Myths
dispelled but legend only grows

WHERE did your
preconceptions about Waterford-
Kilkenny start and end last weekend?

A few myths went by the wayside on Sunday in Croke Park. We decided we’d have a look at them.

Hurling is gone all tactical now, it’ll never be as good again: anyone who thinks that tactics never played a part in hurling should check the
oxygen content on their planet’s
atmosphere. Puck-out plans, creating space and playing the percentages
under the dropping ball have always been part of hurling.

What’s noticeable now is that teams are playing to patterns, with space
being closed down deliberately in
defences.

If you don’t like them apples, wait around — you’ll see a coach come up with a way to overcome those
patterns. That’s sport.

You can only beat Kilkenny by playing an extra defender: The
dividend in playing an extra player at the back against the Cats is in keeping the scoreline down, not in winning the game.

Credit is due to Waterford boss Davy Fitzgerald for not playing that particular game last weekend, as it would surely have resulted in an extra marker for John Mullane, for instance, and choked the Déise attack.

Davy’s team set up in a withdrawn formation instead, with the players up front retreating 20 metres backwards for Kilkenny puck-outs and forcing PJ Ryan into a couple of short puck-outs, just as the Cats did to Cork in the 2006 final.

That made sure Waterford had
bodies in the forward line when they broke upfield and had passing options which helped them to score.

Third myth: Tommy Walsh is one dirty player:

Walsh picked up a first-minute yellow card last Sunday, as did his marker, Eoin McGrath.

The sanction is always a heavier burden for a defender, however, as it means one mistimed tackle or loose challenge can be catastrophic.

Walsh, who has come under
scrutiny this season, contributed
handsomely to Kilkenny’s win,
including the killer ball for Henry Shefflin’s goal.

Given the plethora of cameras and commentary surrounding inter-county games these days, it’s hard to see how any ‘dirty’ player would survive the keen eye of the media in the first place, but that’s something for another day.

Waterford are an aging team and getting older: one of last weekend’s teams had two starters from the 1999 season, but it wasn’t Waterford.

Henry Shefflin and Michael
Kavanagh of Kilkenny have had a decade at inter-county level, while Tony Browne was the only starter for
Waterford who played that year.

Granted, Browne’s career goes five years further back than that, and if Ken McGrath hadn’t been injured, may have started instead, but surely that hangs up the whole last-year-for-the-Déise talk, a riff that’s been played for much of the last decade.

The four in a row is a formality for Kilkenny now: Not so fast. Kilkenny’s graph hasn’t been as smooth as it was last year, when their form rose inexorably through the
semi-final against Cork to a crescendo against Waterford in the final.

They have suffered from the loss of Noel Hickey in particular at the back, and if it wasn’t for a certain H.
Shefflin up front they might have even lost last Sunday.

None of which, of course, is proof against the chances of an irresistible performance in the All-Ireland final. It’s just that those chances look
slightly more remote than they did this day last week.

Henry Shefflin is untouchable: on the quarter-hour last Sunday, the Kilkenny talisman went for goal from a 21-metre free when his side were two points up. It was saved.

The disastrous implications of the missed free were dissipated somewhat when Shefflin pointed a free two
minutes later.

We’re exaggerating slightly there, of course.

What we can’t exaggerate is the aura that now surrounds the big Ballyhale man; the surprise in the fact that his choice of target didn’t work out last Sunday is proof of that.

Some myths eventually become fact.

Contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie
twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

Cats pass gut-check, Mayo don’t

WRIST ACTION: Waterford’s Shane Walsh gets to grips with Kilkenny’s JJ Delaney in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE THUMBS UP: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody on a job well done. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE NET RESULT: Meath’s Cian Ward celebrates scoring a penalty against Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

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.

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.”

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.

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.

HE was watching television last weekend when he saw the two of them. Anthony Daly, the measured bainisteoir of Dublin.
Diarmuid O’Sullivan, suited and
booted on The Sunday Game.

Dan Shanahan reached into a
memory bank swollen by 12 intercounty seasons and remembered other days. Other attitudes. Like the
Munster hurling final in 1998, when Shanahan came into Daly’s orbit.

“I said that to him, ‘you’re not marking Seanie McGrath now’,” says Shanahan. “He said ‘no, you’re uglier’. That was fair enough. I had no gumshield that time. He was the elder statesman, I was the young fella. I’d say there was worse said to Daly out on the field.”

More recently there was the snap of O’Sullivan and Shanahan on their haunches. Breathing hard, not so hard they couldn’t talk.

“The two of us were down and I said ‘Sully, I’m fecked’, and he said ‘if you are, so am I’. That’s another side of it — we were serious playing it, but if the ball was up the other end of the field you’d end up talking, even though I wasn’t much for talking.”

Shanahan is up front about the timeframe for his own playing career.

