Waterford really should have won this game comfortably but they failed to translate their dominance of possession in the first 50 minutes onto the scoreboard and paid for it in the end. It was a fine night apart from a light shower about halfway through and the game was played on a fairly good pitch. The big crowd gave the game a bit of atmosphere but it was really exhibition stuff with few injury stoppages.
Waterford were without Shane Walsh, Paudie Prendergast, Brian O’Sullivan, Gavin O’Brien and Brian O’Halloran but otherwise started with their strongest 15. Tipperary kept a lot of their big guns in reserve although most of them saw action at some stage.
It is hard to believe that Waterford were only one point ahead at half time (0-13 to 1-9) such was their domination of the opening 35 minutes. Their defence was on top in all departments, but the standout performance in the first half came from Darragh Fives in midfield who obliterated Shane McGrath and helped himself to four points in the process. Tipperary’s first half goal came when a long ball in by McGrath fell nicely to Pa Bourke who first timed to the net from close range.
At the other end, the massive supply of ball going into the forwards was yielding poor results, due to a combination of some good defending, a series of shots dropping short, a super save by Darren Gleeson from Seamus Prendergast and a couple of other goal chances that went astray. However, the main problem was the poor quality of ball being sent to the inside line, with ball being sent straight down the pitch to players with defenders up their arses, with little diagonal ball or ball into open space.
Waterford continued to dominate after the change of ends, and when Seamus Prendergast pounced on a breaking ball to fire to the net, they seemed to be set for a good win. Indeed, shortly afterwards Prendergast was unlucky when a last-ditch hook saw his shot from close range go the wrong side of the post.
However, the second half substitutions generally strengthened Tipp and weakened Waterford, and the home side gradually reeled Waterford in with a goal from Shane Bourke puttinh them in pole position entering what we thought were to closing stages. Waterford came back again with Jamie Barron landing the equaliser and when shortly afterwards Waterford got a 65 it looked like it would be the winning score. However, Padraic Mahony’s poorly struck shot went left of the post.
The game then went on for ten more minutes (presumably by prior arrangement) during which period Tipp reasserted their dominance to finish three points in front.
Waterford played a lot of good hurling in this game and they seem to be in good shape in terms of skill levels and attitude. Iggy O’Regan played the first half in goal with Stephen O’Keeffe (who made one excellent save) filling the role after the change of ends, and there is no doubt that the trajectory of the latter’s puckouts is far superior to O’Regan’s.
Liam Lawlor had a superb game right through while Shane Fives again impressed in the corner. Barry Coughlan replaced Noel Connors for the second half and once he got up to the pitch of the game I thought he did well. Brick Walsh was masterful at centre back until replaced by Tony Browne early in the second half, with Kevin Moran also turning in a strong performance. On the other wing, Jamie Nagle played lots of ball, but his deliveries were repeatedly poor, due to his tendency to hit the ball blind or give away possession.
Dean Twomey replaced Darragh Fives at half time and had virtually no impact on the game in the second half. I thought both Maurice Shanahan and Padraic Mahony (who took turns with the frees) showed signs of coming back to their best form. They both got a lot of possession and probably should have put more on the scoreboard. Seamus Prendergast was excellent in the half forward line in the first half and at full forward in the second until running out of steam a bit towards the end.
Ray Barry started at corner forward where he made no impression but he did well when moved to the wing from where he notched three points. Jake Dillon left his good recent club form behind and had little impact, while his second half replacement, Martin O’Neill, did no better. Things didn’t go well either for Jamie Barron, but he did show his creativity on the few occasions that he got the ball into his hand. The bigger pitch in Thurles would probably suit him better.
Team: Ian O’Regan; Shane Fives; Liam Lawlor; Noel Connors; Jamie Nagle; Brick Walsh; Kevin Moran; Shane O’Sullivan; Darragh Fives (0-4); Maurice Shanahan (0-4, 3 frees); Seamus Prendergast (1-3); Jake Dillon (0-1); Ray Barry (0-3); Padraic Mahony (0-5, 2 frees); Jamie Barron (0-1).
Subs used: Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlin and Dean Twomey (half-time); Martin O’Neill, Eddie Barrett; Tony Browne (second half). There may have been a couple of other substitutions late on but it was hard to keep track and the subs’ numbers were different from what it said on the programme.
