D ON’T STOP believing.

The banner hanging in white
and blue on Hill 16 yesterday articulated five decades of longing for Waterford, and it was yesterday the heartbreak ended before 53,635 spectators. They edged out Tipperary in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final, 1-20 to 1-18, and now face neighbours Kilkenny in the final next month.

So much for the accountancy. Nails were gnawed to the bone and grown men wept as Waterford hung on for their historic win; it was their sixth semi-final in 10 years and when Tipp got their noses in front in the 58th minute, it looked like another evening for the Kleenex if you were in the white and blue corner. However Eoin Kelly – the Waterford version – continued his irresistible form of late to help the men from the southeast over the line with some late, late points.

They’d begun well enough: after the parade Waterford kept marching, right through the ranks of the Artane Boys Band, and the synchronisation continued into the game itself. With Ken McGrath returning to centre-back and Declan Prendergast on the edge of the square, Waterford’s alignment looked smooth, and they wired into the game.

“We tried to play a high tempo from the start,” said Waterford’s Ken McGrath after the game. “That’s always part of the plan! We tried to start well. We knew Tipp would come back into it, but all year we haven’t been panicking, which is a good sign for the team.”

A six points to 0-0 lead after eight minutes was another good sign for Waterford. Tipp corner-back Conor O’Brien had collected a yellow card, John Mullane’s direct running at every corner of the Premier County’s defence and Tipp were gasping for breath. If a stranger had been asked to name the side which had played three games since mid-July and to choose the outfit which had been idle in the same period, he would have had no problems picking out Waterford as match-fit.

Tipperary’s lay-off since their Munster final win was visible up front when even the elegant Seamus Callinan dropped a ball over the sideline, and at the back Tipp were carved open when Kelly and Dan Shanahan worked a point-scoring opportunity from a sideline.

They were so slow out of the blocks, in fact, that it took 12 minutes for their triumphant monosyllable to ring around the ground: an eternity in relative terms.

Coming to half-time, however, Tipp had the work-rate going. Waterford needed four players to effect a clearance from their left corner, and Lar Corbett sniffed an opening before Declan Prendergast and Clinton Hennessy slammed the door shut. At the break it was 10 points to 10. Tighter than an Olympic swimming hat.

“We were happy enough at half-time,” said McGrath. “We’d played well in the first quarter of an hour but then we slackened off. We knew what we had to do. There was no panicking.”

The exchanges were as keen after the restart, with the teams trading points, until Dan Shanahan delivered a forehand smash goalwards: Kelly forced a fine save from Brendan Cummins but was alert enough to reach across and poke home the rebound. The last lightbulb on the scoreboard had barely lit to announce that goal when Tipp retaliated. Seamus Callinan, more involved in the second half, slipped through and goaled in return.
With the game entering the last 10 minutes it took a decisive twist. Tipp were a point down and missed two chances to level; that was followed by another Callinan goal chance, but Hennessy saved. The ball rebounded to Michéal Webster but with the goal yawning, the ball then squirted like a bar of Palmolive out of his hand, aided by Declan Prendergast’s deft flick. Waterford then smuggled the ball away at the expense of a ’65, and when Eoin Kelly – of Tipp – put that wide, it was a dagger in blue and gold hearts, though it’d be cruel to assign blame to a man responsible for so many Tipp victories on his own.

 
 

THE last few minutes were viewed
through the fingers by many in
white and blue, but the final whistle sparked what could politely be termed scenes of jubilation, and what could accurately be termed joy unconfined.

A bad weekend for favourites, then, but a good one for romantics. Even Tipp boss Liam Sheedy articulated the neutrals’ views after the game: “Waterford are a class side – we knew that coming up, and nobody would begrudge them where they’re at. If there’s been a team of the last five-six years, it’s Waterford.”

