Will Waterford marksman Eoin Kelly be pleased if they dethrone Kilkenny tomorrow — not if it doesn’t lead to an All-Ireland title, he tells Michael Moynihan

‘There’s no good in being remembered
for good matches’

FOR Waterford, the present bumped into the future in the Semple Stadium tunnel before this year’s Munster hurling final. Eoin Kelly and his Déise colleagues had watched some of the minor decider but had to go in and tog out for the Tipperary game before it finished, and they didn’t know who’d won.

“When we were coming out, we saw the minors lining the tunnel with the cup,” says Kelly.

“That was a great boost – pity we didn’t do the same ourselves – but it was great for them, and great for hurling in the county. They were written off before that game, much like we’ve been written off for tomorrow, but they went out and played their own game, and they got the win.”

Waterford may have been disappointed with their Munster final defeat at the hands of Tipperary, but the quarter-final win over Galway was a comeback for the ages. Six points down with time running out, they beat the westerners to the tape with John Mullane’s late, late point.

“Obviously it was a great win to get, and one we needed badly, but at the same time, that’s in the past as well, just like the All-Ireland final last year. If the bad games stay in the past, then so do the good ones.

“If you look back at last year Cork did the same – they got a win over Galway against all the odds, but then they were beaten by Kilkenny by eight points. So unless you keep winning it doesn’t matter.

“You don’t get anything for beating Galway – or even for beating Kilkenny. We’re not even in an All-Ireland final, that’s the way we’re looking at this. There’s no good in being remembered for playing in good matches – you play in order to win medals. You can’t say it’s a good year otherwise, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Galway game, it was a stepping stone for us, and now it’s forgotten about.”

What hasn’t been forgotten by supporters is the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final by tomorrow’s opponents. Kelly says he and his team-mates are looking forward: “That’s gone – Kilkenny are saying it’s gone, anyway. It’s last year now, so we can’t do anything about it. We can only look to the future and hopefully do better than we did last year in the All-Ireland final.”

He’s keen to stress the positives.

“We’ve a good panel, that’s the main thing. What we have on the bench is nearly as good as what’s on the field, which is a great boost for us. Then you have the minor team winning the Munster championship this year and the U21s being very unlucky not to win the Munster final in Dungarvan.

“People are always saying that hurling in Waterford is dead again when this team is gone, but there are some good young players there, and that drives on the older lads, the fellas who are there a good few years.

“The likes of Tony (Browne), Dan (Shanahan), John (Mullane) and myself have to work harder, and that has to be good for the team.”

AFTER the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final there was plenty of blame being assigned, but Kelly stands by his manager and the team’s preparations.

“Expectations are lower this time round but this is our seventh All-Ireland semi-final, and that’s not something a lot of Waterford teams could have said over the years.

“Last year we were probably nervous without even knowing it, if you like. It’s a lot more low-key this time round. The build-up last year was perfect, for the All-Ireland final, but there were one or two differences. For instance, when we ran out it was the first time that Croke Park was actually full for a game we played. That caught us. Up to that I’d have changed nothing. The preparation was perfect.

“Did we freeze or did we meet a wave no-one could stop? It could have been a bit of both, maybe. I didn’t feel nervous that day, we just met a team that nobody could have stopped on the day.”

Manager Davy Fitzgerald came in for plenty of criticism but Kelly defends the former Clare ‘keeper.

“Nobody’s perfect, but in fairness to Davy, he’ll come out and say so when he makes a mistake, and he’ll act on that. We’ve improved with every game this year and that’s down to him, he’s open to suggestions as to how we can improve. It’s good that he’s open-minded and can take on advice – and give it out. He’s improved every player on the team.”

Kelly knows there’s no great secret to what Kilkenny will plan to do to Waterford tomorrow.

“In 2004 they got three goals within about ten minutes in the semi-final against us and though we came back well they still beat us. They did the same last year in the final, those early goals killed us.

“They go for goals, and fair play to them, that’s what good teams do. We gave away soft goals in the Munster final as well but we also missed good chances for goals as well that day. You give teams three or four goals and you won’t catch them, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”

MANY people are forgetting, of course, that the All-Ireland final wasn’t the last meeting of the two teams. Waterford edged out the Cats in a tight league game earlier this season in Walsh Park, but Kelly isn’t drawing too many conclusions from that match.

“We won that day but they went on from that game and won the league. They can raise it a couple of gears, which is what sets them apart, while we hit a slump after that. We lost to Limerick, Dublin and Galway, and two of those games were at home.

“We should have kicked on from that but we didn’t. You have to keep improving, that’s the big thing for a team, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

They’re underdogs tomorrow, of course. Kelly accepts that. He cites Waterford’s team spirit as a cause for optimism, however.

“The last game the odds were 3/1 against us and we overturned them, but you don’t see too many bookies going around on bicycles. They don’t get it wrong too often, we’d like to make tomorrow one of those days.

“Training has been good all year, and very good going into the Galway game. We wanted the chance to show we weren’t as bad as it looked last year in the final, and that’s driven training all season.

“We’ve been together for the last eight or nine years and we’re the best of mates with each other. We want to do well together and hopefully tomorrow will be our day in the sun.”