Under-21 challenge: Tipperary 1-22 Waterford 1-20
There was more of an edge to this game, as reflected in several injury stoppages. One of these involved the unfortunate Colin Dunford, who started very well and scored an excellent point but was forced off with what looked like a nasty leg injury after 15 minutes. Waterford were short five players who started in the senior game as well as Gavin O’Brien and Paudie Prendergast but still gave a good account of themselves and would probably not have lost had they taken a couple of tap-over points instead of looking for goals in the second half.
Tipperary had their emerging senior star Jason Forde playing, and dominated the first half, following which they led by 1-12 to 0-8 at half time. However, driven on by Shane McNulty and Donie Breathnach, Waterford charged back into the game after the change of ends and, with the help of a goal set up for Stephen Roche by Breathnach, they got back to parity ten minutes into the second half. The Waterford selectors then put on a slew of substitutes which clearly upset the team, and Tipperary regained total control to shoot six points on the trot.
However, to give them their due, Waterford fought back to dominate the closing stages and were unlucky, I thought, to be two points behind at the end.
Waterford had Darren Duggan in goal in the first half and Seanie Barry in the second. Both did well but I was particularly impressed by Barry’s distribution, especially from puckouts. They had a major problem at full back where Stephen O’Keeffe was at sea against the Tipp full forward. Eventually the selectors acted by moving Tadhg Bourke, who had started well at wing back, to the edge of the square with O’Keeffe moving to the corner, and Shane McNulty moving out.
This had a major impact on the game, as Bourke put the shackles on the full forward while McNulty (who starred at centre back for the county minors last years) proceeded to give a magnificent performance, completely dominating in his area for the remainder of the game. I see that De La Salle have also copped on and moved McNulty from the corner for their last game – I will never understand why they didn’t bring him on until it was too late in the Munster club final before Christmas.
Kieran Power did quite well at centre back as did Jim Power on the other wing. Waterford struggled a bit at midfield (I was surprised that Stephen Roche wasn’t deployed here) after Dunford went off while Eamon Murphy failed to get into the game at centre forward. Waterford played Cormac Heffernan on the wing when I think he is more useful in a central role. Donie Breathnach provided great leadership here, combining three points from play with eight from frees, and could have had a couple of more points were he not too eager to create goal chances.
Jack Lyons did a lot of good work and won a lot of ball both at full forward (where he started) and centre forward (where he moved to in the second half). Barry O’Sullivan also did some good work when he replaced Dunford.
Team: Darren Duggan (Dungarvan); Shane McNulty (De La Salle); Stephen O’Keeffe (Ballygunner); Shane Roche (Shamrocks); Tadhg Bourke (Clashmore); Kieran Power (Clonea); Jim Power (Butlerstown); Colin Dunford (Colligan) (0-1); Shane Ryan (Fourmilewater) (0-1); Donie Breathnach (An Rinn) (0-11, 8 frees); Eamon Murphy (Dunhill) (0-1); Cormac Heffernan (Ferrybank( (0-1); Stephen Roche (Mount Sion) (1-1); Jack Lyons (Ballyduff Lower) (0-1); Kieran Bennett (Ballysaggart) (0-1).
Subs used: Seanie Barry (Lismore); Tom Curran (Ballinameela); Ian Kenny (Ballygunner); Ray Ó Ceallagh (An Rinn); Barry O’Sullivan (Ballygunner).
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.
Miracles never cease. For once, the National Hurling League finds itself not having to defend itself against charges of unfairness/irrelevance/pointlessness/boredom/all of the above as the fate of nearly every team went down, quite literally, to the last puck of the final round of matches. Had Waterford or Cork conjured up late goals in their respective games then the table would have spun like a top. As it was, there is some slight irritation to see the All-Ireland, Munster and Leinster champions in the top three places, giving an unfair impression of as-you-were. But overall it has been a rollercoaster contest, and given the usual denunciations of the League format for being all of the above, the authorities have much to be pleased about.
