Nightmare leads to dream final

IT’S ON. Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the All-Ireland final, and for all sorts of reasons hard-wired into the DNA of both counties, both counties will be glad.

The Cats would rather beat Tipp than any other county to win four-in-a-row. And Tipperary, more than anybody else, would want to be the county to put a stop to their smoothly-purring gallop, if we can cross species for metaphorical purposes.

Cut us some slack. After yesterday’s mismatch we’re looking for consolation anywhere we can get it. Tipperary beat Limerick back to the Stone Age yesterday in a game that didn’t make it to the 20th minute as a contest.

The final score was 6-19 to 2-7, or at least we think it was. The scoreboard operator ran out of light bulbs with 10 minutes to go as we entered a realm of fantastical numbers familiar only to Stephen Hawking. Or maybe Liam Carroll.

It’s our own fault. For the last couple of weeks we were talking Limerick up like Canadian investors looking over an Allied Irish Bank prospectus, and we’re not the first to discover that the value of investments can fall as well as rise.

There had been a lot of confident asserting that, based on their history, Limerick heads wouldn’t drop if Tipperary jumped out an early lead, but yesterday’s collapse was on a par with Dublin a couple of weeks ago, another side to find themselves smothered as they defended Hill 16.

Clearly somebody tore up a fairy fort at the Railway End when the pitch was relaid after the U2 concert, and that somebody needs to put it back.

Limerick paid tribute to Waterford’s largely successful template against Kilkenny early on yesterday, pulling players back the field, with David Breen out in the middle, Seamus Hickey picking up Seamus Callanan, and Brian Geary loose between the two defensive lines.

However, they took their homage a step too far when Stephen Lucey replicated Aidan Kearney’s first-half error last week. Lucey misjudged a routine delivery right down the middle and the ball ran through to Eoin Kelly behind him. Alone. Twenty metres from goal.

What do you mean what happened next?

On fourteen minutes Lar Corbett left green jerseys twisting in his vapour trail and placed Noel McGrath for a forehand smash to the net; two minutes later Mark Foley dallied for a heartbeat too long on the 21-metre line and had his pocket picked in front of goal by Pat Kerwick, who finished with extreme prejudice.

At the end of the first quarter, then, Limerick were three goals behind and the game was dead as Dillinger.

The score was 3-8 to 0-4 at half-time and Tipp added a further 3-11 to their total after the break.

“We missed a few chances and we were on the back foot after 20 minutes,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy afterwards. “By half-time, realistically, as a contest the game was over. At half-time we thought we could come back as good as we could, but it was a big hill to climb at that stage.”

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy was delighted with the win, but he wasn’t gloating in the immediate aftermath.

“Anyone watching sport would know that that wasn’t Limerick today. I feel for Justin and the lads. It’s happened to me as a manager a few times — nothing happens for you and it doesn’t work out, and Limerick had one of those days.

“There’s big guys in that dressing-room, there’s character in that dressing-room and have no doubt they’ll be back. That just wasn’t their form.”

True enough. But to throw some business jargon into the mix, for Tipperary going forward, the poverty of Limerick’s challenge yesterday means that questions remain for Sheedy and his management team.

For instance, we all expected Tipperary to fade a little in the second half, as they’ve done in previous games this year, and when Limerick burgled a couple of goals the Premier’s mini-hiatus seemed to have arrived right on cue.

At least it did until Lar Corbett buried another two goals within seven minutes. Does that mean the second-half slacking-off problem is solved?

Tipperary’s half-forward line has been criticised for disappearing in recent games, with Seamus Callanan in particular being fingered for vanishing into a phone booth and re-emerging in his civvies rather than a cape and tights. Yet he was also available for the Corbett pass Noel McGrath finished to the net in the first half, and he slipped into splendid isolation on a couple of other occasions as well, scoring fine points in the second half.

At the other end of the field Sheedy’s deployment of Padraic Maher on the edge of the square worked well, but when your team wins a game by 25 points, how much pressure has your full-back been under?

Expect something different on September 6th when Kilkenny take the field.

“They are the team,” said Sheedy. “And rightfully so. They’ve earned that over the last four years. It’s no fluke they’re going for four-in-a-row.”

And it’s no fluke that Kilkenny’s appetite for work has burnt itself across the retinas of the pretenders. Lar Corbett testified to that after the game.