Advertisements

Dunmanway savour their day in the limelight

OUR first sighting of a Liverpool jersey yesterday on the road to Dunmanway was somewhere
between Ballineen and Enniskeane, a few miles from our destination.

It was a brand-new number with TORRES writ large across the shoulders – an important point, because later on we saw an array of jerseys that covered every era in the long history of the Merseyside club. If you could have stood someone in a representative jersey from each year – never mind decade – shoulder to shoulder it would have been a stunning panoply of the changing fashions in modern sport.

Or an illustration of the ascent of man, a Manchester United fan might
argue.

(Apologies for the lack of precision with the location of the sighting itself, Ballineen and Enniskeane are conflated in this writer’s mind like Buda and Pest: where does one end and the other start?)

All of this by way of an introduction to the slightly surreal game in Dunmanway yesterday between the local soccer team and Liverpool.

What was the most unusual aspect of the day – the neat-as-a-pin little stadium constructed for the day in the grounds of Maria Immaculata Community College on the outskirts of the west Cork town, or the thousands of supporters trooping along happily to the said stadium, most of them in red?

Or was it simply the fact that Liverpool FC were in town to begin with?

Our only real quibble with yesterday’s game was that the famous red jerseys weren’t worn by the visiting side, but round about the 2 o’clock mark it happened nonetheless: a side representing one of the great names in world soccer – hell, world sport – took to the field to play Dunmanway Town FC.

It wasn’t the Liverpool first team, or maybe even the second team; Kriztian Nemeth was the biggest name on show, and Mr Nemeth would hardly consider himself a household name even in his own household.

Still, it was Liverpool. The game itself yielded only one goal, a superb free-kick tucked away by Daniel Pacheco of Liverpool, but Dunmanway didn’t cower before the liver bird. Michael Mulconroy bustled in midfield but it was bustle with an elegant edge, and twice in the first half Dunmanway put free headers wide.

Liverpool’s fitness, as befits a professional outfit, told towards the end, and Nemeth’s feline movement and purpose caused alarm at times, but they never
really overran Dunmanway.

Towards the very end, in fact, the home side threw everything into one last attack, and a late, late attack almost threw up the most dramatic corner in west Cork since Béal na Bláth back in 1922, but Liverpool held out.

AN OBVIOUS comparison was brought to mind by yesterday’s game, however, and that was with Cork City’s desperate struggle for life over the last couple of weeks. There was a scriptwriter’s neatness to the fact that the League of Ireland side secured their future almost 24 hours to the minute before Dunmanway’s hour-and-a-half of glory, but surely the following thought must have occurred in a few spectators’ minds.

If you can get 7,000 people to a midweek challenge in the heart of west Cork, why can’t a Premier League outfit sustain itself in the country’s second-largest city, an hour back the road?

In some ways the struggle of professional domestic soccer was illustrated neatly by the game in Dunmanway. The hordes of Liverpool fans, clad in a spectacular array of red and white tops were there to see their favourite club, and the personnel didn’t mean as much the jersey.

The fact that professional soccer is on offer within an hour’s drive of most of those present doesn’t seem to impinge on those seeking the autographs of Nicolaj Kohlhert or Alex Kacaniklic (the latter’s name provided the hardest tackle of the day, incidentally, when the PA announcer made a determined swipe at announcing his introduction as a substitute).

The proximity of the Premier League is a boon to travel agents in Ireland, no doubt, but as a point of comparison with the soccer on offer around the country it’s hardly a help.

Whether that can change or not is a matter for another day – and it isn’t a concern of Dunmanway Town in any case.

They had their own day in the sun yesterday, and if those thousands heading back out of the town were throwing a thought towards the future of professional soccer in Ireland, they were probably also struck by something else: how smoothly the day went overall, and in particular how easily traffic flowed out of the little market town as people made their way home.

Given their genius for imagination and organisation, in fact, it’s worth wondering why Dunmanway Town FC isn’t given charge of NAMA, and the HSE, and just about everything else in this country. Because if anyone could find a way to do things properly, they could.

Hurling’s veterans growing old gracefully

TONY BROWNE plays for Waterford against Kilkenny this Sunday in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final. He’s 36.

Mark Foley plays for Limerick against Tipperary in the other semi-final on Sunday week. He’s 34.

In itself that’s not unusual. Many players last well into their 30s, but they tend to be goalkeepers, who don’t have the same running to do as outfield players.

But Browne and Foley aren’t just outfield players. They’re wing-backs, wearing jerseys that are synonymous with dashing players tearing up and down the wing. Aren’t the aerobic demands bigger, the further out the field you go? Shouldn’t they be sheltering in the corner-back slot?

Not quite. There’s a school of thought that holds you should go out the field rather than backward, as Irish Examiner columnist Donal O’Grady explains.

“Look at someone like Páidí Ó Sé in football,” he says. “He played midfield for Kerry, then wing-back, but as his career went on and on he ended up at corner-back coming towards the end.

“But that was over 20 years ago. Now the corner-back must be much faster, in football or hurling, because the speedy player is put in corner-forward. You can’t shove a guy back there and hope he’ll do okay if he doesn’t have pace; if you have a player like that you need to put him somewhere he won’t need huge speed off the mark, and certainly the half-back line is somewhere a player with good skills and reading can survive.”