Sadly for them, and happily for those of us who like to be disagreeable for the sake of it, it’s never that simple. Each team’s performance will only be properly assessed in September. No doubt there was some pundit somewhere who wrote a preview of last year’s All-Ireland final and opined that Galway’s playoff torment last year when they only got past Dublin after a replay was really a blessing in disguise as it toughened them up for what was to come. Clare and Cork will be hard pressed to see those advantages from their current perspective. Then there’s Waterford, the only team without a game between now and the Championship. Will we be better off for coming into the Clare game fresh, or worse off for not having another game in which to iron out the kinks? No sod knows, but that won’t stop experts rushing in to fill the vacuum of knowledge with their considered opinions.
While I may scoff at the meanderings of pundits, all the while hopefully giving off a sense of awareness of the irony of a blogger scoffing at the meandering of pundits, there is ultimately no damage done by their retrospective know-it-all attitude to the League. More serious is what happens next. Not at the top of the League where Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway will trip over themselves to downplay its significance, all the while skirting around the challenge provided by whoever emerges from the Limerick-Dublin promotion playoff, a team that will be as high as a kite from the relief of escaping the abyss that is Division 1B. No, the serious business is the result of the Clare-Cork relegation playoff.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories. It’s always amusing how people rub their chins in a told-you-so fashion about how they predicted the draw for the Championship, particularly the qualifiers, before it happened. Note that these predictions are never revealed until after the draw was made. It’s not as if you would need to put your prediction in a sealed envelope with a postmark on it or take a photo with the newspaper from the day the prediction was made for it to be a verifiable vision of the future. All that’s needed is to put it on a message board and viola! the corruption of those in positions of power is laid bare. Maybe those making these self-evidently foolish accusations of corruption are plants designed to distract from the true seers and their plaintive cries, lost in the wilderness of obfuscation. It’s genius, I tell you, evil genius!
Okay, that paragraph went off on a tangent too far. The concern from the Clare-Cork game is simple. If Cork get relegated and they change the format of the League then all suggestions that the GAA is hard-wired to bow to the needs of the Big Three will have found a solid example from which even the loopiest of conspiracies can claim validity. Despite the thrilling 2013 season, the current League format is not without problems. Tom Dempsey got a lot of stick from Waterford supporters for blithely talking around us on RTÉ’s Sunday Sport programme as if we don’t exist, but anyone who listened to him a lot through the spring will have heard his repeated objections to the one-up-one-down format of Divisions 1A/B, and he’s right. It’s simply not fair that Limerick should have to enter a playoff against Dublin to see who gets promoted, just as it was unfair last year that Galway had to playoff against Dublin last year despite winning two games to Dublin’s none, and finishing ahead of Waterford on points difference but losing on the head-to-head - they might feel some small sense of satisfaction that it was us who lost out to them on the head-to-head this year.
It’s unfair, but no one in authority cares as long as it’s only the grunts who count their All-Ireland successes in single figures that fall into its clutches. So you can well imagine the hysterics that will erupt in Croke Park should Cork find themselves in Division 1B next year. When Cork failed to fulfil fixtures in the 2008 NHL, their only penalty was to have the games awarded to the opposition, one of which happened to be against Waterford. There was understandable fury in Wexford as Waterford were effectively gifted two points while Wexford played and lost to a full-strength Cork. Had it been the other way around, and Waterford ended up losing to Cork in a playoff to see who got into the knockout stages, it would have been Waterford who ended up in Division 2 for 2009. Every action that was taken was designed to accommodate Cork – God forbid that they might be penalised for distorting the competition in the manner they did – and we were the lucky beneficiaries of those actions. With all that in mind, can you see the GAA accepting the status quo should Clare beat Cork and the Rebels find themselves slumming it with Antrim and Laois/Westmeath next year? Yerra, the League will seem ripe for another restructuring and the success of Division 1A in providing so many thrills and spills in 2013 be damned.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Headquarters will be pleased to see that no one is safe. Maybe they’ll respect the integrity of the process. I’m happy to be proven wrong, and it’s why I’m hoping Clare beat Cork. If this happens and Cork are banished to the quicksands of Division 1B, I’ll be delighted to hold my hands up and say I misjudged those who run the association and their motivations. Should Cork lose though and the League is rejigged to keep them in the standards to which they are accustomed, I may find myself donning a tinfoil hat with all the other kooks claiming that those making the Championship draws don’t rattle those balls/hurleys in the pot with sufficient vigour.
