Waterford’s Munster Hurling campaign goes down in flames

“This means thinking of others. It means losing oneself in the group for the good of the group. It means being not just willing but eager to sacrifice personal interest or glory for the welfare of all. There is a profound difference between mere willingness and eagerness. A prisoner on a chain gang may be willing to break rocks to avoid punishment. But how eager is he? Of course, we all want to do well and receive individual praise. Yes, that’s fine, if you put it to use for the good of the team, whatever your team is: sports, business, family or community. Team spirit means you are willing to sacrifice personal considerations for the welfare of all. That defines a team player.” - John Wooden

There’s a minimum any supporter expects of their team each and every time they play, irrespective of the opposing side’s reputation and trophy collection: and that minimum is all-out effort. Of course, no team has a divine right to win each and every game, but pursuing a competitive goal is what gives sport value. And on those days when one’s collective effort falls short, primarily due to the superiority of the opponent then, however partisan one may be, you’ll at least head for the turnstile thinking, ‘well at least our lads gave their best’. Such consolation makes the post-match analysis somewhat easier to digest, however painful such reflection might still be.

That Waterford senior hurling’s stock has fallen so low that it currently does not meet what is, for me, the minimum requirement of any team, represents an astounding state of affairs, less than two years after most of these players reached an All-Ireland Final.Were Waterford always likely to lose in Thurles and at home to the All-Ireland champions? Given that wins in Semple against Tipp are almost as rare as Celtic Crosses in this county and Limerick’s physical power and in-house rallying cries in the wake of defeat to Cork, then the answer is sadly yes. But what ought never be called into question by anyone who crosses the threshold of Walsh Park is to head for home unable to deny what your eyes just surveyed: a lack of effort from the team in white and blue.

Conor Prunty, one of the few Waterford players to emerge from this Championship with an enhanced reputation, glances back to the Walsh Park pitch following last Sunday’s defeat to Limerick. | Photo: Noel Browne

Conor Prunty, one of the few Waterford players to emerge from this Championship with an enhanced reputation, glances back to the Walsh Park pitch following last Sunday’s defeat to Limerick. | Photo: Noel Browne

Now if you’d rather bury your head in the sand and deny that most gut-wrenching of sporting realities, fair enough. But when a team leaves the fray, finishing with 14 men for the second successive outing, having produced the county’s lowest Championship scoring tally since the 1986 defeat to Cork, leaving Waterford on an eight-match winless run, then their collective effort has to be questioned. As was the case in Thurles, there were a few glimmers of light on Sunday last, and in all likelihood, we saw a future Waterford captain emerging in full-back Conor Prunty, a young man I recall producing heroics for our minor footballers in Newcastlewest a few short summers ago.

For their parts, Calum Lyons and Jack Prendergast will also end this campaign with performance cash in the bank, and that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh deserved a better end to the likely end of his inter-county career is undoubted. But that this hurling season is drawing to another premature close with only three Waterford players likely to emerge with any level of merit from it is simply not good enough. “That was one of the longest halves I ever had to watch in hurling,” was a pained Ken McGrath’s immediate post-match reaction. “It was embarrassing. Look, it’s not acceptable, really. What can you say after that? There were so many things wrong and I feel sorry for Paraic Fanning, in all fairness in his first year, five or six weeks ago, everything was going well. But we were an absolute shambles there today in all fairness, it was men versus boys and at times we were like lads who had never even played the game. And the lack of effort and the lack of drive in the second half or even to try and make it respectable, that’s the worrying thing.”

As the sun will rise and set each day, teams will win and teams will lose. But, as John Wooden put it, embracing team spirit means being willing to lose one’s self in the group for the group’s benefit. Waterford have not met that minimum requirement in this year’s Championship. And that single feature of this forgettable campaign is infinitely worse than losing any match. An absolute shambles indeed.

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