In a recent ‘Sunday Times’ profile, John Mullane more or less conceded he isn’t a massive fan of Fitzgerald’s tactics; that, while effective, the smothering style, requiring forwards to tackle as much as take on their men, had made him question the direction the sport he loves and graces is headed.
Fitzgerald has gone so far down the defensive road with Waterford that it’s hard to see how he can turn back now. They either believe in his project or they change tack. (And let’s not have the annual ‘will he, won’t he’ melodrama, please.)
Waterford mightn’t win another All-Ireland for years yet. But it’d be nice to get back to our traditional style of hurling again while trying. It’s not the be all and end all – Ken and Tony are rightly regarded as among the greatest hurlers ever, full stop; not merely the best never to lift the Liam McCarthy.
You can’t fault the lads for effort, and I include Eoin Kelly in that. Shock horror, he’s human. We wouldn’t have won a Munster title last month without him. Is that goal forgotten already? Months of sacrifice can’t be dismissed on account of an off day or two.
All anyone wants, “geniuses” (Fitzgerald’s putdown) or otherwise, is for the team to reach something like its potential, and to entertain the country like they used to. For the likes of John Mullane to truly enjoy his hurling. (And don’t tell me he wouldn’t be scoring twice as much in a different set-up. Likewise, seeing five of the six forwards who started taken off, including your captain, suggests the system mightn’t be suiting them).
This might sound like being wise after the event. In June of last year, the edition after the draw against Limerick, I wrote a piece headlined ‘Waterford must get back to doing what comes naturally’ (and concluding with the line, “Waterford were box office long before Bernard Dunne.”)
“Some would suggest that in upping the ante ‘professionalism’-wise the basics have been lost sight of. Waterford were at their best when they kept it simple,” it read. “Simplicity enables spontaneity, which has been the main missing ingredient since last summer. It’s almost as if preparations are now choreographed to such an extent that there’s no space for the unexpected. Sometimes less is more.”
Loughnane argued that the main reason Tipp won was because they had the better stickmen – exemplified by Eoin Kelly’s first goal, Noel McGrath’s masterclass and the all-round application and intelligence of Lar Corbett (who could be Hurler of the Year yet) – and there’s no escaping that sad truth. Sad because it’s no so long ago that Waterford were the envy of everyone else in the style stakes. That’s been swapped for the sort of training where you’ve ex-boxers building up players’ bodies to absorb belts. What way do we want Waterford’s hurlers moulded – including all the up-and-coming talent that’s out there?
I dunno. Has something fundamental and pure been lost sight of in this pursuit of the Holy Grail? “We’re not a hundred miles off the best,” the manager maintains. Maybe. But a lot of people feel we’re a long way off what’s best for Waterford hurling.