A week makes a world of difference as team answer critics in style of old.
T to paraphrase Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the writer better known as Mark Twain, rumours of the Waterford hurlers’ demise would appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
A week ago they looked like a team on their last legs. Today they’re within touching distance of another Munster title and an All-Ireland semi-final spot. Don’t book that early-September sun holiday just yet. But first things first: it’s a long way past Tipperary.
The criticism leveled at the players and management after the lacklustre draw against Limerick clearly stung. But as is often said in sport, you’re only as good as your last game and Waterford, as Eoin Kelly conceded, were “disgraceful” in the second half the Sunday before.
Davy Fitzgerald too had said the way they fell down on the job wasn’t acceptable and harsh words were spoken, as well as read and aired, in the days that followed.
But having licked their wounds they regrouped and, to a man, their application and work-rate last Saturday was superb. And in doing so, getting the basics right, they rediscovered the sense of near-abandon that seemed in danger of disappearing.
That was the most pleasing aspect of the performance: the way Waterford opened their shoulders and went for it, shooting on sight, not over-elaborating. They’re still too reliant on the ice-cool Kelly and the immense John Mullane for scores, perhaps, though the superb Seamus Prendergast (4), Stephen Molumphy, Shane O’Sullivan and Jack Kennedy – the other contributors to what was by any standards a huge haul – showed others can share the burden.
The team’s fierce finishing kick on Saturday also answered those (this column included) who questioned whether the players were running on empty after a punishing pre-season.
Donal O’Grady, who was summarising on RTÉ’s live web feed alongside commentator Timmy McCarthy (who, forsaking a few coarse edges, sounds like he has potential) said on Friday night that judging by Waterford’s sluggishness the first day they could be ‘overtrained’.
That concern can be put to bed. Their replay display would suggest that there’s nothing wrong with their fitness levels, and that maybe it was a combination of nerves/complacency/conditions that made them look like a team on the wane. Fortunately they didn’t come entirely unstuck and survived to fight another day.
And credit to the management too for getting so much right second time round. Davy says he and the selectors Peter Queally and Maurice Geary thought long and hard during the week about what formation to go with. As well as the obvious recall of Tony Browne, the pairing of Shane O’Sullivan and Kevin Moran in midfield was a definite success, bringing brawn as well as ball-playing ability to that department.
The former in particular held the centre with a commanding display of controlled aggression and stickwork in both the tight and loose, and the Ballygunner man’s prodigious point set the tone for Waterford’s second-half surge.
Kelly said afterwards that the days of beating teams out the gate in Munster are gone. Maybe he’s right. But Waterford were still playing with zest when edging past Cork and the rest from 2002 on. Hopefully, the bad stuff is out of the Déise’s system and that, a worrying casualty list notwithstanding, the wider hurling public gets to see much more of the Waterford they’ve long come to know and love this summer.
Out of sight
Fitzgerald must have had mixed emotions as he sat watching Sunday’s other semi on Shannonside. Of course he’d have been rooting for Clare as they threw the kitchen sink at a Tipp team who went from coasting to teetering on the brink of collapse.
However, he’d also have known that had Mike McNamara’s men completed an improbable comeback on a day when they raised more flags than the champions but couldn’t get the better of Davy’s old All Star adversary Brendan Cummins, his heart would have been torn come July 12 (which we’ll get to in the coming weeks).
Saturday’s Kilkenny-Galway Leinster showpiece has been described as “a classic” (Cats/Joe Canning admirers not being prone to hyperbole at all, at all), but mores the pity that, like Paul Flynn’s off-camera exhibition against Limerick in ’03, the earlier tie in Thurles wasn’t on the telly given that it was adorned with scores as good as you’ll ever see, or miss.