The 2013 National Hurling League has been a blast. How much of a blast? This much of a blast:
So it’s been a blast, and that’s even before you consider the satisfaction to be had from individual wins like last Sunday. Amazingly my match report, written in a frenzy of inspiration on Sunday evening rather than having to be dragged out of me throughout Monday, managed to understate the thrills and spills of the closing stages of the game. Thankfully Giveitfong was on hand to note how things were even more dramatic than I had described, with the Lar Corbett effort that dropped short coming when the teams were level rather than Tipperary being a point ahead like I said, and doffing the cap to Brian O’Sullivan for calmly hustling Brendan Cummins into a hurried clearance that led to Kevin Moran’s winning score. It’s only fitting to acknowledge a sequence of events that, all other things being equal, moved us from 5th to 1st on the Division 1A table:
Enjoy that? Good, because it’s time to move on . . . okay, look at it one more time, then we’ll move on.
Given Waterford’s Herculean efforts, it’s a bit galling to have to confront the possibility that it might not be enough to preserve our top flight status into a 16th consecutive season. Then again, in the A < B < C < A world of this year’s League we should be grateful for any advantage. It seems head-to-head counts only when there are just two teams on the same number of points, so that’s not going to be an issue for Waterford – if we only have five then Galway will also have five and two more teams will have to have five so points difference is going to be what matters. After much chewing the fat on the Waterford GAA thread on boards.ie, we’ve worked out that any of the following outcomes means survival:
- Waterford beat Galway. No-one can overtake us then.
- Waterford draw with Galway. We finish ahead of Galway and any combination of results in the other games will leave at least two other teams below us.
Should we lose, then we can still survive if:
- both the other games result in a win for someone, anyone. That would leave two teams on four points and we’re safe.
- one of the games ends in draw but we lose to Galway by three or fewer points. We finish ahead of the loser of the game that wasn’t a draw and of Galway by one point.
We’ll end up in the bottom two if:
- we lose and both of the other games end in a draw. Everyone ends up on five points and seeing as we currently have the second-worst points difference we can only get worse.
- we lose by more than four points and one of the other games ends in the draw. We’ll finish ahead of the other losing who will only have four points but behind the winners of that game, the two teams who drew, and of course Galway.
It’s convoluted, but the good news is that the scenarios which involve us staying up are far more likely than ones which see us going down, relying as they do on draws. When playing Dublin last year one ear was being kept on the game between Kilkenny and Galway, and we needn’t have worried as Kilkenny had taken Galway to the cleaners by half-time. It’s not hard to see an enraged/worried Kilkenny – the idea that they might be worried will no doubt enrage them – doing something similar to Cork, which leaves us just needing someone to be a point ahead at the end of the Clare-Tipp game. And if we win, all of this is moot and we’re in the League knockout stages for the first time since 2008. But on the day that Dungarvan Colleges bearded the St Kieran’s lion, let’s only have one Waterford team getting notions above their station, mkay?
A marvellous and well-deserved victory for Waterford. I thought it was going to be another very frustrating experience, especially when Lar Corbett got clear possession on the right wing just after Waterford had equalised, but he underhit his shot into the wind and it dropped short to Iggy O’Regan.
On the balance of play, Waterford really should have been well clear at half time, despite playing into the stiff wind. Although the defence did very well in terms of gaining possession, they gifted Tipp several points through misplaced passes and poor clearances. Meanwhile at the other end several good chances were wasted through underhitting shots into the wind. I think Brian O’Halloran was guilty of this three times.
It may be that Waterford relaxed expecting the game to come to them with wind assistance in the second half, but Tipp really upped their work rate after the change of ends and dominated the third quarter. Like against Kilkenny last week, Waterford couldn’t win a ball in the half forward line, and really we need to vary our puckout tactics to adjust to situations like this. Also, Waterford kept sending shortish balls down the wings rather than trying a few long balls into the goalmouth. In fact, the first time they tried this Seamus Prendergast made a great catch, and Cathal McAllister was too quick to blow for a free after Pender put Brian O’Sullivan in with a clear goal chance.