“I don’t think that work-rate would win an All-Ireland on September 6th,” said Corbett, whose personal contribution was a spectacularly lazy 3-1 from play. “We know what Kilkenny are doing to teams year in, year out. We’re under no illusions.

“We see Kilkenny do it year in, year out – the man in the best position gets the ball. That’s it. Today the man in the best position got the ball and if you start from that you’ve a chance of winning any game.”

Eudie Coughlan had a succinct comparison of the up-and-coming Kilkenny side he and his Cork team-mates beat in 1931. They were coming in, he said, and we were going out.

Kilkenny were not the blood and iron regiment of 2008 against Waterford in this year’s semi-final, and as the year goes on the men in blue and gold look more and more like an irresistible tide. But are Tipp really coming in this year? Are Kilkenny really going out? Questions to savour.

Anything to put yesterday out of the mind: those familiar with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane will remember the scene in which Kane’s girlfriend makes her opera-singing debut; the camera tracks upwards from the stage to a pair of stagehands far above, listening to her murder the aria from Salaambo. One stagehand simply looks at his comrade and then holds his nose.

There was a lot of that going around yesterday.

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.”

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.”

Easy, let’s not write off the small ball game just yet

THAT put us rightly in our place.

Hurling snobs everywhere were left choking on their cigarillos and smashing their snifters of absinthe after last Sunday’s dull Munster senior hurling championship draw between Waterford and Limerick.

Roll up your silk smoking-jackets and put those 78s of Noel Coward songs back in the sleeve. Let that air of smug superiority and impossible aesthetic standards waft out the window like a bad smell.

It’s all over. Officially. The reign of the grand old game came to an abrupt end last weekend and Waterford and Limerick carry the can for its demise.

Even if heavy rain and slippery turf can be added to the charge sheet, those were the two teams that ushered in the final demise of the small-ball game.

They shouldn’t shoulder too much of the blame, of course, they just happened to be in the seats when the wheel went round.

Eventually the reality of Gaelic football’s primacy was going to sink in. That just took a little longer than everybody expected.

The reaction to last Sunday’s draw in the Munster senior hurling championship was interesting in all sorts of ways: friends and colleagues who are aware of this column’s … fastidious approach to Gaelic football weren’t slow to shake their heads mournfully at the festival of slipping and dropping and missing that went on in Semple Stadium.

Years of eye-rolling as football midfielders mauled each other like strangers in a San Francisco bathhouse were cited in evidence against your correspondent; we were reminded of loud sighs exhaled as yet another wing-back was checked when moving upfield for a return handpass; and certain comments from years past about the wisdom of allowing football to be played in Croke Park — Gaelic football, that is — were brought up, and not to our advantage.

There’s no hiding from the fact that last Sunday wasn’t entertaining. What we found interesting, however, was that directly after the game, participants commented freely on its quality.

“It was a poor Munster championship game… it wasn’t a great championship (match) by any standards,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy. His captain, Mark Foley, was even more forthright: “Whereas it was close and exciting at times, the standard wasn’t great and you’d be hoping from a neutral perspective that the quality will be better the next time.”

Compare Derry-Monaghan a few weeks ago. After that clash — an ugly enough affair, even by football standards — Derry boss Damien Cassidy said: “It was a battle but it was not going to be anything else. People sitting at home may be complaining about the quality of football but we are not in the business of entertaining people.

“This is an amateur game — you sacrifice your working life and your family life. And we don’t get paid for entertaining people.”

Cassidy is right, of course: he’s not obliged to produce fun viewing but to produce victories in a competitive environment. We just feel it’s significant that in the immediate aftermath of a poor hurling championship game participants find the time to gauge the aesthetic appeal, along with the result, while after a poor football championship game a participant acknowledges people will be unhappy with the quality of the entertainment.

We’re not going to try to pretty up last Sunday. It was a poor game, and this isn’t designed to make a case for the beauty of hurling (you could say that most Gaelic football games perform that function pretty well; okay, we couldn’t resist that one).

What surprised us was the reaction to the poverty of the fare, as if hurling fans had that hour of dreariness
coming. Maybe they’re right, too.

Still, it beats the alternative.

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

05-06-2009
Colm O’Connor

If hurlers brawl
in the woods…

IT’S not usual for this column to open with a mea culpa directed at Gaelic football fans of the northern counties, but there’s no way out of it.