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Ken McGrath. “After losing five semi-finals I suppose we had to get one right at some stage. Thankfully at the final whistle we weren’t crying into the jerseys. We’ll enjoy the next few days and go back training Tuesday or Wednesday.”

That blue and white banner, by the way, borrowed ‘Don’t stop believing’ from the chorus of an old Journey song, though most people now associate the song with the last episode of The Sopranos. Unsentimental executioners await the men in white and blue in the final: Kilkenny have called time on many opponents’ dreams and Waterford will be underdogs. However, like Scarlett O’Hara, they’ll worry about that tomorrow and concentrate on the next line of that Journey song.

Hold on to that feeling.

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Rejoice
in the era
of pure Rebel gold

IN CONVERSATION with a retired inter-county player a few weeks ago, an interesting point came up when I casually
referred to attendances at
championship games.

“It’s a funny thing,” he said, “I know there’s a credit crunch, or a recession, and that people can’t go to every game, that going to games costs a lot of money. But I think it’s disappointing that some of the games we’ve seen this year haven’t been full houses, and for one
particular reason. These are great players, players that we’ll be talking about in 20 years’ time. I can’t
understand why people aren’t bursting themselves to try to see them.”

Well, people certainly were bursting themselves last Sunday to get to Croke Park, despite the floodwaters unleashed on Dublin. The hurling game ended in a nine-point victory to Kilkenny, who didn’t answer any possible questions so much as serve up
responses with notes, diagrams,
examples and a full bibliography. They were awesome.

That habitual excellence has meant a lot of the media focus this week has fallen on Cork, with a consensus emerging that this is the end of the cycle for this particular outfit from the Rebel County.

And perhaps it is. The half-a-dozen starters Cork fielded who have medals from 1999 can’t go on forever, certainly. Two of them made their debut 12 years ago, and with the demands of the modern game, that puts their
starting point back in the late Jurassic period.

Before they’re consigned to the history books, however prematurely, it might be worth considering what they leave behind (in the
interests of full disclosure, this
column should reveal that it has finished a book on the said team, which covers the period from 1996 to 2008; don’t worry, we’ll be
reminding you all of that fact
plenty of times between now and its publication date in November).

For instance, it’s generally
forgotten now that when Cork
introduced a structured warm-up before beginning a game, there was a bemused reaction from the
hurling world at large. It was
universally accepted that bursting a gut by running 50 yards across the field once you got out of the
dressing room and belting the ball willy-nilly at the goal while
charging around in circles was the best way to prepare for elite
competition.

Now no team prepares without running a pre-game sequence of drills and exercises to get players’ touch in and their heart-rate up.

It’s likely that many people’s view of the Cork hurling team is coloured by the two stand-offs
between the players and their county board; there’s a sizeable group of people who have no time for the players because of that, and membership of that group doesn’t come to a full stop at the borders of the Rebel County.

And that’s a pity. Cork have been involved in some of the most
enthralling games of the last few years: everyone can remember the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final against Clare, but the seam of gold goes back further. Cork-Offaly in 1999 was a classic; the Munster final the following year was no bad game either.

In 2003, they shared the honours in an epic semi-final with
Wexford, and the following year’s Munster final has a fair claim on being the greatest of all time. The 2005 Munster final saw Cork play total hurling in the first half — and just about survive a Tipp
comeback in the second.

The 2006 All-Ireland semi-final had one of the most dramatic
endings of all time, while the three games with Waterford last year were a trilogy to rival the Lord of the Rings for drama, though with fewer fire-breathing demons and walking trees on show.
THROUGH all those years, they’ve done what every GAA team should do,
embodying one place and its sense of itself. For instance, every
supporter — and not just those in red — would like to think that, given the chance, he’d do what Donal Óg Cusack did last Sunday, giving his jersey to the son of Kilkenny ‘keeper James McGarry. Cusack had the chance. That’s what he did.