Liam Dunne, who played centre- and wing-back himself with Wexford until he was 35, agrees wholeheartedly with that proposition.

“Definitely — you’ll survive in the half-back line longer. From my point of view, I remember when I was finishing up lads were saying to me ‘you’ll come back into the full-back line now’, and I was saying ‘when I’m gone out of this line I’m gone’.

“I knew if I went back to the full-back line I’d be taken to the cleaners altogether.”

Dunne goes one step further, suggesting that a more central role would be that much safer for a player who’s getting on in years than a station out on the wing. He sees Foley and Browne as prime candidates for the number six jersey.

“As you get older, even centre-back would suit you a bit more than wing-back. If you’re able to read the game — and the likes of Mark (Foley) and Tony (Browne) would be well able to do that — then you could drop them in there and they’d be able to do a job.

“But the difference is that Limerick have Brian Geary there, so they don’t have a problem filling the centre-back slot. However, Waterford are playing Michael Brick Walsh there, who’s a terrific hurler, but they’re missing him from the middle of the field. Tony Browne could drop in there and do the job for them.”

The fact that Browne and Foley aren’t the prototype big, brawny centre-backs doesn’t matter, argues Dunne, though he sees protecting the centre-back against a speedy opponent as vital if a smaller player is to thrive there.

“Well, when it comes to size, I’m five foot seven and a half, I’d give Tony five foot nine or so and maybe Mark is around the five ten mark!

“But the game is changing the whole time, and the challenges are different for every game. I remember ringing Liam Griffin before we played Cork in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final, for instance, and asking him what he thought I should do with a bullet like Ben O’Connor. He told me to watch the videos and prepare for him.

“I did that, but there’s no doubt that if a guy like that gets his chance and gets past you, he’s gone. That’s the bottom line — you’re not going to catch him if he gets past you, because his pace is so good.”

Even though Davy Fitzgerald is hardly likely to move Browne to centre-back now, Dunne points out that the ageless wonder did well there in Waterford’s darkest hour last year.

“I’d be worrying about the likes of those players as the year goes on, getting to Croke Park and facing the likes of Kilkenny.

“In last year’s All-Ireland final, Tony and the other Waterford defenders were under severe pressure, particularly in the first half, but he hit a lot of ball when he went into centre-back in the second half.”

Irrespective of where they line out, their old adversary is quick to pay tribute to their longevity.

“In fairness to them both, it takes huge commitment off the field to continue so long,” says Dunne, “There’s great credit due to them for having such long careers.”

GAA’s dual
thinking lives on

IS THERE any irony to be mined from the tributes being paid to Cork County Board secretary, Frank
Murphy, falling on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II?

The first question to ask is a simple one: what exactly has inspired these tributes? The secretary has not retired; he continues to work in Cork and will be operating at the top level of GAA administration for the next few years, according to the Director-General of the organisation, Pauric Duffy, who was quoted yesterday as saying: “I’m sure he will continue to play a part at local and national level for a period of time and he has just started a three-year term as the Rules Advisory Group chairman and is a member of our stadium executive.”

Cork County Board chairman Jerry O’Sullivan went even further, outlining he “would expect that there would be some crossover period for the new person to bed in and learn the ropes.”

If the incumbent county secretary is going nowhere, then what exactly has inspired these fulsome tributes?

For a fuller, more detailed example of GAA doublethink, however,
consider Duffy’s other comments: that Murphy has made a huge contribution to the GAA in Cork and nationally.

It’s a comment worth placing alongside the peace plan that GAA chiefs outlined for Cork earlier this year, which involved removing every function proper to the executive of a county board, from fixture management to selecting inter-county managers.

Duffy signed off on that plan. So did GAA President Christy Cooney.

Some readers may feel it unfair to link the two, pointing to the secretary being just one voice on the executive rather than the dominant force in Cork GAA for almost four decades.

They’re correct. It would be a gross insult to the office holders in the board executive to suggest that one man had led them in every major decision — and a good few minor ones — since 1972. Nobody would dare suggest that they weren’t their own men.

But Cork County Board PRO Ger Lane opened the Pandora’s box when he pinpointed the county secretary’s achievements, pointing to the “acquisition of Páirc Uí Rinn, the elimination of the debt on Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Cork County Board draw and the great victories of the Cork teams since he took office are also a tribute to his prowess”.

Fair enough. But the problem in claiming those undoubted victories as the secretary’s achievements is there’s a danger that parallel disappointments can also be laid at his door.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh is an uncomfortable hulk which regularly suffers access problems on big match days, for instance. Purchasing Páirc Uí Rinn and the board draw offer further evidence of the economic power of the county board, but plenty of GAA members in the Rebel County would prefer that financial muscle to be flexed by investing in more games development officers than the five recently appointed.

As for the “great victories of Cork teams since he took office”, well, there’s so much to work with there that we hardly know where to begin.

We’ll be coming back to this one.

By the way, for those who may feel that GAA doublethink exists only in Cork, or in relation to Cork, take the complaints of the Kerry senior footballers in recent times about a couple of their players being featuring on the front pages of the newspapers.

