One doesn’t wish to be writing about player discontent in Waterford hurling again but, unfortunately, there is no escaping said topic in the build-up to next Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
Now whether Jack Kennedy was right to withdraw his services from the Waterford senior panel or not is not something which will be judged from this particular vantage point.
It clearly cannot have been a decision that he easily came to, but it’s one that the Ballyduff man obviously felt he had to take in the wake of his Munster final substitution.
“We are all disappointed at that decision but we must also accept it,” said County PRO Joe Cleary following Kennedy’s stepping down from the inter-county scene.
“Jack has been a very fine ambassador for the county since he came onto the senior panel, and he has given the county sterling service over many years. We wish him well for the future.”
As a distraction, one imagines it’s something Davy Fitzgerald and his selectors could have done without in the build-up to Sunday’s quarter-final.
Meanwhile, some of the comments made in the national press last Sunday have surely already been pasted on a dressing room wall in Walsh Park to be filed under ‘prove them wrong’.
“Ignore the final scoreline and Davy Fitzgerald’s post-match attempts to dress up Waterford’s performance as diehard and defiant,” wrote Sunday Times scribe Denis Walsh.
“The cold-eyed reality is that they played without structure in the second half – especially – and were busking for scores in the end.”
As good and as genial a journalist as they come, Walsh’s words, no matter how many times they were read, just didn’t rest well with this particular set of eyes.
Had Waterford lost some of their shape? Without doubt. Was the second half recovery down to the toil of a handful of Deise players? Again without doubt.
But, with the white and blue tinted glasses firmly removed, Tipperary plainly weren’t up to much in the second half themselves. They felt that had the match sewn up and almost paid the ultimate price.
Had Tipp wished to lay down to a firm mark of intent to Kilkenny within the context of the All-Ireland race, the margin of victory ought to have been much greater than four points. As things stand, they remain a team with many questions to answer.
But one has to credit Waterford’s resistance, led by Michael Walsh, Declan Prendergast (who didn’t dwell on his goal causing error) and John Mullane for making such a good first of it over the closing 15 minutes.
They refused to lie down and die, knowing that there was another 70 minutes at the very least left in their summer. That same fighting quality has got to be in each and every man donning the Waterford colours next Sunday.
So forget about Croke Park: Sunday is the be all and end all of the season. It is all that matters.
On the same page as Walsh’s piece, ex-Wexford defender Liam Dunne didn’t spare the rod when having a pop at the Waterford team and its manager.
“I can’t see Davy Fitzgerald still being in his position next year,” writes Dunne.
“I was almost bewildered listening to Fitzgerald praising his Waterford side after last Sunday’s Munster final, because the game was over after 22 minutes.
“I thought it was a terrible performance. Fitzgerald can say all he likes about his side showing great heart in their fightback – but Tipp could have won in a canter. Waterford had completely lost their way in the second half and the manager certainly wasn’t going to guide them.”
Dunne added: “The players have to take it on the chin now. They were the guys who effectively appointed Fitzgerald but you couldn’t see any of them rolling around the ground now, hugging and kissing, as John Mullane was with Fitzgerald’s after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“If the players had their way now, they’d get rid of him.”
Clearly establishing himself as Babs Keating’s successor in the ‘ST’ stirring stakes, Dunne’s most remarkable comments were reserved for Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, whom he claimed is a “disaster” at centre-back.
“Any centre-back who catches the ball, always wants to solo with it, and then handpasses it eight times out of 10, is not doing his job properly.
“I’d give him 10 out of 10 for fighting qualities but you have to look at the damage his man did. Seamus Callanan scored the first goal and set up the second, while Walsh could have cleared the ball five times before Callanan took it off him and played it in for Tipp’s third goal.”
Well if Walsh played that badly, then every person sitting in the press box ought to walk into Semple next weekend with ‘Fool’ printed on their backs, since we unanimously praised the Stradbally man’s efforts.
By Dunne’s rationale, a goalkeeper who concedes a couple of goals would be adjudged to have played poorly.
Anyone that saw Adrian Power’s heroics in Dungarvan last Wednesday would say otherwise, so too anyone that recalls Brendan Cummins’s acrobatics despite Kilkenny sticking five past him in the ’03 semi-final.
Dunne’s reasoning represents nothing more than a nonsensical hypothesis and doesn’t reflect the brilliance of Walsh’s second half display, when he hurled like a lord.
Sunday’s opponents have yet to defeat Waterford in Championship hurling and that’s a statistic which Fitzgerald and co will hope remains the case come the full-time whistle.
But this shall not be an easy task against a Galway side, surely galvanised by running Kilkenny so close and putting and end to Cork’s title aspirations.
They’ll be cursing a draw which leaves them facing the Cats once more should they prevail on Sunday but if you’re going to win an All-Ireland, you’re going to have to beat the Cats at some stage.
Waterford can’t look beyond what faces them on a Sunday; a team even more enigmatic than themselves, a team that has, for two decades, been spoken of as potential champions, but has yet to break the tape.
In many ways, Sunday’s clash is an encounter between the two great ‘nearly’ teams of the game’s golden years, that stellar period when Clare and Wexford flexed their muscles to All-Ireland winning affect.
Both have threatened the ultimate breakthrough and provided some enthralling entertainment over the years yet they’ve yet to reach that high note they so crave.
One looks to both attacks and one sees two obvious candidates for the game’s key figure. John Mullane continues to hurl with majesty while Joe Canning’s deeper role last Saturday gives some indication of where his talents may yet be deployed in the long term.
Both, when on their games, are virtually unmarkable and it will be fascinating to see how both defences attempt to stymie the genius of both men.
Whether a change will be made at full-back for Waterford will only be known later this week, while there have been some noises suggesting a switch of position between Kevin Moran and the Brick.
But one can’t foresee Fitzgerald making too many changes from the side that lost to Tipperary. If Waterford go for an early jugular like they did against Tipp, as Galway themselves did against Kilkenny, we could be in for a fascinating 70 minutes.
The history of the fixture (predominantly in the League) suggests a tight match. Discipline will be the key to a Deise win.
All of Joe Canning’s scores last weekend came from the dead ball, so if fouls have to be given away, they’ll need to be conceded on the Galway 65-metre line at least.
Considered write-offs by many experts (as the Deise win in the All-Ireland semi-final last year), the pressure will be on Galway to deliver a big performance.
By limiting Canning’s ability to pick off frees at will (the rest of Galway’s forwards mustered only 1-5 between them) and by removing some of the scoring burden from Mullane, Waterford will be well-positioned to win. But it will be anything other than easy.