a strange phenomenon, the way we can get so het up over what my mother-in-law described, innocently but perfectly accurately, as ‘the kids’. We’ve won an All-Ireland in my lifetime, gloriously so. And it’s probably fair to say that the All-Ireland for Under 18′s would not have the same resonance were it not coupled with the Senior final. However, there it is, and it’s telling about its stature that TV3 were quite happy to give it such lavish treatment. In short, it matters. And for 2013, it’s ours.
I was sceptical about our chances, feeling that the old hands like Mattie Murphy who have guided Galway to a further seven Minor titles since they beat us in 1992, would come up with a strategy to cope with what seemed like our lack of strategy based on the games I had seen.
Thinking of the final in 1992, it brings back memories of the summer drivetime show on RTÉ which was in the hands of a chap called Jerry (I don’t think it was Gerry) Foley. He was proudly Waterfordian and bigged up the city and county whenever he could, which was nice. On the Friday before the game, he asked the sports presenter who he would rather see win. ‘Galway’ was the answer, because wouldn’t it be great to see them win since it was a whole nine years since they had won the Minor All-Ireland. It was probably a generational thing, to see Waterford as the traditional power and Galway, who hadn’t won a Senior All-Ireland in all of four years, as the innocents abroad. Either way, Jerry got right huffy, justifiably so, pointing out that Waterford hadn’t won the Minor title since 1948. Jerry, wherever you are, you can be sure the sports presenter in question, wherever he might be, would have been cheering for the Déise this time around.
*****END TANGENT ALERT*****
Dermot Keyes was having none of this defeatism:
@deiseach I’ve seen the lads five times this year. They’ve won games in different ways. Lots of talent. I’m hopeful but it will be tight.
— Dermot Keyes (@DermotKeyes) September 7, 2013
A fair point, and we both agreed that Waterford had plenty of match winners. If they brought their A game, Waterford would win. My concern was that there wasn’t a coherent strategy to get the best of those match winners. Which team would turn up? The one that bulldozed Clare, or the one that flattered to deceive against Tipperary? The one that went toe-to-toe with Cork for 80 minutes in their own back yard and came away with a genuinely famous win, or the one that let slip an eight-point lead in the Munster final?
I needn’t have worried. Two years ago I expressed angst about the powder-puff nature of our underage teams. It was clear against Kilkenny that there was nothing fragile about this Waterford team as they repeatedly burst onto to loose balls and drove the play up the field. On two occasions during yesterday’s game TV3 showed a statistic about the amount of puckouts won. On both occasions they showed Galway were ahead. On both occasions I thought ‘so what?’ The team had picked up where they left off against Kilkenny, brushing off Galway markers with ease and powering forward. But for some tremendous goalkeeping by Cathal Tuohy we could have had two goals from such teak-tough play which might have broken Galway there and then in the first half. As it was it took a spectacular point from DJ Foran with the last puck of the half to give us the three-point lead we deserved. Having cut out the alarming propensity for giving away frees in the Kilkenny game, it was looking very good indeed.
I’m the world’s biggest worrier, especially when watching games on the telly. I’m always convinced the viewer is being deceived, that something is happening stage left that is about to ruin your day – the decisive moment in the game would typify this idea, although in this case it wasn’t our day that was about to be ruined. So when someone like me was watching and not having a complete nervous breakdown, it was a sign that Waterford were on top. Even when Galway put together four unanswered points to draw matters level, I didn’t feel . . . okay, I was very nervous, a couple of tough free chances being missed not helping. But no decent team, and Galway Minor teams are always decent, is going to be completely bereft of periods of dominance. A lot of energy would have been expelled in that period and it was so obvious enough that even I could see Waterford still had the winning of this. We were soon back in the groove, stretching the lead back to four points and keeping Galway on the back foot.
Then came the moment. It happened off-screen as the director showed the replay of a Waterford point, although kudos must be given to Mike Finnerty for keeping up with the action on the field rather than concentrating on his monitors, so we missed Patrick Curran brilliantly dispossessing the Galway back from a short puckout. We didn’t miss him bearing down on goal and finally ramming one past Tuohy. Jesus. It was about to happen. Waterford were going to win the Minor All-Ireland. Sure, you couldn’t help but recall the implosion in the Munster final, but there was less time for Galway to come back, momentum was now decisively with us, and there weren’t 20,000 Tribesmen in the stands giving them a gee-up. It would have been the comeback to beat all comebacks for Galway to save this and the team gratifyingly kept the boot down on maroon necks to ensure that there was a not-particularly flattering eight-point margin of victory when Cathal McAllister blew the final whistle.