These complaints concentrated on the specific charge of the players
sharing space with other less celebrated newsmakers on the front page.

One of the players concerned was so irate about being splashed on the front pages, he made his feelings known: “I made the front pages of the newspapers,” said Colm Cooper, going on to wonder what the world was coming to if a 26-year-old had a few drinks etc.

You can read exactly what he said, by the way. He made the point in an interview which was splashed across the front pages of a newspaper.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter MikeMoynihanEx

The latest kid in final colourful tradition

SPARE a thought this morning for the domesticated fauna of the state of Minnesota. News broke this week of an incident involving a goat, some paint and an electric razor which was enough to bring tears to the eyes.

Not, maybe, in the way you think. Police were alerted four days ago when a woman pulled into a service station in Minnesota with a goat in her vehicle painted in purple and gold, the colours of the local NFL side, the Vikings.

Furthermore, the woman had shaved a number four on the goat’s side and announced to the garage attendant that she intended sacrificing the animal to put a hex on Brett Favre, who wears the number four jersey (no, we don’t understand either).

Cue the immediate involvement of the authorities, general outcry and coverage in the national media.

To which we can only say: have these people never heard of an All-Ireland final build-up, in which painted livestock are far from an optional extra but constitute a must-have accessory?

These are the necessary late-August ingredients for the Big Day: first, The Man With The Painted Animal.

Typically this gentleman lives a life close to nature on the border of the county. It may or may not be next to the county his own crowd are playing, though it helps the overall effect if it is, because there is usually an equivalent person in the next parish over.

Though cows are sometimes employed, sheep are the optimum painted animal owing to the blank canvas of their wool. True, the odd goat gets thrown into the mix, an expression we use advisedly, but sheep have that rare absorbent quality. And they show up well against the ditches.

Then you have The Man In A Race Against Time.

For decades now there has been an unwritten rule in the GAA that you cannot have an All-Ireland final unless one of the players is in a race to be fit for the decider. Be it ever so trivial, there is no ailment, scrape or scurvy that cannot be worked up into a Race Against Time: grim medical bulletins are issued officially, while unofficially, someone’s cousin overheard a panel member in the service station saying yer man was never better and is tearing iron.

However, the Race Against Time soon reaches the next level: the Desperate Race Against Time, in which the countdown to the day of the game may as well be conducted by NASA. Those promoting the he-couldn’t-lift-
his-own-gearbag-out-of-the-boot line are opposed by the he-lifted-the-other-fella-out-of-it-with-the-sore-shoulder camp, and a hitherto obscure body part becomes an obsession.

The current case is Kilkenny’s Noel Hickey, but famous cases in the past include Tyrone’s Peter Canavan and his ankle injury in 2003. This led naturally to a subsection in the genre, Will They Start Him, though Mickey Harte confounded experts in this field by starting him, taking him off and then putting him back on.

Another parallel track is The Man Who Is Cleared To Play.

This is a more recent development, arising out of sittings of the Central Criminal Sunday Game Court, but it has led to early-August worries for several players. This year it was John Miskella, while in recent seasons Noel O’Leary occupied the role.

Then, as the great day dawns, the great white whale of All-Ireland Studies: The Man With The Two Grand Ticket. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when an All-Ireland final is played, someone is reported as paying a vast sum for a ticket.

The suspect is always the same — someone back from the States, desperate to see the game and passionate about his country, yet curiously unwilling to be named. The two grand is intended here as an illustration of the relative value of the ticket — the payer is always depicted as having forked out a multiple of the average industrial wage.

For instance, the first example of this syndrome back in 1884 got his ticket for three acres of land in Skerries, a lifetime’s subscription to the Freeman’s Journal and a couple of housemaids from Spiddal.

You’ll find sober men to tell you: “As sure as I’m standing here he was in a minute ago and bought the ticket off me. But he had to go meet lads after Mass in the Pro-Cathedral.”

We will have more tell-tale signs of the All-Ireland next week, but we leave you with the news that Brett, the goat cited above in Minnesota, has since been adopted by a kindly Wisconsin couple.

Things worked out well for Brett. Barnyard animals in the Mullinahone/Poulacapple/Ballydesmond/Rathmore areas please copy.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

HALF a world away from New Zealand, he still can’t cheer for a team in green and gold. All Black legend Doug Howlett had many a Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies: he knows a rivalry when he sees one.

Hence the New Zealander’s enjoyment of Cork’s Munster semi-final win over Kerry. Based in Cork while he plays for Munster, Howlett quickly appreciated the hold GAA exerted in his new home.

“The first thing that struck me when I came out of Cork Airport when I arrived was the big statue of Christy Ring — that emphasised for me just how big the GAA sports are here.

“Cork being my local town while I’m with Munster, I decided to follow the local teams in hurling and football. And with the Munster squad everybody’s got their own team, so it’s obviously more fun when you’ve got your own team and your own opinions. And I’m aligned with Cork.”

His commitment means just one thing for his teammates: ammunition.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of banter about everyone’s GAA team. Denis Leamy is a big Tipperary fan while you’ve got plenty of guys from Limerick cheering on their sides.

“As a sportsman you appreciate what these guys bring to their sports — the footballers’ kicking skills and fitness levels, obviously. I just enjoy being part of the crowd.”