However, when push came to shove, Waterford really took over in the last ten minutes, with Brick making some marvellous clearances and Jamie Nagle thundering into the game. In the closing minutes they dug out the ball in a series of schemozzles around midfield, again showing the fantastic fighting spirit which has characterised this team since the league began.
I thought our goose was cooked when Pauric Mahony missed those two frees in a row, and really they should try out Jake Dillon as we need more reliability here. However, the three points which won it for Waterford were out of the top drawer – first Jamie Barron from a difficult angle out on the right wing, then Jake Dillon off his left out on the left, and then Kevin Moran’s coup de grace. Full marks to Brian O’Sullivan for constantly harassing Brendan Cummins as he came out along the end line trying to clear. Eventually Cummins was forced to make a loose clearance which Moran snapped up out on the left sideline. He did really well to evade two markers without fouling the ball, and then fired a magnificent ball over the bar.
Iggy O’Regan got no shot to save, which is a great tribute to the defence, but he did send two puckouts out over the sideline in the first half. His puckouts were very predictable, high up into the air in the first half against the wind and while he got good length into them with the wind in the second half, they were still easily won by the Tipp half back line.
The full back line did really well after a dodgy enough opening few minutes. Seamus Callanan did get five points from play, but he got a good supply of ball in from out the field and no full back in the country can match his pace. Brick was magnificent at centre back but we were weak enough at wing back for most of the game, and this is where we need to step up if we are to get more scores up front. I thought that Jamie Nagle was poor for 60 minutes, making a lot of mistakes and using the ball poorly, although he did make a big contribution to the late fightback. I thought that Paudie Prendergast struggled a bit on the other side, and was surprised that Darragh Fives was not brought in here.
Once again,Shane O’Sullivan won a lot of ball in midfield, but took too much out of it at times and ran into trouble. Not everything went right for Kevin Moran, who started at midfield, but he kept at it and overall made a big contribution.
Brian O’Halloran played a lot of ball in the first half and scored two good points, but should have got more and faded out, with the rest of the half forward line, in the second half and was replaced by Darragh Fives. Seamus Pender as usual did a lot of hard work. Maurice Shanahan found it very hard to get possession, but the two good possessions he got in the first half led to the goal and a pointed free. He still needs a couple of games to recover full match fitness. He was replaced by Brian O’Sullivan midway through the second half.
Jamie Barron, apart from scoring 1-1, was very impressive with his work rate, ability to rob players in possession, and ability to look up under pressure and lay the ball off. Jake Dillon made his mark with two good points. While Martin O’Neill’s free-taking was impeccable, he made little impact in general play and was replaced in the final quarter by Pauric Mahony who used his strength to win a couple of vital 50/50 balls late on.. Waterford do need to figure out better ways of playing good ball into a forward line mostly made up of players of low stature.
The great thing about this team so far in the league is that, despite the relative inexperience of a lot of the players, they are playing a lot of good skillful and thoughtful hurling, while showing great collective fighting spirit. Today’s win, and the manner of it, were a great tonic.
It can be a struggle to come with a narrative for these match reports. I take notes all right but they can be gibberish, and that’s even before you consider the illegible scrawl that passes for my handwriting these days. This was not going to be one of those occasions though as Ian Noctor had referenced in our conversation during the week about the joys of sharing stands with supporters of the opposition during GAA matches. And by ‘joys’, I mean ‘complete pain in the backside’ as you try to block out the caterwauling of some fat yokel who thinks that the accident of birth in sharing a county with people who can play hurling better than those in another county means they can personally look down on the athletic prowess of David Rudisha. Of course, the bigger the mouth the more flies it catches. Would today be one of those days? Would I be writing this if it weren’t? Would you be reading it? Stay tuned.
It’s easy during the Championship to tell that you’ve been stranded near a true enthusiast for the opposition, bedecked as most people are in the colours of their county. It’s harder in the League as everyone is wrapped up like sherpas against the elements in everyday clothing. You always live in hope that home advantage will prove telling but I had to suppress a groan within seconds of the throw-in when Seamus Callanan rattled over a quick-fire score and there was much yahooing around me, including the most dreaded creature of all – the Supporter Who Knows All The Player’s Names (And Isn’t Afraid To Show It). With Tipperary having the wind, it looked like it was going to be a rough half.