Sorry.

Last week we had a little pop at the Derry-Monaghan prize-fight – er, Ulster championship game, a testy affair that drew all sorts of contumely down on the heads of those involved.

And certainly much of that was deserved. It was unedifying as a spectacle, though that had a lot more to do with the game being the first big occasion of the summer than its billing as the latest marker in the world’s slide into a post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of the landscape in The Omega Man (still one of Charlton Heston’s best films, in our book).

Much to the chagrin of hurling snobs everywhere, then, we had a full-scale brawl at Galway-Laois in the Leinster SHC last Sunday.

Two players were red-carded in the aftermath of that melee, but once again we’re struck by a) the lack of outrage at this kind of violence because b) this kind of violence was far more dangerous than a certain occasion in Semple Stadium two years ago which drew the kind of reaction usually reserved for the opening of the Michael Jackson Tiny Tots Daycare Centre.

CERTAIN conclusions can be jumped to as a result of the contrast in reactions between Derry-Monaghan and Laois-Galway.

One is that everybody seems to have a hard-wired readiness to believe the worst about the Ulster championship. Granted, that’s a readiness which is all too often sustained by the actual evidence, but it helps nobody to operate with prejudice.

We’re aware that this kind of serene even-handedness is at odds with certain opinions expressed in the past, to which we can only say: people can change.

Another conclusion relates to the warm sensation that can be deciphered as a generalised hope that Galway do well in Leinster – for the sake of Galway and for the sake of Leinster hurling.

(That feelgood factor about Galway seems to permeate everything, by the way. After all, we just had a week in which every media outlet in the country decamped to the west of Ireland to rediscover their passionate interest in yachts coming into Galway Bay, while the local League of Ireland soccer club must be the only business on the planet which was able to make appointing Nick Leeson into a good-news story.)

All of the above shouldn’t make the Galway hurlers proof against investigation or punishment for indiscretions, and the same goes for every county. However, investigation or punishment seem to depend on one last variable.

IF THERE had been an incident in the Cork-Tipp game along the lines of the Galway-Laois brawl there would have been outrage: editorials calling on us to think of the children, etc.

The critical difference is that the game in Thurles was live on television last Sunday, the centrepiece of the afternoon’s entertainment, while a few scant minutes of the Leinster clash made into that night’s highlights programme.

RTÉ can take pride in the fact that The Sunday Game is a hugely influential programme which is essential viewing for sports fans across the country. However, managers who attack the show’s pundits for appearing to dictate the disciplinary sanctions within the GAA – step forward Derry’s Damien Cassidy — are wide of the mark; they’d be better off training their sights on the disciplinary chiefs within the GAA, who have let that perception gain weight.

(The pundits don’t always get it right, either – their focus on Cork’s Aisake Ó hAilpín’s legitimate pick-up, which was apparently whistled by Barry Kelly last Sunday omitted an earlier swipe which was what, presumably, the Westmeath man blew for.)

On that basis we’re inclined to warn those teams operating off-Broadway this summer: be careful that you don’t end up being the evidence when the GAA tries to prove that Pat Spillane and Michael Duignan don’t drive their disciplinary agenda.

An apology won’t do you any good at that stage.

Wrong place but the right club

I F it’s Tuesday, it must be Waterford.

This column rocked up to De La
Salle GAA club’s new premises earlier this week in the Gentle County, ready for a press night ahead of the senior team’s clash this Sunday with Cushendall in the All-Ireland club semi-final.

We bounced over one or two speed bumps along the way: De La Salle are in the process of moving their base of operations from their old playing grounds, in Cleaboy, across to the new venue above Gracedieu in the city, so the club had a presence in both places on Tuesday night. The lift up to Cleaboy delivered us bang on time, only to discover the press event was going on in Gracedieu. Must really start reading those e-mails.

For an uncomfortable minute or two an extremely uncomfortable walk looked on the cards, before a De La Salle intermediate player — thanks, Ronan — offered a lift over to the new clubhouse. Reporter rescued, and sweaty, steamy arrival averted: everybody wins in that situation, believe me. That kind of willingness to give a stranger a dig-out is part of what makes covering the All-Ireland club finals more attractive, a lot of the time, than the big show itself. You end up in places like De La Salle’s new clubhouse, where some of the doors are waiting to be fitted and there’s a whiff of sawdust in the air as they put the outward signs of a club on show.