Given the number of high-pressure games Howlett has played over the years at all levels, being just another spectator must be a welcome change.

“Exactly. That’s what I really enjoy — somebody else is putting on the show, not Munster, and it’s the other side of sport. I can sit back and enjoy the occasion and relax with a cup of tea — and have an opinion on the game.

“I got to the Kerry game down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh — I’d heard of the history between the teams, and the lads with Munster said it was definitely a game worth going to, and I really enjoyed it. I met a few of the Kerry lads as well, and they’re a good bunch. But I can’t support two teams.

“I’d seen the drawn game, and that really added to it, that there was so much at stake. The replay was a great game, as they all are at this stage coming into the semi-finals.”

As has been pointed out many times in the past by others, Howlett was struck by how suitable many GAA players would be for rugby.

“Of course — coming from a country which has rugby as its major sport, and where athletes are pushed into rugby, I can see that here it’s much more diverse, and you have three or four different sports athletes can choose from.

“Looking at GAA athletes, they’re well suited to rugby, it’d be interesting to see them with a rugby ball and how they’d do.”

The star winger has his favourites on the Cork side, but rules out taking up hurling any time soon.

“I like Graham Canty a lot, he’s a real workhorse that leads from the front and doesn’t slow down for the entire game, he’s one player I enjoy watching.

“If I were playing Gaelic football myself … I don’t know, I think I’d be able to get on the ball, but then it’d be a question of what to do with it after that! I’d see myself up front, or maybe midfield — though I mightn’t have the height for midfield.

“Hurling? I don’t think so — hurleys are often brought out at Munster training and I’m well put in my place by the likes of Denis (Leamy) and Tomás O’Leary.”

Howlett hasn’t lost focus when it comes to the day job, given it’s getting to a stage in the year when thoughts are turning to rugby — at all levels.

“We’re back with Munster and ready to go, a lot of the pre-season work is done, and we’ll be ready for the new season.

“There’s a pretty good start to the season today actually in Highfield, with the Meteor Munster Sevens tournament. That’ll be a good day out for rugby fans.”

And tomorrow? Is the Kiwi Cork fan going Upper Hogan or Lower Cusack?

“I don’t have a ticket for tomorrow actually,” he says. “I’m a bit cheeky, I’m hoping to wait for the final.”

Waiting for the final? Sure you’re not a Kerry supporter?

LAST Wednesday, I rang a pal who’s seen more than his fair share of inter-county training sessions with a proposition.

“I’m thinking of heading to Nowlan Park,” I said. “I wanted to see Kilkenny training, would you be interested in coming along?”

The answer was instantaneous: “When can you pick me up?”

Kilkenny training sessions have gathered a certain mythology in recent years, with whispers about practice games that don’t resemble hurling so much as the TV show Deadliest
Warrior, in which Viking berserkers take on Samurai warriors and so forth.

When we landed into Nowlan Park, however, there was no raw meat strewn on the pitch; enemy heads weren’t stuck on pikes at the gateposts either.

The players were stretching and warming up, and then broke into a running drill; manager Brian Cody then spoke to the players in midfield before they divided into two full teams in green and blue jerseys.

My travelling companion was
impressed: “The warm-up isn’t that structured, but that’s not surprising — these lads are on the go so long that management obviously trust them to do the right thing.

“For the game they have 15-a-side and two players who can come in as subs, not to mention those three — Power, Larkin and Tyrrell — doing rehab. That’s good because it’s a full game and space will be tight enough.

“If the players approach it in the right way, then they don’t have a chance to develop bad habits, which they would if it was only 11 or 12-a-side.”

We can tell you: the perception that Kilkenny play training games with sabres and nunchucks rather than
hurleys is wrong. They don’t.

But it’s still spicy. TJ Reid arrived into Tommy Walsh’s orbit with a hefty shoulder before the ball was even thrown in, which leads one to ponder: if Tommy gets the láimh láidir in training games, why bother replicating the same in a championship match?

Later on, ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick was left stretched on the ground after one collision and JJ Delaney clearly didn’t
appreciate a hurley being flicked across his facemask as he came up the sideline. TJ Reid was mauled from pillar to post as he tried to escape two markers but the only call was “steps”. From a defender.

The appeal fell on deaf ears. When we say Brian Cody refereed the game, we mean he blew the whistle to start each half, though for appearances sake he also gave a free for overcarrying.

The large crowd’s view of proceedings was also interesting: Noel Hickey got a rousing cheer when he cleared the first ball, but spectators didn’t seem too happy when the ball was handpassed around the middle or short puck-outs taken; they warmed to the longer, crisper deliveries.

My pal pointed to a couple of small things.

“When a player breaks a hurley he goes and gets a replacement himself. Now in a match, Kilkenny would have someone running the line with players’ spare hurleys, so in that sense this isn’t quite like a competitive game.

“But on the other hand, it just shows that the players take responsibility for what they’re doing themselves — it’s ‘get on with it’ rather than holding anybody’s hands.

“And you can see that attitude if someone gets a belt or a shoulder — nobody comes over to them. Unless they’re actually down injured, they’re expected to get on with it.”