Despite the wind the early exchanges were even enough, Adrian Ryan missing an easy chance to stretch the lead and Waterford persisting with the recent policy of trying to keep the ball in hand to good effect, a neat interchange of passing seeing a sliothar drop into the mixer but be whistled up for a free-out. Jamie Nagle followed this up with a slick ball to put Brian O’Halloran in space and he opened Waterford’s account. Adrian Ryan was then guilty of another poor wide after he had pounced on some careless play by Shane Fives coming out of defence, and overall Waterford could be pleased with how things were panning out with the over-excitable Tipperary man to my right routinely fulminating against everything and anything they tried. At this stage it looked harsh, the heavy pitch making clean gathering of the ball difficult, but Tipperary must have been conscious of the need to take advantage of a stiff-ish looking breeze and they weren’t doing it very well early on. O’Halloran was looking up for it, a mazy dribble dropping short/coming back off the post (it was hard to tell), and it stung Callanan into as he came out and teed up Shane Bourke for a nice score.
It had been a solid start for Waterford against the breeze but now Tipperary began to motor. A puckout from O’Regan went out for a sideline and a soft free from the subsequent sideline ball for a foul on Bourke allowed Callanan to add another point, and we were grateful for Callanan trying a handpass to a teammate when putting the head down might have split the Waterford defence. It was one of several decisions in the first half that was pushing up the blood pressure of the man on my right. Still, Tipp were getting the lion’s share of the possession so even bad decisions were at least being matched by good ones as Callanan got a tremendous solo score to stretch the lead to three. The wind didn’t feel that influential where I was but when a dubious-looking Martin O’Neill 65 dropped short, you clung to the hope that it was more of a factor on the pitch, all ten yards away as it was.
As goals have been a source of concern thank goodness for Jamie Barron today. Some beefy play by Seamus Prendergast gave Maurice Shanahan room and his pass found Barron who raced towards goal and arrowed a stunning shot into the far side of the net from a narrow angle. It was a top strike, and how satisfying it was to be able to deliver such a riposte to Tipp’s efforts. The Prendergast/Shanahan axis did the trick again moments later as the latter drew a foul after great catch from the former and, not for the only time in the game, we were left wondering how Waterford were ahead as O’Neill added the point.
Tipperary hit straight back with a distance score from Shane McGrath and some loose play coming out by Stephen Daniels was intercepted by Callanan to put them back in front, a score that had Supporter Who Knows All The Player’s Names (And Isn’t Afraid To Show It) sagely observing that we were nearly back to where we were before the goal, an arrogant comment that is all the more infuriating for being true, and compounded even further when Daniels was penalised for catching the ball a third time to give Callanan another score from a free to completely eliminate the goal. Waterford followed up with a laboriously-constructed point from Shanahan. I appreciate that it’s practical to bat the ball over the bar using an underarm motion, but the inelegance stood in marked contrast to the effortless manner of Brian O’Meara’s immediate response to restore the three point. 1-3 didn’t seem like a great return from thirty minutes hurling and when another puckout drifting harmlessly out for a sideline the despair level was beginning to build.
So you can imagine the delight five minutes later when we went in at half-time with the scores level. Seamus Prendergast cleared a path for Jake Dillon to score by literally arseing the Tipp back out of Dillon’s path, then a sideline ball was cleared by Tipperary only for a Waterford forward to earn a free when he seemed to stumble running away from goal, giving O’Neill another easy point from a free and sending Vesuvius to my right into full-on Pompeii mode. While it all seemed a bit overwrought you couldn’t argue with his last detonation of the half when the ref only signalled one minutes injury time despite a long kerfuffle when Shane Fives went off as a blood before Callanan’s 65 and a period of treatment of Ian O’Regan. When the ref moved in a free for O’Neill to level matters I briefly contemplated moving, so enraged was he at the treatment being meted out by the referee.
I didn’t though, and that was mostly because I was enjoying it so much. Despite playing catch-up for the most of the half, incredibly we were level. And, in a rare moment of lucidity on my part during a match, I wondered whether my sense of calm and his spluttering fury suggested that Tipp were indeed being given a raw deal. Remember the ‘beefy’ play and the arseing on the part of Seamus Prendergast? Another ref might have viewed such actions as fouls. But buoyed up by optimism that we were going to use the wind to stomp all over Tipperary in the second half, I could afford to be magnanimous.