You can admit it. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

SOME weekend to be a citizen of the People’s Republic, even if most of the Cork people heading east yesterday didn’t have the Bird’s Nest in Beijing in mind. Croke Park wasn’t offering ceremony or choreography so much as conflict and collision, though given the apocalyptic darkness of Dublin on Saturday, a flaming torch wouldn’t have been a bad accessory.

The 71,235 spectators saw Cork take one victory south, a narrower-than-necessary three-point win (2-11 to 1-11) over Kildare in the football quarter-final. In the hurling semi-final Kilkenny put on an awesome display of power and precision to smother the men in red by nine points, 1-23 to 0-17. The Leesiders have been doing a Lazarus act in the last few weeks, but this was one rock they couldn’t roll away from the tomb.

Anyone trying to trace rust on the Kilkenny edges had some evidence early on: three wides in the first seven minutes isn’t what you expect from black and amber marksmen. Cork showed the benefit of those recent championship outings, meeting Kilkenny head-on in contact, and the All-Ireland champions had to rely — not for the first time — on Henry Shefflin to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

We mentioned rocks earlier. Diarmuid O’Sullivan began well and thrived, setting up a Jerry O’Connor point on 20 minutes. When Tom Kenny added another, Cork had a point to spare. Then Kilkenny did what Kilkenny do so well: they got a sniff of blood and opened the arteries.

A sequence of points ended with Eoin Larkin finding open country through the middle of the Cork defence on 23 minutes.

“I suppose a goal is a killer thing at that point of the game,” said Larkin after the game. “When I got it, things opened up for me — we had a two-on-one and I said I’d have a go.”

No sooner said than scored. Larkin tucked his shot into the corner and Cork would have been forgiven for trying to divert the floodwaters recently afflicting the capital to try and slow Kilkenny, but that would hardly have stopped them. Given Henry Shefflin’s form, he’d probably be able to part the waters and lead his team to the
Promised Land anyway.

Kilkenny tattooed 1-7 into Cork during that run of scores, and the men in red were eight behind at the break: it was the same
margin at half-time against Clare in the quarter-final, but there the resemblance ends. When an assassin has you by the windpipe he’s not inclined to offer an oxygen mask, and Kilkenny weren’t likely to facilitate the
resurrection men from the deep south.

Cork died hard — they put together a five-point scoring burst after the break themselves — the goal they needed wouldn’t come. Pa Cronin sniffed an opening on 47 minutes but JJ Delaney, that vanquisher of reputations, came between him and glory.

Afterwards Brian Cody spoke as plainly as ever: “All we could do is prepare and play the game. There were questions asked of us in the first 20 minutes of each half, when Cork were serious, but we weathered the storm and finished both halves strongly.”

For his part, Cork boss Gerald McCarthy had no complaints.

“We have to admire Kilkenny, we gave a marvellous performance up to the 23rd minute but we seemed to take our foot off the pedal a little bit and you can’t do that against Kilkenny, they rapped out an eight-point lead very quickly.

“Against a team like them, that’ll prove impossible to recover.”

In the All-Ireland SFC quarter final which opened the day’s proceedings, at least we weren’t waiting 25 minutes for a score, as happened in Kildare-Fermanagh, or the Amityville Horror as it’s now referred to.

Cork showed more spark than Kildare early on, and a clever finish by John Hayes, followed by Michael Cussen’s flick home, gave them a two-goal cushion they surfed, or at least sat comfortably upon, for much of the game.

In fairness to Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, he didn’t dawdle, making four substitutions before the break, but his players looked off the pace, and the game was on schedule for a long, slow-puncture of an end game.

Then Cork made a few substitutions themselves, giving the likes of Fintan Goold and Michael Shields game time, and maybe that disruption to the personnel didn’t help their rhythm. They conceded two penalties, and though Alan Quirke saved one, when John Doyle buried the second there were only three points in it.