After about 22 minutes of the game, Cody whistled for half-time.

The players assembled around him in the centre of the field, listening
to instructions.

The intensity went up a notch when the game resumed, with a few flicks that weren’t scrupulously well-aimed, to put it mildly; tactically it was noticeable that players often
eschewed a clear shooting opportunity from distance to find a better-placed colleague.

The second half lasted about as long as the first, and the players took on fluids for a few minutes before trooping to a far corner of the field for more running.

Many of the several hundred observers in the stands had left by then, having clearly come to see the game, so they missed the last drill. The backroom staff marked out a circuit of two-thirds of the playing area and the panellists ran around it — sprinting 30 metres, then jogging 15 before running another 30 metres and so on.

When each player — goalkeepers included — had done 20 30-metre runs, the session finished with a warm-down lap.

All in all, the session took about an hour and 20 minutes.

“That was a good session,” said my co-pilot.

“What impressed me was the players’ attitude — they’re there for work and there’s no messing.

“But a few small things also helped it run smoothly, things that maybe people wouldn’t pick up. The young fella behind each goal hitting back the sliotars — that speeds things up. Using jerseys for the mixed match saves time as well, there’s no big delay handing out bibs.

“There weren’t huge bags full of sliotars used, either — I’d say there wasn’t a dozen sliotars used in the whole session. And when it’s over, it’s over — there’s no staying out for frees or shooting practice. Obviously that work can be done on your own time.”

One session isn’t a representative sample, of course. There may be evenings when the fare is so torrid that farmyard animals are sacrificed on the 65-metre line, and there may be evenings that become watered-down, pallid non-events.

However, we’d be fairly sure that the sight of Brian Cody and his
selectors carrying off the equipment themselves at the end of a training
session is a common sight.

The same goes for the spontaneous invasion of the Nowlan Park pitch at the close of training.

Dozens of kids poured onto the turf to emulate their heroes and reenacting what they’d just seen; the future of Kilkenny hurling, plain for all to see.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

MORTAL after all? Waterford put last year’s All-Ireland final behind them yesterday and put it up to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, and though the Cats had five to spare at the finish, the game was alive to the very end, contrary to general expectations.

All of Noreside must be waking up this morning swaddled in relief that Henry Shefflin, though born in Waterford, is a Ballyhale man to the core. Doubts about Shefflin’s place in the pantheon dissipated years ago, like the smoke at a pontiff’s election, but rarely was he needed as badly as he was in Croke Park yesterday. And rarely has a player delivered as he did.

Shefflin ended the day with 1-14, and led his team-mates through one of their toughest challenges in recent years. He converted frees, he won possession, and he scored a vital first-half goal. His manager, Brian Cody, agreed that he’d made a huge contribution.

“Not for the first time, obviously. He’s been outstanding for us on a couple of occasions when he didn’t score from play but he got a few scores.

“His workrate… everything about Henry is top class. He brings everything to the game, everything to training, everything to his life. He’s just an outstanding fella and an outstanding player. He was excellent today.”

That excellence was sorely needed. As expected, one of the sides went for the jugular early yesterday and scored a goal on four minutes to settle themselves. We just weren’t expecting it to be Waterford, when Shane Walsh produced another fine ground stroke following Kevin Moran’s mazy run.

Waterford were much better than they were last September, withdrawing downfield and inviting Kilkenny into a crowded killing zone in front of their goal. At one point Cats keeper PJ Ryan was reduced to short puck-outs to his full-back line, a development so unusual that a couple of his targets forgot to gather the ball.

Add in the fact that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh hoovered up any ball that came into the Waterford half and carried it back upfield with that inimitable loping stride, and Waterford were doing a good deal better than okay.

Until a long ball dropped into Henry Shefflin, that is.

The man in the green helmet found another green helmet, Eddie Brennan, and Kilkenny had a goal. When the Waterford defence suffered a systems failure dealing with a long Tommy Walsh delivery ten minutes later, Shefflin found himself one-on-one with Clinton Hennessy. Goal number two.

Kilkenny were six up at the break, but there was no disintegration from Waterford. Two minutes into the second half Shane Walsh booted a goal and Eoin Kelly added a point. They had momentum, as manager Davy Fitzgerald said afterwards, but they couldn’t kick on.

“When we got them back to two points . . . the one thing we were trying to do was avoid leaving gaps at the back. We were trying to keep it as tight as we could and pull everything back the field.

“They only managed to open us up with 15 or 20 minutes to go – they managed to pull us out and brought on a few fresh bodies who got on the ball and did some damage. And you can see it happening from the sideline and you’re wondering how are you going to get the message out to them to get back into formation?”

The danger of leaving gaps at the back was illustrated by Shefflin’s seven-point haul from the 20 minutes after Waterford’s second goal, but even then the Déise refused to wilt.

A Kelly 65 dropped to the net between too many cooks on the Kilkenny line, and they still needed PJ Ryan to redeem himself late on with a reflex save from an Eoin Kelly snap shot. Breathless. Relentless. But still, when the smoke cleared, a Kilkenny win.

Davy Fitzgerald pointed out that teams are getting closer to Kilkenny on the scoreboard, and he may have offered the winners of the Limerick/ Tipperary semi-final a template to take into the All-Ireland final: to do what Kilkenny have been doing themselves for a few years, as the Clare man put it after the game.