Fifteen minutes into the second period, I was wishing I had moved. The first alarm bell was when Eoin Kelly and Brendan Maher came on at half-time. Tipperary were not going to leave this to dumb chance – there’s a relegation playoff that might potentially be against Kilkenny to avoid, doncha know – and they ripped out of the blocks, Callanan scoring from a free earned from the throw-in. Daniels was penalised for a foul on O’Meara when it might as easily have been a free for overcarrying, and Callanan again extracting the expected punishment. There was some relief moments later when he missed an easy free (I had even marked it down as a score in advance), but the only thing colder than the weather was Waterford’s second half start as each player in white was late to every ball. Both Vesuvius and SWKATPN(AIATSI) got very exercised at a challenge on Donagh Maher that they felt was worthy of a red card – or at least it was on the basis of last week’s Club final; they, of course, would never want to see such sanitisation entering a man’s game. In fairness (again), something seemed to have taken place but they weren’t worried that the ref had prevented Moran taking a quick sideline ball that would have been most advantageous to Waterford. As it was, Waterford managed to hustle the ball down the sideline into a better position but Dillon’s excellently caught cut drifted out wide. When Seamus Prendergast was harshly penalised in the middle of the field, I was treated to a stream of invective about the lack of a yellow card that went on long past Callanan’s excellent long range effort stretching the lead to three.
The game got very scrappy at this point, which was obviously bad news for us as we hadn’t earned a single white flag in the first ten minutes of the second half and needed to get a grip on things. Maurice Shanahan managed to win a very soft free from which O’Neill pointed, and you know the drill about what went on around me in reaction to this. It was clear the tide was running against us when SWKATPN(AIATSI) was able to admit Dillon was fouled in the next attack. Vesuvius was having none of it and when O’Neill missed the free, his last contribution before being replaced by Paudi Mahony, he was certain that it was karma – or words to that effect. Karma was certainly a female dog (maybe even the one in the photo back up the page, ho ho) when a throw-in by the ref was about as accurate as Rory Best was against Scotland, flying past everyone into no man’s land, and it was Seamus Callanan who retrieved the ball to score. God, I’m tired of typing his name . . .
Michael Walsh was doing his best to keep us in touch, and his best is very good indeed. One preposterously salmon-like catch which led to a free caused a Tipp fan to wisely observe that his team should “stop hitting it anywhere near the f***in’ Brick!”, but he was the only one shaking a leg as the game entered the final quarter and the complete wasting of the free he had earned typified Waterford’s borderline-stoner performance in the second half. Tipp, on the other hand, were moving through the gears with Lar Corbett being given way too much room to put them four points clear. He must have thought he’d won the lottery. A foul on Jake Dillon allowed Mahony to score from a free only for Tipperary to be allowed stroll straight back up the field for Brian O’Meara to slot over a good point. When a wild clearance by Liam Lawlor went out for a sideline ball and they managed to work the ball for Callanan to get his seventh of the day and move five points in front, it began to look like we’d need a goal from somewhere.
So badly did it look like we needed a goal that despite Mahony cutting the lead to four when a solo from Jamie Barron ended with him being dumped on his backside, and then Seamus Prendergast was fouled after a catch and drive to the 21m line, I noted in all seriousness in my pad that Mahony should go for goal with this chance. It was needed to stir us out of our torpor but instead he took the point, only our fourth of the half. He quickly followed up with another free after Kevin Moran had been cynically chopped down / ran straight into the defender – you’ll never guess who thought it was a “PURE DISGRACEFUL!” decision – but when Mahony missed a 65 after Tipp had had to scramble the ball out after Seamus Prendergast had won it on the edge of the square, then failed to land another long distance effort when the ref had moved it into range for dissent, it looked like it just wasn’t to be.