All-Ireland winners in Croke Park. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t see the day, which is a terrible thing for a 36-year-old to say. And in case anyone in Waterford was worried that too much weight is being put on the success of a team of chisellers, the post-match interview with Seán Power would have soon put them right. He was in no doubt that this was a Big Deal, emotionally spelling out just what this means to a county like Waterford. Even during this period of sustained competitiveness for the county, the season has always ended on a downer. You win things during the season but come September you always look back at what might have been. Not this year. For only the fourth time ever (the 1929 Minor final was not played until February in 1930) we can look back on the last Championship game and say “we did it”. The future is bright too, with so many players looking the real deal. But as chief Vitalstatistix said, tomorrow never comes. Today, we’re All-Ireland winners and my own little chiseller, barely two months on this planet, gets to see an open-top bus down the Mall this evening. Not that he’ll appreciate it; I’ll have more than enough enthusiasm for two of us. Final word today to the ever-dependable Dermot Keyes:
I’ve been at a Ryder Cup, I saw fat Ronaldo score a hat-trick at Old Trafford, I’ve seen Munster win two ERCs. Nothing tops this. #Deise
— Dermot Keyes (@DermotKeyes) September 8, 2013
I managed a small essay about the Senior final. This is going to barely amount to a big paragraph about the Minors. This isn’t an indication of what I care about the most. All my energies for tomorrow are focussed on throw-in at 1.15pm. But it’s hard to say anything original about them. Never stopped you before, sez you. Shut up, sez I, I’m not in a playful humour. Of two games I have seen, Waterford were soundly beaten by Tipperary and came out on top after a white-knuckle ride against Kilkenny. I think the talent is there to take home the Irish Press Cup – it’s curious how that name has stuck with me since the days when the Press was the paper of choice in our house; the in-house-style guide meant all references to the paper, even in the context of the Minor trophy, were in upper case. Pompous enough for any blogger. Anyway, I fear that while the talent might be there, the game plan is not. ‘Go out and play, lads’ might have worked fine back in the day when teams were thrown together between sessions for study for exams and sessions with a bag a cans, but to see a team play in such a freeform manner against Kilkenny, their seventh outing together this year, was mildly scary. Galway, on the other hand, are old hands at this. They are likely to have too much for us. We’re going to have to hit them so hard that by the time they know what’s happened, it’ll all be over. Say a little prayer…
As the clock counts down to the second Sunday in September, you may have been under the illusion that the winner of the Irish Press Cup will be determined by which team is better / plays better on the day. Well more fool you! The Hawk Eye fiasco in the Limerick-Galway semi-final on Sunday has completely changed the dynamic. The result now will be entirely dependent on the outcome of Limerick’s appeal. That doesn’t mean we know who is going to win, but all the discussion post-match will focus on the impact the appeal and subsequent replay, or lack thereof, had on the result. For your convenience, I have prepared The Come on the Déise All-Ireland Minor Final Hawk Eye Appeal Results Matrix™ so you can better appreciate where the talking points will be coming from:
What was that? Maybe they’ll award the match to Limerick because had the point been awarded then, all other things being equal, they would have won the match in normal time? Nah, that would be stupid!
Early in the second half of this game, I gave up trying to put together any meaningful record of events. The first half had featured a harum-scarum performance from Waterford, so lacking in a plan that even the thought of just getting the ball into Stephen Bennett at every available opportunity, an unimaginative plan but one that would have at least been coherent, seemed beyond them. I put my camera down and waited. The narrative would come to some kind of conclusion without my intervention.
With all that in mind, here’s a meaningless record of my day in the smoke. I had been determined beforehand to just enjoy the experience. A combination of our dire record in All-Ireland semi-finals (one win in twelve attempts at Senior, Minor and Under-21 since winning two against Antrim in 1992) and my record in Croke Park (one draw and eight defeats since seeing us beat Galway in my first ever visit to Headquarters in 1998) meant I wasn’t filled with optimism. We were going to head up and support the boys then enjoy the second game, which looked rather tasty. Such feelings of bonhomie were aided by a picaresque scene on the Luas as a lovable Dublin gangster went about his day. I say ‘lovable’ as he spent a good two minutes talking to a Cork supporter about last week’s football game while she was talking about the hurling match that day. I say ‘gangster’ as he then got on the phone to advise someone that while he was sorry about the way things were going with the person at the other end, he had to talk to some third party who had grassed him up. He didn’t want to fight with anyone but this needed to be ‘sorted’. This line of conversation went around three or four times to increasingly broad grins from the overhearing culchie contingent. I must remember to check whether there were any gangland shootings in Dublin on Sunday evening.