However, the winners of Tipp-Limerick will have to reckon with Kilkenny’s appetite. Brian Cody wasn’t accommodating any suggestions yesterday that his side’s taste for glory had dulled.

“I make no bones about hunger – I never suggest that hunger will be up for grabs. It won’t be up for grabs. That’s intact. That’s there. The players who go out on the pitch and the players they represent on the sideline – there’s too much involved in that to ever give anything less than your best.”

They will also have to deal with Henry Shefflin. The big man has been King Henry in Kilkenny for some time, but on yesterday’s evidence he may need to be elevated to another stratum of royalty altogether.

FOR THE winners of Tipp-Limerick, read Meath in football. They put Mayo out of the championship in yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at headquarters, and now face the football equivalent of Kilkenny in a couple of weeks’ time.

They should savour this victory first, though. Compared to the free-scoring tournament-game scorelines of the previous weekend, this All-Ireland SFC quarter-final was more what you expect of a championship game, with players’ resolve being tested in a game of incremental gains.

Mayo looked to have a foot in the semi-final when Aidan O’Shea touched home a Trevor Mortimer cross to put Mayo four up with twenty minutes left, but then the game really swung.

Cian Ward goaled from a penalty to cut it to one and Meath levelled it through David Bray, but there was plenty of discussion in the stands of the sideline ball which led to the penalty. The linesman appeared to have his flag up for a throw-in when Joe Sheridan made an executive decision and booted the ball into the Mayo red zone.

Meath’s competitive fire seared Mayo from there to the end. With a minute of regulation time left, substitute Jamie Queeney drove past a static Mayo defender committing an Under 12 mistake, waiting for a pass to arrive, and the Meathman won a ball he had no right to claim. When he curled over the point there were five between them.

It’s always tempting to over-analyse the little incidents and overdo conclusions about the overall game, but that was one instance that didn’t lie.

In the hurling game yesterday there was also plenty of evidence in the thousand miniature battles around the field – namely the fact that the Kilkenny number ten won most of them.

Hurling veterans 30-July 2009

September 25, 2009

Hurling’s veterans growing old gracefully

TONY BROWNE plays for Waterford against Kilkenny this Sunday in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final. He’s 36.

Mark Foley plays for Limerick against Tipperary in the other semi-final on Sunday week. He’s 34.

In itself that’s not unusual. Many players last well into their 30s, but they tend to be goalkeepers, who don’t have the same running to do as outfield players.

But Browne and Foley aren’t just outfield players. They’re wing-backs, wearing jerseys that are synonymous with dashing players tearing up and down the wing. Aren’t the aerobic demands bigger, the further out the field you go? Shouldn’t they be sheltering in the corner-back slot?

Not quite. There’s a school of thought that holds you should go out the field rather than backward, as Irish Examiner columnist Donal O’Grady explains.

“Look at someone like Páidí Ó Sé in football,” he says. “He played midfield for Kerry, then wing-back, but as his career went on and on he ended up at corner-back coming towards the end.

“But that was over 20 years ago. Now the corner-back must be much faster, in football or hurling, because the speedy player is put in corner-forward. You can’t shove a guy back there and hope he’ll do okay if he doesn’t have pace; if you have a player like that you need to put him somewhere he won’t need huge speed off the mark, and certainly the half-back line is somewhere a player with good skills and reading can survive.”

Liam Dunne, who played centre- and wing-back himself with Wexford until he was 35, agrees wholeheartedly with that proposition.

“Definitely — you’ll survive in the half-back line longer. From my point of view, I remember when I was finishing up lads were saying to me ‘you’ll come back into the full-back line now’, and I was saying ‘when I’m gone out of this line I’m gone’.

“I knew if I went back to the full-back line I’d be taken to the cleaners altogether.”

Dunne goes one step further, suggesting that a more central role would be that much safer for a player who’s getting on in years than a station out on the wing. He sees Foley and Browne as prime candidates for the number six jersey.

“As you get older, even centre-back would suit you a bit more than wing-back. If you’re able to read the game — and the likes of Mark (Foley) and Tony (Browne) would be well able to do that — then you could drop them in there and they’d be able to do a job.

“But the difference is that Limerick have Brian Geary there, so they don’t have a problem filling the centre-back slot. However, Waterford are playing Michael Brick Walsh there, who’s a terrific hurler, but they’re missing him from the middle of the field. Tony Browne could drop in there and do the job for them.”

The fact that Browne and Foley aren’t the prototype big, brawny centre-backs doesn’t matter, argues Dunne, though he sees protecting the centre-back against a speedy opponent as vital if a smaller player is to thrive there.

“Well, when it comes to size, I’m five foot seven and a half, I’d give Tony five foot nine or so and maybe Mark is around the five ten mark!

“But the game is changing the whole time, and the challenges are different for every game. I remember ringing Liam Griffin before we played Cork in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final, for instance, and asking him what he thought I should do with a bullet like Ben O’Connor. He told me to watch the videos and prepare for him.

“I did that, but there’s no doubt that if a guy like that gets his chance and gets past you, he’s gone. That’s the bottom line — you’re not going to catch him if he gets past you, because his pace is so good.”