“You
realise the time is
getting short. Up to a couple of years ago it was a 15-man game, but now it’s a 20-man game. You have to do extra training to stay at the level, and at times you’d wonder if it’s worth it.

“I love training, and I have great respect for the lads I’m training with. You might be in bad form going into training but a good session will put in good form again.”

He gave young Noel Connors some advice before his first championship match. Nothing dramatic, but Shanahan could remember his entry to a dressing-room with men like Stephen Frampton and Damien Byrne.

“I was stuck in the corner, togging out next to someone from my own club because that’s the only guy you’d know. But then they started taking the piss out of me and vice versa, and it was fine. I know what it’s like for young fellas coming in, they’re looking at the likes of Tony Browne, Eoin
Kelly, and it takes three or four weeks’ training for the young fellas to realise they’re great lads. After carrying lads around a mucky field they get to know each other fine.”

And when they do the slagging starts: “Ah, you’ll rise fellas if Man United lost, or if Mullane did
something cracked the last day. You’ll have great banter. Inter-county hurling has become very serious in the last couple of years, the fun is nearly gone out of it. We take it seriously when we train but we have plenty of craic with each other afterwards.”

And the top marksman when the darts fly? “Eoin Murphy’s very fast off the mark with an answer. But you’d know the witty lads, they all have a third-level education.”

Shanahan doesn’t mind talking about 2008, and the All-Ireland final, but he goes back a bit further.

“In 2007 we conceded five goals to Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final, and any time you concede five goals you’re in trouble, but we still nearly won that game. If we’d won that day we’d have been in better shape for 2008, but last year we did everything right, as far as I’m concerned, going into the game. We just came up against a fantastic team on their best day.

“To beat Kilkenny, we’d need 17-18 fellas playing very well, and they’d need a few not to play well. A good team beat us in the final — a very good team – but it could have been any other team against them in that game and the result would have been the same.

“We didn’t know what effect that had until the championship.
Challenges and league games are fine but nothing compares to championship. The first day against Limerick the weather was a huge factor — people couldn’t see how heavy the rain was, the referee could have called that off at half-time.

“The second day the weather was much better and you could see the
difference — everyone did very well. That’s something Davy has installed, that everyone is part of the team and contributes when they come on.”

The Lismore man sees plenty of
differences between hurling now and 1996, when he started.

“High fielding was easier in the 90s because you’d have space. Now if the opposition knows you’ll win high ball they’ll drop a player back in front of you, and it’s up to you to counteract it. And you can counteract it, by moving, but the game has become harder and that’s one sign of it.

“The speed of the game is now unbelievable, so now if you win a ball you’re nearly looking to lay it off with a handpass rather than going for it like in the old days.”

Elsewhere, it’s been a week of
headlines for the GPA. Shanahan is a strong believer. “You have to respect the GPA. You’re training like a professional and what players ask for isn’t much. I know everyone is suffering with the recession, and the GPA is willing to do what’s necessary.

“The clubs are doing great work and so are county boards, but the work that players are putting in is colossal.

“It’s definitely not a money thing. Being paid to play hurling isn’t going to happen; there might be two counties could do it but that’s all. Recognition is what it’s all about. After all, the Monday after the Munster final I’ll be up at work — and rightly so — but the players should get recognised.

“It mightn’t happen in my era but it could happen that a game will come, with 40,000 or 50,000 spectators in a ground, that the players won’t line out. The mood is that strong.”

He sees bright signs for Waterford’s future: “We’ve won some Tony Forrestal tournaments, De La Salle won a couple of Hartys, Lismore won the Munster B and Dungarvan the C, so you’d be hoping a few come through.”

One of those youngsters is his own brother, Maurice. “I think having him there puts more pressure on me!

“It makes me feel old having him there. He’s 19, and he’s dedicated, he’s committed, but it’s a fair education to come into the intercounty scene — in the first week on the panel the young fellas meet a dietician who plans their food, a doctor checks them and runs blood tests and so on ahead of training after what happened Cormac McAnallen, God rest him.

“They can’t socialise at all, no drink or anything. Richie Foley was saying all his mates are going to Oxegen, but he can’t.

“But against that, if you won tomorrow … I’ve been lucky enough to be there three times, and the 10 minutes after the final whistle is like nothing else. Losing is desperate, but if you win, there in the dressing-room, the lot of ye together … nothing else is like it. Nothing compares to it.”

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

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

Question: What now for the Cork County Board?

Answer: Administrators in the Rebel County look to be holding the best cards. They have the backing of club delegates and told the recent county convention that they re-appointed senior hurling manager Gerald McCarthy correctly, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Labour Relations Commission (LRC) chief Kieran Mulvey last February.

Yet there have been significant reversals for the administration.

