Irish Examiner Sports Column, June 6 2008

June 6, 2008

Laying the blame or playing
the game?

U NREST in the
southeast. Stormy
times in the Déise. The Gentle County, gentle no longer.

However you want to describe it, the Waterford hurlers’ sudden putsch against manager Justin
McCarthy has surprised
observers not so much in its substance as in its timing. There’s been some muttering about unrest in the Déise camp for some time; you could say the same about every team in Ireland, but this is different.

In an era of short managerial reigns, McCarthy has been at the helm in Waterford for seven years; in an era of abbreviated inter-county playing careers, that’s a lifetime.

The glass-half-full
account of his time in charge shows plenty to smile about. McCarthy has been the most successful Waterford manager of all time, leading the county to three Munster championships and a first national title in 43 years with the NHL win last year.

On the other hand, the manager made mistakes along the way: giving Ian O’Regan an All-Ireland semi-final debut as goalkeeper against Kilkenny back in 2004 looks a rash decision in hindsight, as was cutting players such as Brian Wall and James Murray adrift from a shallow enough pool of talent. A modern full-back was never discovered either, and the team suffered in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick as a result.

Finally, there’s a general consensus that McCarthy’s man-management skills were a distant second to his coaching ability, and the uprising by his players certainly seemed to bear that out. By any reckoning, his position last night was untenable either way. 



E XHIBIT A in the case
against the manager
seems to be the display of Waterford last Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds against Clare, when the team in white and blue managed all of five points if you remove the combined contributions of Dave Bennett and John Mullane.

However, perhaps the prosecution team should look on that performance as a hostile witness. Losing to Clare by nine points and not scoring a goal isn’t
indictable all by itself; in a game of hurling a couple of late goals can always give the scoreboard a lopsided look that doesn’t truly reflect the 70 minutes just gone.

What was far more significant was the attitude and display of many players, which was far below the level required for the Munster senior hurling championship.

In an informal chat some time ago an inter-county hurler of this column’s
acquaintance remarked that the first few minutes of a Munster championship game was savagery: you were going to cut the head off your man for the first few balls that came in, he said calmly, and you knew that the man in the next dressing-room was going onto the field with the same intention.

Some of the Waterford players who lined out last Sunday didn’t bring the minimum standard of savagery to the table, to put it bluntly, and they suffered accordingly.

To put it even more bluntly, they gave up. That was the opinion of their best player on the day, John Mullane, directly afterwards.

“As defending champions,’’ he said, “we threw in the towel awful early, and for me that’s what hurts most. Our loyal supporters deserve better.”

Seeking the head of their manager is an implicit transfer of blame by the players to the man on the sideline, a harsh move in the context of a pallid display which ended with a nine-point defeat. Granted they were without three All-Star teammates — Ken McGrath, Eoin Kelly and Eoin Murphy — but a collapse like last Sunday’s was depressing for its lack of spirit. By moving decisively against their manager the Waterford players — those who lined out last Sunday in particular — have signalled that there’s more in them. They have the rest of the summer to show exactly how much.


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