The inner parts are already in place. When we went into one of the club’s new meeting rooms there were pictures of the 1999 Féile na nGael team already framed and hanging on the far wall, along with a terrific poster advertising the county senior football final replay of 1958 (in the Gaelic Field?).

The plain table was of a make and model common to all hurling and football clubs the length and breadth of the country — an interior designer might call it a GAA, Come What May look. The sandwiches were traditional — plain ham and egg mayonnaise — though kudos to the sweet-toothed club officer who produced an inexhaustible supply of Cadbury’s Mini Rolls (take it as read that the assembled journos tried their best to exhaust it).

The club officials in attendance were beaming with pride, unsurprisingly. No unit of the GAA lives exclusively on champagne and De La Salle have had their lean years just like everybody else. Waterford star John Mullane, who captains De La Salle, spoke feelingly about the 15- and sixteen-point defeats he had suffered with the club senior side in the local championship just a few short years ago. That same cycle applies to Corofin and Kilmacud, to Cushendall and Ballyhale. When the good times come along you try to enjoy them.

O NE OF the great cliches that goes on heavy rotation at this time of year is the one thrown out by GAA stars so famous they’re usually identifiable by their first name alone — that it’s even better when you win something with the club and the lads you grew up with. It’s true, of course, and the proof was on offer in De La Salle.

Kevin Moran was keen to point to the seven hurlers in the picture of the 1999 Féile team who graduated to the senior team and lined out in the county final against Abbeyside last year. Brian Phelan was frank about the players’ meeting which turned the club’s season around in late August. Mullane paid tribute to club heroes like Derek McGrath, who had broken down in training on the Tuesday night before the county final and missed out on the big day.

Most weeks of the year you’re accustomed to meeting these players outside a dressing-room with dozens of others brandishing microphones, cameras and tape recorders. It’s nice, one or two weeks in the year, to meet them on their home ground.

And speaking of home ground… much obliged to club PRO John Sheehan, who kindly gave me a lift back into town from the new clubhouse.

It meant that those Mini Rolls could be digested in comfort.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Footnotes to a
season’s history

(DAVID Foster Wallace died last week; the American novelist was known for his enthusiasm for tennis, use of footnotes while writing and philosophical musings on infinity. We thought we’d pay tribute to one of those enthusiasms today. And it’s
neither tennis nor infinity.)

Kerry’s defeat at the hands of
Tyrone last Sunday has opened up the debate* about the team of the decade, if that’s a discussion you care to join.

It might be more interesting to talk** about the state of Gaelic football in the wake of last Sunday. It was end-to-end stuff in Croke Park, with some fine individual scores, but there was also plenty of wayward kicking and poor option-taking on show^^.

That said, it was a vast improvement in terms of entertainment¹ on a
couple of other games this season, with most people now anxious to have the hour and a half they devoted to Kildare-Fermanagh, for instance, returned to them forthwith². This isn’t meant, by the way, to be another
version of the hurling is better than football debate, either“. Just a statement of fact.

Although . . . at least the best of the country’s hurlers aren’t decamping to another continent to parade in front of representatives of another sport who are utterly uninterested in the welfare of Gaelic football.

But that’s another story. Tune in next week.†

FOOTNOTES:

*Debate might be a strong word. Call it a case of clinging to straws if you’re from Kerry, and a matter of preening your feathers if from Tyrone. As for the rest of the GAA world, does the term ‘team of the decade’ register on anyone’s radar as even the most tenuously worthwhile title?

And hold your nose if you do. There is a willingness to make this
into a ‘well, my team’s less cynical than yours’ kind of argument, in which certain players are brought forth as examples of clean living and candidates for sainthood which are at odds with their usual demeanour . . .

** . . . bringing us nicely to Mr Aidan O’Mahony. Not content with establishing self as the Tom Daley, if not actually the Greg Louganis, of the GAA, the sometimes less than perpendicular centre-back told crowds at the Kerry homecoming that Cork wouldn’t win the All-Ireland while he and Tom
O’Sullivan were on the Kerry team.

Son, when you’re in a hole, the first lesson is to stop digging . . .

Something that’s worth mentioning and of itself. The time has long gone when football teams went up and down the field; most senior intercounty sides now take their cue from Ray Wilkins and his memorable crab-like passing. Though the uninformed call this a patient build-up, this is precisely why they are, in fact, called the uninformed . . .