Fr Bernie Cotter’s thundering condemnations from the pulpit before the county convention aroused resentment from many people, and the board has not publicly disassociated itself from Cotter’s inflammatory call for confrontation, leaving themselves open to charges of tacitly endorsing his sentiments.

The Cork footballers’ boycott of their medal presentation was another bloody nose for the board. Whatever the footballers plan for the new year, it was an ominous reminder of other potential problems for administrators.

And as we mentioned operating in accordance with those guidelines . . .

Q: What about that Kieran Mulvey document?

A: The departure of Teddy Holland was for many the most significant development after the LRC chief got involved, closely followed by his
recommendation that two players be involved in picking the new senior manager.

The fact that Cork were to return immediately to the hurling and
football fields meant few people paid attention to his memorandum of understanding.

At the recent convention, county board secretary Frank Murphy and then-chairman Mick Dolan stressed the board had been faithful to the decisions and spirit of the agreement Mulvey hammered out.

But were they? Murphy, for instance, told delegates that Gerald McCarthy’s reappointment was in
accordance with normal appointment procedures in the county for “quite a number of years”, wherein the
best candidate, according to the
appointment committee, is approached for a management job and offered the post; if that candidate
accepts the post then that acceptance brings the process to a close.

That doesn’t sound like the procedure Kieran Mulvey painstakingly put together in February, now famous for its two players and five county board representatives on the appointment committee. So which
procedure was used? Then there’s the new committee, chaired by solicitor Olann Kelleher at the invitation of Cork GAA President Derry Gowen. . .

Q: What can that committee do?

A: Good question. While the prospect of getting all sides around a table was, naturally, hailed as a breakthrough when first announced, the powers and terms of reference of that committee are unknown. If it cannot enforce any decisions or conclusions reached, then what value does it have? And a committee already exists with representatives from board and team.

Kieran Mulvey’s recommendations included provision for a consultative committee to be made up of board members and players, which would meet on a regular basis throughout the season to discuss matters of interest to both sides.

What has happened to that committee? Does it supercede the Kelleher/Gowen committee? If so, can it make recommendations and why has it not done so?

Q: What about Gerald McCarthy?

A: Given what has been said on both sides in recent months it looks unlikely that Gerald McCarthy and the Cork hurlers could ever share a dressing-room again, despite McCarthy’s recent letter to 2008 squad members inquiring about their availability.

The manager has obviously learned from Teddy Holland’s experience last year. Holland’s media silence meant he never became an identifiable figure in the public eye. By contrast, McCarthy has been willing from the outset to counter the players’ comments with statements of his own.

Some of his interventions have been costly, however: his response against Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s attack was one example.

At the recent county board convention a delegate proposed McCarthy be moved upstairs to a ‘director
of hurling’ post within the hurling development academy he mooted some time ago, a suggestion
which drew applause from the
floor. It could be a way out.

After the 2008 season ended,
McCarthy told one senior player that he would only be back as manager if the players wanted him back, while following the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kilkenny one of McCarthy’s backroom team told players that he had advised the manager not to go forward for 2009: two discussions which informed the player representatives’ approach to the re-appointments process.

Q: Will he be the last manager in that situation?

A: Notwithstanding the understandable weariness in the country at large with this, the third edition of a stand-off in Cork, there are serious implications for the GAA as a whole, and for managers in particular.

There have been attempts to link any controversies involving the Cork players to the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

However, those making such connections would be better advised to look at examples such as the Waterford hurlers, whose manager Justin McCarthy departed the scene as soon as it became clear his players had lost faith in his management skills.

The GPA didn’t get involved in Waterford. It didn’t have to. The pressure on players to perform has had an unexpected dividend because, unlike the antsy directors of a Premier League team, the stakeholders directly affected by poor inter-county performance are players. Much as conservatives may not like the prospect, if those players are unhappy with management then action will be taken, which looks likely to become more frequent in the future.

Seeing as we mentioned players . . .

Q: What about them?

A: The 2008 panellists are neither angels nor saints. Few All-Ireland medal-winners are. But, going back to October, they have consistently stressed their problems with the
process by which Gerald McCarthy was re-appointed. The focus on
procedure may not be sexy enough for many followers, but that process needs to be re-examined.

Despite rumours of division among the players, two of the youngest
panellists – Shane O’Neill and Cathal Naughton – rejected those suggestions to this newspaper recently, while it may surprise some to learn that in November 2007 one of the senior players now regarded as leading the opposition to McCarthy persuaded other panellists, who wanted to oust the manager, to continue under him into 2008.

Q: And as you mentioned 2008….

A: That year is over, but all in all, the emotional toll of this dispute on every participant, on all sides, is considerable, and clearly is not the optimum preparation for an inter-county season which begins for the Cork hurlers next weekend with the Waterford Crystal League. A week is a long time in politics. It could be a lot longer in hurling.