Arriving at Croke Park before the gates had even opened, I got a little emotional upon seeing a couple with their Waterford jersey-clad children. They were aged somewhere between 7 and 9 (the children, not the parents) and had the wide-eyed look of those on their first trip to Jones’s Road. It struck me that there was no guarantee that when my son is their age (six weeks old at the time of writing) he will be able to experience this kind of outing. The man on the loudspeaker in the kids area under the Davin Stand wondered whether there was anyone left in Waterford while also spotting a lone Carlow jersey. Not much call for Carlow folk to be in Croke Park in August. Despite the woeful records I referenced earlier, these are still days to be treasured.
We took up our seats in the
Canal End Davin Stand and opened the programme I had unthinkingly purchased. Oh. Four pages on the Minor game. Who knew there was so much more emphasis on the main feature? Still, it was noted by one of my siblings that the Waterford player from Bonmahon on the starting lineup (Micheál Harney) and from Tramore on the bench (Barry Whelan). It was likely both of those players had been on the field during the Three-Minute War. A long way from there to here.
The match began and it was clear that Waterford fans outnumbered those from Kilkenny by a multiple of several. This was good, but it would be remiss not to doff a cap to the Kilkenny people who made the journey. This was my first All-Ireland Minor semi-final. Your average Kilkenny supporter will have had double-figure opportunities to see the Kittens (groan) so the people who were here on this day for Kilkenny really do care about the game. And they had more to cheer about early on. Waterford, to be frank, were crap. Kilkenny players were first to every ball and promptly winning frees which were slotted over with considerable élan by Alan Murphy. There was some grounds for irritation in Waterford circles at the ease with which the referee was blowing his whistle – if you got ahead of your man, all you had to do was hit the deck and you had the free – but there was no doubt most of the frees were justified as Waterford struggled to get going.
As I said earlier, there seemed to be no plan, not even one of getting it into Stephen Bennett post-haste. And when they did, lo! he worked the oracle, breezing past two Kilkenny defenders before drawing the goalkeeper and lobbing the ball into the onrushing Adam Farrell to bat the ball into the empty net. Great stuff, and Waterford could have had another goal moments later but Farrell went for a point from a narrow angle when he really should have made the goalie work and the ball went wide.
It was better from Waterford, even if they kept on giving Kilkenny too much space, space which ended in a free and a score from Murphy. It made for frustrating viewing, but while there were signs that while Waterford were struggling to win clean possession they were having no such problems winning the loose ball. I’ve fretted on a previous occasion about how midget-like Waterford players are at this level, but this team looked much more robust and it was by a demonstration of teak-tough play and no little skill that Waterford got their second goal, DJ Foran bursting onto a loose ball out on the 45 and zipping through the Kilkenny back lines before cracking the ball in off the stanchion – it rebounded out but was tapped in anyway, just in case.
You have to be fatalistic if you are going to survive as a Waterford supporter, and even amidst the pleasure of the goals was the worry that this is what this Waterford team were about – goals keeping them in the game, just like in the Munster final replay. The self-belief was beginning to show though as Patrick Curran added a couple of frees and another effort from Stephen Bennett, this time a fine individual point, kept us ticking over at the same rate Kilkenny were doing. A two-point half-time lead felt slightly flattering, and there were numerous horrifying moments as they frequently played first-time balls which may be in the spirit of our hurling forefathers but is enough to give you a coronary in this age of defences hunting in packs. Waterford were on the ascendancy, struggling to win the ball first time but mopping up any loose play. Maybe the plan is to play to the strengths of players – in this case, their strength?