^^Truly one of the great expressions when it comes to sport. It’s as if each player had a sheet of paper in his hand as he bore down on goal (OPTIONS: A. Kick ball over bar. B. Kick ball wide. C. Drop ball. Tick as appropriate). And that the funereal silence of the exam hall pervaded. And there wasn’t half-a-ton of snorting
opponent hurtling after you, etc, etc.

¹Yes, we are all quite aware that if it’s entertainment you want you should go to the circus. Or buy the Season Five DVD box set of The Wire. But still.

²That was truly tragic, if you recall. Don’t feel too bad if you don’t, either, because the mind has a habit of blocking out trauma that horrific.

“ Funny, though, how those flying the flag for the big ball seem to view anyone with a partiality for hurling as somehow representing the views of hurling aficionados everywhere.
Kudos to the man who texted this column after the hurling final to say — with a near-audible sigh — that it was up to the football to rescue the GAA season.

Fair enough. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, no?

The best laugh about the Compromise-Rules-Greco-Roman-WWF game is the continually-touted line that the players want it.

Would you think so? Really? Given it involves a free trip to Australia, wouldn’t it be a little surprising if they didn’t?

†I’ll be here. Even if some of our footballers aren’t.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Where other sports are merely games

The world of hurling was a seam running through our lives.

Sean Dunne.

Hurling was our game.

Donal Foley.

EMERGING FROM the blizzard of white and blue that is Waterford these days, we thought we’d give an ear to a couple of the natives and their thoughts on the game ahead of the All-Ireland final, the two men quoted above.

Sean Dunne was a gifted poet who worked for this newspaper before dying tragically young in 1996, still in his thirties. His name as a poet rests on collections like The Sheltered Nest, but he also wrote a lovely, lyrical memoir of growing up in Waterford in the fifties and sixties.

The eagle eye of the poet is much in evidence when it comes to selecting details of childhood, and his father’s love for Erin’s Own GAA club is sketched vividly. Dunne senior contributed club notes to the Waterford News and Star, and his son recalls him turning an image over and over his head: “The players were buzzing like bees around a honey-pot – how does that sound?”

Sean Dunne himself confesses in the book that he didn’t quite pick up the passion to participate in sport, but he enjoyed watching: “I was happy to be a spectator, relishing moments like Martin Óg Morrissey taking a free, or the tension as teams fought for winning scores with only minutes to go in a game.”

Dunne turned early to poetry and headed to university at eighteen, leaving Waterford, but the city left its mark. So did hurling: “No matter how small my talent or how little my interest, it was as much a part of my life as the wallpaper in my bedroom.”

Another snapshot of Waterford life comes in Dunne’s memory of the All-Ireland finalists coming home in 1963, the players on the back of a truck inching its way along the quay having narrowly failed to make it three All-Ireland titles after 1938 and 1959.

DONAL Foley, born in 1922, grew up in Waterford and remembered the 1938 win well, having been present for the first game in the successful campaign, the win over Cork in Dungarvan.

He went onto national fame as a journalist and in his memoir, “Three Villages”, published thirty years ago, he recalls the game-breaker for Waterford – ‘Locky’ Byrne, who won All-Irelands with Kilkenny in 1933, 1935 and 1936 before transferring his allegiance to the Déise.

“He scored three goals that wet June Sunday,” wrote Foley, “with such panache and ease that he seemed that day to have discovered some magic hurling formula all his own.”

Foley’s book offers a neat balance to Dunne’s later work, not least for its insight into how Ferrybank, that vexed territory: Foley’s father chaired a meeting at which some natives of Ferrybank spoke in favour of becoming part of Waterford and some advised remaining in Kilkenny.

The deciding vote was taken in “deep silence”, recalled Foley: “The Waterford side had scored a narrow win. There was no applause, no crowing of one side over the other. But there was great sadness in some hearts that we had turned our backs on home.”

Sporting options were limited in the Ferrybank of the time, he remembered. They were aware of the professional soccer team in Waterford while rugby they regarded as a “game for snobs played by bank clerks”, and Gaelic football a “bastard version of mixed up soccer and rugby” (presumably that was meant in a bad way). One game stood out.

“Other sports were merely games or pastimes. Hurling was different, and a way of life.”

Well put. And well worth remembering this weekend.

Contact michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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.

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.