Early Exit Cannot Conceal Success of New Format

Brian Flannery Reports

First things first and despite Waterford’s early Hurling Championship exit it’s fair to say that the new format in both Munster and Leinster has been, in overall terms, a massive success.
The quality of the games, the level of competition and the sheer drama of it all has had us all on the edge of our seats throughout.
On Saturday night last we had Kilkenny on home soil clawing back a significant deficit to prevail by a single point and qualify for another Leinster Final.
The crowd at Nowlan Park was rocking as Wexford was reeled in point by point and eventual pasted at the death for a Kilkenny victory. Old failings for Wexford like poor finishing and the absence of a reliable free-taker re-emerged and they left a winning position slip.Credit to the old maestro Brian Cody for making the necessary half-time adjustments with Mossy Keoghan, Richie Leahy and Joey Holden all entering the fray as Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan and Conor O’Shea made way. The nine-point deficit warranted such dramatic surgery but their sometimes conservative manager hasn’t always been so active on the line when it comes to making changes in personnel during a game. Liam Blanchfield and John Donnelly also made impacts during the second period when the black and amber tide was already rising. Whatever about the input from the side-line the on-field stewardship from the likes of TJ Reid, Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley really propelled Kilkenny to a much better second-half performance.

The highs of 2017 have been followed by a series of crushing lows for the Deise this summer.  									| Photos: Noel Browne

The highs of 2017 have been followed by a series of crushing lows for the Deise this summer. | Photos: Noel Browne

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald was pointing the finger firmly in the direction of match referee James McGrath but self-inflicted wounds had a far greater influence on the result than any injustice from the ‘Man in Black’. Dublin must count themselves unlucky with narrow defeats to Kilkenny, Wexford and Galway last Saturday also seeing Pat Gilroy’s charges exiting the Championship in early June. A poor league showing was followed by a competitive if unsuccessful provincial campaign.
The 2016 champions Tipperary are also early fallers. With two draws and a narrow defeat in three out of four of their games the Premier will lament their summer exit. That said, not a single victory in four Championship games is the form of pretenders and not contenders. Talented forwards were again unable to compensate for a leaky defence with Clare showing the requisite composure to shoot late scores to win the day. Michael Ryan and co will have plenty of time to review their earliest Championship exit since the summer of 1998 and see if they can pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong for one of the competition’s favourites.With a game still to be played it is possibly a tad early to complete a deep dive into the reasons behind Waterford’s early departure. Having reached the final in 2017 this year has been nothing short of a disaster. Injuries and bad luck will almost certainly figure in the post-mortems that we’ll all, sadly, have plenty of time to conduct.
One factor that is completely outside the control of Derek McGrath and the Waterford players is the obvious disadvantage caused by the lack of a suitable home venue. It’s not just that Waterford are without the benefits offered by home games but more the fact that all the other nine competing counties have the comfort of playing two games in front of their own fans.
It’s worth repeating again that the provision of a suitable home venue rests completely with Waterford GAA. The County Board and clubs must share responsibility for this shortcoming. Democracy in the GAA may suggest that ultimately clubs retain the power to decide such things but really you need leadership and vision from your county board on matters of development and capital expenditure. This has sadly has been lacking for decades in Waterford.
For all the talk of transition, Brian Cody has led Kilkenny to yet another Leinster decider.

For all the talk of transition, Brian Cody has led Kilkenny to yet another Leinster decider.

The two county ground strategy operating in Waterford has proven a stymieing factor. Neither Fraher Field nor Walsh Park coming anyway near the required standard to host ‘home’ Championship games. We are led to believe that ‘finance’ or more accurately the lack of same is responsible for the delay over the years in bringing our grounds into the 21st Century.
But how come everyone else has managed to get their house in order with the same issues and constraints pertaining in counties like Offaly and Laois and Wexford yet well-maintained county grounds in O’Connor Park Tullamore, O’Moore Park in Portlaoise and Innovate Wexford Park are there for all to see? Fraher Field + Walsh Park = No county ground.
We have failed this generation of Waterford players by placing them at such a disadvantage with Waterford’s ‘home’ games this season being played in Limerick and Thurles.
But the problem continues. To date no planning application has been lodged with the planning authorities and it is certain that the proposed redevelopment of Walsh Park will not be completed in time for the 2019 Munster Championship with its availability in 2020 also now a doubt.My greatest fear is that we’ll somehow botch the whole project. In a recent interview on WLR with Gavin Whelan, Waterford County Chairman Paddy Joe Ryan confirmed that not only are we planning to redevelop Walsh Park but that he also plans to carry out a similar revamp of Fraher Field to increase its capacity to 10,000. Is this not the more of the same flawed two county ground policy that has us in the state we are, without a single ‘suitable’ county ground?
Could someone please explain what game or events are we planning on hosting at Fraher Field that will require a capacity of 10,000 giving the current plans to redevelop Walsh Park to a capacity of 16,000?Surely we ought to be focusing on developing one county ground that we can all be proud of.

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