Whatever it is, they hit the ground running in the second half, two fantastic early scores stretching the lead to four and causing me to put my camera away. I couldn’t pretend any more that I could be blasé about this. If we failed to win this one, it would be more sickening than several previous losses in HQ, low expectations that I had in those games. Kilkenny quickly hit back with two scores of their own and while it could hardly be said that the teams were now keeping it tighter the pattern was clear. Kilkenny were more of a unit but Waterford had the standout individuals, with Bennett, Foran and Patrick Curran making life very difficult for Kilkenny whenever they got the ball, the latter hitting the post with a 65 but showing no ill-effects by popping the ball over the bar when it was played back to him. The backs weighed in with a couple of great scores courtesy of Harney and the ever-industrious Austin Gleeson, and if we could match them score for score, we’d be home and dry. Easy!
It’s been a summer noteworthy for the furore over red cards, and for a horrible few minutes it looked like that was going to be the case in this game. Flicking through match reports, I’m still not sure what happened to Shane Bennett as he picked up a second yellow card midway through the half. At the time I was right confused as it looked like the second yellow card had instead gone to a different player and Bennett had been given a straight red card for what could only have been giving the referee a bit of lip. The confusion was a by-product of the surreal surroundings. You’d normally hear a reaction in some section of even a tiny crowd at a decision, but when the red card came out, there was…nothing. As we fumed at what seemed like complete foolishness on his part, as opposed to the partial foolishness of picking up two yellows in this card-happy season, Waterford lost their way. Crucially though Kilkenny, unlike Cork a few hours later, failed to ram home their advantage. A few bad wides and suddenly the clock was against them. It’s probably a bit harsh to assume that a group of boys are potentially lacking characteristics of the adult teams that have ruthlessly put the boot in when a team was down. That’s not going to stop me thinking it though, i.e. that this group of Kilkenny hurlers lacked the characteristic of previous generation in ruthlessly putting the boot in when a team was down. Wishful thinking? I’m in a buoyant mood.
Whatever about the future, the present saw Kilkenny fail to expolit the extra man and when Eoin Kenny also saw double yellow for them – referee evening things up, perhaps? – and DJ Foran got a spectacular point from distance to stretch the lead to three, once again pouncing on secondary ball and shrugging off the attention of two backs to score from distance, you felt we just had to keep them away from the goal to clinch the win. Kilkenny managed one point from distance, but there were three subsequent plays where you thought ‘if we can only win this ball, we’ll be fine’. And yes, I realise that makes no sense. Waterford duly won each of them to keep Kilkenny on the back foot and when Shane Hourigan blew up after a minute of injury time, Croke Park erupted.
Okay, it didn’t. We did though. It was great. I had really thought I could school myself to be casual about the Minors, but this had been a plan of battle that had not survived contact with the enemy. They had taken on the Evil Empire and triumphed. For only the third time in my life, we can look forward to seeing a Waterford hurling team play in Croke Park in September. There are no words for the feeling. It was just great.
And so we sat back to smugly enjoy the second game, passing all manner of arch comments about the Jacks and the Langers, confident that nothing could mar the splendor of the day.
— Urbs Intacta Manet (@UrbsIntacta) August 11, 2013
Hoi, weren’t you listening? I said nothing could mar the splendor of the day! For crying out loud . . .
Not that I’m averse to a thousand words when the mood strikes. But for now this will do:
While following Sunday’s Minor match on Twitter, we all joked that the game would probably end after the match we were watching in Thurles on the telly. These things are sent to try us, you know? And yet it ended up being pretty accurate for a horrible reason:
Jude McCurdy brought away in ambulance as #Deise v Antrim game was brought to early conclusion. Let’s hope he’ll be fine.
— Dermot Keyes (@DermotKeyes) July 28, 2013
Thankfully it looks like Jude McCurdy is going to be okay, and that’s what matters above everything else. With regards to the game, as with the Seniors and their damned-if-you-do win over Westmeath the scale of the win was at the high end of what we would have hoped for from the game. One thing we could have lived without was a small sliver of uncertainty about the final outcome. I’m not joking here. Last week we saw Cork make an appeal against Pat Horgan’s red card in the Munster final. This should have been a slam dunk. Having being instructed to apply the rule book, James McGrath applied the rule book. Yet inexplicably a judgement came out which allowed Horgan to play. There was a tiny part of me waiting for some ill-fitting suit in a smoke-filled commitTEE room to decide that the precedent had been established in 1998. Any game that finishes early must be replayed. Waterford were 20 points up and Antrim had conceded? Doesn’t matter. Any game that finishes early must be replayed. While this scenario was highly unlikely, it would not have surprised me at all.
I’m tired. I’m paranoid. Sleep would be nice, but then I’d probably dream about Colin Lynch . . .