Even though Davy Fitzgerald is hardly likely to move Browne to centre-back now, Dunne points out that the ageless wonder did well there in Waterford’s darkest hour last year.

“I’d be worrying about the likes of those players as the year goes on, getting to Croke Park and facing the likes of Kilkenny.

“In last year’s All-Ireland final, Tony and the other Waterford defenders were under severe pressure, particularly in the first half, but he hit a lot of ball when he went into centre-back in the second half.”

Irrespective of where they line out, their old adversary is quick to pay tribute to their longevity.

“In fairness to them both, it takes huge commitment off the field to continue so long,” says Dunne, “There’s great credit due to them for having such long careers.”

Waterford-Galway July 28 2009

September 25, 2009

IMMORTALITY comes with a reddish crew cut.

Waterford beat Galway yesterday by the width of a singlet, with John Mullane’s late, late point putting a spear in maroon hearts, as their manager said afterwards. Mullane’s game mirrored his team’s experience overall — a long slog through a scratchy 70 minutes before finding glory in time added on. Galway, battle-hardened after two good wins over Clare and Cork, were purposeful and precise all through, but when the hero of a thousand battles, Dan Shanahan, was thrown into the mix by Déise boss Davy Fitzgerald, it introduced the right note of chaos. Shanahan won a free and skimmed the woodwork before creating the game-breaking goal for Shane Walsh with four minutes left, and Galway wavered. Stripped of a four-point lead, the men from the west crumbled under Waterford’s waves of attack, and when Mullane steamed into space and peeled over the winning point, the Hollywood script was complete: roll credits and curtain. Galway will be heartbroken about this defeat for some time. For the neutral observer there was more evidence of the compression of play in hurling — frequently Galway and Waterford had two players in their full-forward lines, making the area between the two 45-metre lines as crowded as the opening of a new Ikea, but Galway often found Cyril Donnellan free on the opposing 65 with clever cross-field passes, and he kept the Waterford rearguard under pressure. At the back, Galway were cruising, with John Lee able to bat the ball down to Ger Farragher in a routine straight from the training ground, while Ollie Canning swept up imperiously. Waterford had to rely on Eoin Kelly’s remorseless accuracy from frees to keep a toehold in the game, while Michael Brick Walsh and Stephen Molumphy were ferocious in their resistance. Galway were four points up with the clock winding down and looked ready to streak away. Waterford’s Eoin Kelly begged to differ. “No, there was a strong breeze there and we knew we’d finish strongly,” said Kelly. “Even in the Munster final we could have caught Tipperary if we’d taken our chances. We always knew we had a chance of catching Galway, we’ve been finishing games wicked strong. “We’d given ourselves too much to do point-wise. Dan came on and made a goal, and nearly got one himself. I’m delighted for him, he’s after coming in for a lot of criticism.” Galway boss John McIntyre conceded that the Waterford goal was the turning point. “We had an attack that broke down, maybe the wrong option was taken, and Waterford worked the ball down the field for a goal. “I knew straightaway it would be a dogfight from there to the finish and it was a case of us holding on. Hopefully.” Galway couldn’t hold the line, however, and Waterford now face Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Cats have not played — we hesitate, naturally, to use the actual term ‘idle’ — since July 5. For another team that lack of competitive action might be a disadvantage. For another team, that is. Yet Waterford will go into the game as rank outsiders, and they’ll pack away a score to settle after last year’s All-Ireland final annihilation into their gearbags for the trip to Croke Park. Good ammunition to have. Their manager was enjoying the moment yesterday, though. “Days like this makes it all worthwhile,” said Davy Fitzgerald. “I love being involved in this thing, I really, really love being involved. I love being involved with a bunch that will give you everything they can. “We were wrote off big-time during the week and this is absolutely fantastic for the boys but it’s a quarter-final and we’ll remember that tomorrow morning.” In the opening game, Limerick did well to recover from an opening few minutes in which Dublin scored early and often, like a voter scoring the ballot in a 60s by-election. The men in sky blue have been a highlight of the season, with their entertaining brand of muscular support play, but one of the imperishable principles of hurling defence left them down yesterday. The importance of a full-back with a zero tolerance appetite for nonsense around the square was underlined as Limerick goaled through the direct approach — Paudie McNamara — before adding a penalty won the same way. Brian Murray’s emphatic finish tied the scores at half-time and Dublin’s good work against the breeze was instantly undone. The teams were locked in a death embrace until the last 10 minutes, when Gavin O’Mahony’s sideline cut soared over the bar to set Limerick free, and they kicked on from there. Anthony Daly won’t want praise for this season’s progress, but Dublin have ended the year in credit. This season will stand to them, though it may be Wednesday or Thursday before they have a mind to see it like that. Genetically speaking Limerick have no problem facing Tipperary, and the Premier County will see uncomfortable similarities between last year’s semi-final and this season’s – they face familiar opponents who are expected to act as sacrificial lambs and a second-half fade-out would be fatal. By the same token, if Limerick start as slowly as they did yesterday — and against Laois — it could be a long afternoon for them. But in either case we’d settle for an ending half as enjoyable as yesterday’s.