Conor Counihan won’t have enjoyed the end game, which involved Kildare knocking three times on the door for an equaliser that would have wiped the slow bicycle race against Fermanagh from the memory forever. The Cork boss now faces a reunion with Kerry and Pat O’Shea.

It is permissible to rub your hands at the prospect.

And at the prospect of next weekend. Kilkenny looked unstoppable yesterday. Waterford and Tipperary will have a few opinions on that matter, though next Sunday’s winners face a huge task against a driven team. Another driven team may have spent its last desperate hour together in Croke Park yesterday, with speculation already rife about possible retirements in the Cork camp.

Retirement from playing, that is. A good many of them cemented their standing as legends a long time ago.

Don’t ring
the changes,
improve the
skill level

WRITING a column slagging off the poor Gaelic football fare on offer in the championship last weekend would be the easiest option in the world today.

(Try the second-hardest option – Ed.)

Ahem. Fair enough.

More seriously, could the Weekend of a Hundred Wides (86 in fact; we rounded the figure up) become a watershed in the development of Gaelic football?

Possibly. On the basis that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem, we thought we’d run the rule over some possible answers.

Dropping a player or two: it’s odd that whenever field sports consider ways to improve the playing
standards, cutting a participant or two doesn’t seem to feature.

Yet most of those sports began not in the last century but the one before that again, when people were smaller and dressed in non-streamlined sportswear.

The reality for Gaelic football is that almost
everything has changed about the sport — down to the footwear and the ball — with a view to making the proceedings quicker. Yet the playing area remains the same.

Given that everyone knows that footballers are fitter now than ever, is it any wonder there’s so little room to operate in?

If teams were composed of 13 rather than 15 players there’d be a little space.

Players could show some skill instead of charging
into each other like Transformers (Robots In
Disguise).

But the chances of that happening, with its attendant whiff of falling player numbers, are nil.

Point posts/limiting solo-runs and hops/shot clock: If you walk into any bar in Ireland and ask about great GAA miscarriages of justice the score conceded by a footballer who hopped the ball twice is at number one.

Every townland in the country can spit venom about a poor referee who didn’t see some sleeveen bounce the ball as he went around the full-back “and then AGAIN as he sold the keeper a dummy to score the goal that won the championship…”

Asking referees to take any combination of one
solo/two hops or vice versa on board for a game is tantamount to the line at the bottom of my first-year mathematics book: THE PROOF OF THIS
ASSERTION IS BEYOND THE CAPABILITY OF THIS CLASS.

A shot clock has some merit: encouraging players to have a go would certainly rid us of the sterile
mini-games of rugby league we’ve been subjected to, and would stimulate some interesting tactics.

But the point posts? That would be rewarding poor execution.

Changing the rules to address a sporting new reality can send out an odd message. When the lineout in rugby union
became too difficult to police, the authorities tacitly conceded the battle by legitimising lifting, but raising the points value of a try offered a strong incentive to rugby teams not to settle for a kick at goal (the bonus-point system we applaud as well, but for a championship/knock-out system it doesn’t offer much).

The argument could be made that new(ish) tactics in Gaelic football have made the game far less enjoyable as a spectacle, but you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and you certainly can’t stuff the extra wing-
forward who drops back to help out his defence back into the bottle.

You’re better advised to view those golden games of yore as ones of astounding tactical naivete, in which the premium on winning your own personal duel with an opponent counted for more than combined play and availing of the room on the field.

That explains the high premium placed on low-
percentage skills such as high fielding decades ago.

The irony is that the way around the dour collisions and crowded zones of today is to perfect those same skills — good catching and accurate kicking over
distance.

The gear changes, the body shape changes, and even the football changes. But the value of good skills
remains constant.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Michael Moynihan

Cracking the whip on GAA’s disciplinary obsession

FOR THOSE with an eye for unfortunate double entendres in sport, the GAA obsession with discipline must be a godsend.