Jamie Barron had other ideas. His Mullanesque effort from way out on the right, moments after Tipperary supporters had begun prematurely celebrating a shot that was well fielded by Ian O’Regan, trimmed the gap to one with only two minutes to go and suddenly a draw looked possible. There was a hold-your-breath moment out on the middle when it seemed like all thirty players got sucked into the shemozzle and whomever it broke for would be in the clear. It broke for Waterford, Jake Dillon scored, and unbelievably we were level. It says much for our psyche as a county that all the voices calling for the final whistle were Waterford ones but those around me who will remain nameless had gone quiet. If they had sensed this had gone completely Pete Tong, they were right. The sands of the injury timer were fizzing out when Kevin Moran hunted down a loose ball on the stand side of the ground around the Tipp 65. Turning one way then the other, he let the ball drop and struck a shot of such beauty that every Déisigh, even a wait-until-you-see-the-flag type like myself, leapt to their feet and let out a guttural roar from the moment it left the bas of the hurley. There was only one place that ball was going. One final turn from Moran, towards the stand with a fiery fist-pump of delight, before the ref blew the final whistle and one final eruption – not from Vesuvius, who left faster than if a lava flow were behind him, but from the Waterford fans who only moments before had being preparing for a wake rather than a party.
One of my all-time favourite Waterford games was in 1998 when we went to Thurles after winning the South-East League and in thirty inspired first-half minutes went through Tipperary like a bowl of prunes. This wasn’t the same level of performance, but when you consider we haven’t beaten Tipperary in a group game since (we did beat them in the quarter-final in 2007 on the way to winning the League) it shows that these kind of results are precious on their own merits. Then factor in where Waterford have come from with the predictions of Armageddon from ill-informed pundits (ahem) and concerns about their ability to finish out games (splutter), this was a most satisfying result. And if certain Tipperary supporters left Walsh Park thinking that baluba with the camera and notepad who went off the deep end when Moran struck that winning score would make you sick, so much the better.
Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Liam Lawlor, Stephen Daniels, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran (capt, 0-1), Shane O’Sullivan, Paudie Prendergast, Brian O’Halloran (0-1), Seamus Prendergast, Maurice Shanahan (0-1, Brian O’Sullivan), Jake Dillon (0-2), Martin O’Neill (0-4f, Paidi Mahony, 0-4f), Jamie Barron (1-1).
Tipperary: Brendan Cummins, Donagh Maher, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Conor O’Brien, Thomas Stapleton, Padraic Maher, James Woodlock (Pa Bourke), Shane McGrath (capt, 0-1), Brian O’Meara (0-1; Jason Forde), Noel McGrath (Brendan Maher), Adrian Ryan (Eoin Kelly), Shane Bourke (0-1), Seamus Callanan (0-7, 0-3f, 0-1 65), Lar Corbett (0-1).
HT: Waterford 1-6 (9) Tipperary 0-9 (9)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)
I haven’t taken the time to write about the 2012 All Star awards, what with concentrating on the Blues this week and travelling to Liverpool – nope, not going to the derby. In fact I can think of fifty other weekends when I’d rather be here. When Waterford got only four nominations I thought that we’d get nothing, and I wouldn’t have had cause to complain. We won a grand total of three matches all year and while the entertainment value in our last game against Cork was high, last games being a strong indicator of All Star success (the flip side of that being early games are useless, Tiperary’s delightfully demented match with Cork a distant memory), we still lost and it surely wouldn’t be enough to garner the attention of the selectors, particularly after such an exciting and high profile end to the season between Galway and Kilkenny.
Yet here we are, gongs for John Mullane and Kevin Moran, and there is no problem justifying it for both of them. Thinking about it, there’ a lot of method in the All Stars selectors’ seeming madness. Why shouldn’t John Mullane, a man whose labouring in a team not up to his standards should not disguise his magnificence, not be as frequent a natural choice as Henry Shefflin? And why should there not be awards which acknowledge the overall contribution of players who, while never to be feted in the story of our games as Mullane and Shefflin will be, are among the best of their generation? Multiple Tipperary players will have chances in the future. Kevin Moran might not. As for Tipperary, the real story of the awards, last games really do count heavily against teams. The Munster Council, ever sensitive to slights against the province with the mostest, will be aghast at seeing our champions come up blank. But not only was there not one single Tipperary player who came out of their hammering at the hands of Kilkenny with any credit, several were severely diminished by their display that day. Had even one been chosen, people would wondered he managed after the way X, Y or Z from Kilkenny made them look like a slogger on a junior team.
In short, the selectors got it right this year. I shall now go and wash my mouth out with soap.