Discipline, discipline, discipline. There’s been so much talk about this for the last few weeks, it’s like listening to Dr Montague in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety shouting “Too much bondage, not enough discipline,” on a permanent loop.

It’s the opposite problem in the GAA: far too much discipline
(the bondage I leave to your
imagination).

The shuddering halt — if such it is — to the Paul Galvin story
yesterday leads to the unavoidable conclusion that application of the rules within the GAA is as
haphazard as it ever was.

Galvin is unlikely to pursue any further appeals, and it’s easy to see why.

The toll taken on an individual by that kind of media focus for the last few weeks can only be guessed at.

That focus only occurred because of Galvin’s actions in the game against Clare, of course, which is why it’s necessary to differentiate between two separate issues.

One is the ham-fisted application of a sanction and the huge pressure that placed on a person who no doubt felt unfairly isolated.

Last year the ‘Semplegate’ issue rumbled on and on until the night before Cork were scheduled to take on Waterford in the Munster
hurling championship.

The actual incident took place on May 27, and that next round was on June 17.

Paul Galvin’s sending off took place on June 15 against Clare; the day before yesterday, July 30, he was finally ruled out of action for three months, four days before Kerry’s first outing in the qualifiers.

But at least there were several Cork and Clare players in that
situation. Galvin has been on his own.

In addition, last year we were told that the GAA had taken cognisance of the delay in dealing with the Cork situation, and that such delays would not occur again.

Some chance. (Incidentally,
nobody seems willing to talk about the Semplegate sequel we had last Sunday in Thurles, when a
Wexford player and Waterford
player clashed before coming out.

You’d be inclined to hope that that was because of an outbreak of common sense, as nothing really happened.

Pity we didn’t have a bit more common sense when it happened the last time, eh?).

The other issue, however, is the fact that the Galvin saga happened because the player was sent off in the first place.

We’re not about to rehash all the arguments about what happened that day in Fitzgerald Stadium, nor are we going to get into another wearying go-around on the
character of the Kerry captain.

But there has been a gradual blurring of the issues, suggesting that as it’s taken so long to arrive at any kind of determination in this case, then it’s only fair to the man to halve his sentence anyway from six months to three months.

The upshot of the last few weeks is that the de facto disciplinary sanction for hitting the notebook out of a referee’s hands and roaring into his and his linesman’s face is now three months. Does that sound right?

You may have noticed, by the way, that 50,000 was generated in legal costs in three cases which went to the DRA recently.

Those figures are paid by the county boards in question, by the way, but surely the GAA as a
corporate entity could pay some parliamentary draftsmen, barristers and solicitors the going rate to sit in a room for a couple of days to hammer out a real, robust GAA constitution — without the
hilarious procedural gaps and holes being found nowadays?

If it’s the expense the GAA is worrying about, set that against the damage to the organisation’s
reputation and see which is more cost-effective.

If discipline can be sorted, all that would be left to deal with is bondage. Though that might just be us.

contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Ageing dogs for
the September road

IT NOW seems garlic and a wooden stake will be necessary to finish Cork. The men in red overcame a nine-point deficit to reel in Clare in yesterday’s All-Ireland quarter-final, a stunning turnaround which looked out of the question at half-time. After last weekend’s win for the ages over Galway, the question was whether the Leesiders would have the energy for another outing. And as it happened, they had the legs to beat the Banner to the finishing tape.

Clare arrived in Semple Stadium with a plan. Ronan Curran wasn’t allowed to dominate early on – in fact, he wasn’t even left in the centre – and the two corner-backs were dragged around Semple Stadium. Niall Gilligan drifted left and right, but wherever he went he stayed in the zone, chipping in five first-half points.

The Banner were sharper everywhere in the first half apart from the scoreboard. They struck seven wides in the first quarter alone, but they made Cork work hard for their scores, and Mike McNamara’s side had five points to spare as half-time approached.

Then Gerry Quinn’s long free eluded the Cork defence, bouncing to sit up on the edge of the small square like a Slazenger looking to be volleyed over the net, but Barry Nugent’s flick was delicate and telling: goal. Gilligan added a point and Clare were nine clear. The effect of a third weekend out in-a-row for Cork was clear, and the zest shown last Saturday week was in short supply.

“Obviously we were disappointed,” said Cork captain John Gardiner afterwards. “Especially the scores we gave away in the first half. We upped it in the second half. But we never thought it was gone.”

Timmy McCarthy’s goal on the resumption – sandwiched by Ben O’Connor and Patrick Horgan points – was the spark. Cork manager Gerald McCarthy had sent on the Castlelyons man to shake things up, and his touch didn’t desert him with his second change. Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy read the rebound from a Patrick Cronin shot better than anyone else for a goal and three Ben O’Connor points sent Cork down the home stretch in good fettle.

Clare didn’t die easy – Niall Gilligan cut the deficit with two late points – but Neil Ronan, another substitute, hit another point from the wing to give the Rebels a 2-19 to 2-17 win. John Gardiner was asked to sum up the men he leads: “It’s a special group of players, you have leaders all over the field, lads who’ve been around a long time. They show professionalism in the way they prepare for games, and it showed out there again. Lads 30 years of age were carrying us again.”

Clare manager Mike McNamara was frank as always at the final whistle. “The people who had the answers on Friday should have got in touch with me,” he said with a pained grin. “We let
the match behind us,
realistically. We were there, we should at least
have snatched a draw,
but it wasn’t to be.”

Cork now face Kilkenny, and the two-week break will no doubt be savoured like a month in the Maldives. No truth to suggestions that tickets for the semi-final will be accompanied by complementary beta-blockers. Be there if your heart can take it. And you’ll only know if your heart can take if you’re there.

The 37,812 present got their money’s worth yesterday, as Waterford edged out Wexford in the first quarter-final, 2-19 to 3-15. The sides emerged at the same time – to some jostling between a couple of players. Presumably we’ll be spared several months of disciplinary constipation.

Waterford began well, but Wexford boss John Meyler obviously studied the video of Wexford’s 2004 Leinster final win over Kilkenny: his players used more diagonals than a draughts player, and Stephen Doyle got on the end of one peachy Michael Jacob delivery to grab an early goal. When Jacob and Diarmuid Lyng added points Wexford were buzzing.

 

Waterford stayed in touch though and were a point up when Dan Shanahan was fouled near the Wexford goal. With the form he’s in, little wonder Eoin Kelly went for goal. And little wonder he buried it.

Wexford didn’t read the script at the break. Ten minutes after the cup of tea they had two more goals, through a deflection off Brian Phelan and another terrific finish from Stephen Doyle. Doc O’Connor was dominating, and it looked like another Slaney ambush.

“We gave up two easy goals today,” said Davy Fitzgerald afterwards. “You can’t do that. If we have any ambition you can’t do that.”

What you can do, however, is to respond in kind. A John Mullane shot didn’t have the legs to make it over the bar, and Dan Shanahan reached a hand up and when his shot skittered into the goal off the goalpost, it was like 2007 all over again.

Wexford were defiant – Damien Fitzhenry put a late penalty over the bar – but Eoin Kelly’s last, glorious point, from the sideline, made it safe.

Fitzgerald was his usual straight-talking self afterwards. “I said the last day we’d have to be better,” said Fitzgerald. “We weren’t, and we were lucky to get away with it. We’ll have to improve, but having said that, we were under pressure, but these lads are battling hard. We’re in an All-Ireland semi-final. Would they have taken that in mid-May? And who’ll give us a chance against Tipperary, who haven’t lost a game all year?”

Feel free to take that one with some salt, of course. The action now moves to Croke Park, but Thurles, the venue that keeps on giving, didn’t let us down for the last two weekends. Any chance Liberty Square could be temporarily relocated to Jones’ Road?