National Football League Division Four
Waterford v Carlow
The full-time whistle had just sounded at O’Moore Park. The wind was howling on a damp night in Portlaoise and Waterford’s senior footballers had just emptied the tank against Laois. Yet despite a terrific all-round effort, the Deisemen made for home that night without a point, a result which almost certainly condemned them to another year in Division Four.
That wonderful summer of 2010, which yielded promotion and a trip to Croke Park feels increasingly distant given all the near misses Waterford have had in the National League in the interim. And there cannot be a team across the four divisions which has lost as many games by four points or less this decade than the Deisemen.
Moral victories? Tom McGlinchey is roundly sick of the sight of them by now, but persuading anyone who has not seen this team play in the flesh that they’re worthy of a break here or a rub of the green there is a futile exercise. But make the same observation to any supporter who makes the effort to physically follow this group’s fortunes and you’ll hear a very, very different story.
There’s an honesty and integrity in this Waterford side which makes me as an observer of them both consistently proud and enthused about their commitment to the cause.
Sure, they’re unlikely to make too many national headlines or find themselves weighed down by too many endorsement-linked interviews, which appear to be the only means by which the game’s elite players make themselves available to the ‘meeja’ nowadays.
But that shouldn’t in any way demean their standing as inter-county players. These men play for Waterford for both their love of the game and their grá for the bán agus gorm. Division Four football may well create the slightest ripple in the GAA rockpool, but this is the competition where Paul Whyte, Donie Breathnach and Thomas O’Gorman have play
This last outpost of senior football is where our players lay it on the line, surely cognisant that their respective stars will never shine in the ascendant as it does for the Dean Rocks and Lee Keegans of this world not due to a talent deficit, but due to geography and resources.
But that hasn’t diminished their appetite for League football, nor has it dimmed their perspective on what representing your county ought to be primarily about: the sheer, unadulterated love of it. And staying true to a team that has enjoyed only fleeting forays out of Division Four this century is an infinitely harder sell than being the 27th or 28th panellist in a trimmings-laden Dublin panel.
And if the average Deise hurling fan who pays little if any attention to the fortunes of our footballers thinks our lesser considered senior players don’t feel as stung by disappointment as our hurlers do, then he or she would do well to pay a little more attention to the other code. Because they are worth paying attention to.
On that windy night in Portlaoise, Tom McGlinchey retained his optimistic take on life at this level of the game. You’d expected nothing else from the man.
McGlinchey has never lost sight of the fact that there are less than three dozen men who, at any given time, can manage a senior football team, nor has he ever lost sight of the realism that comes with managing a team which, historically, loses more games than it wins.
But that has neither diminished him nor his panel’s appetite to try and reverse that trend. And that attitude must be retained if Waterford’s footballers are to ultimately reverse that traditional tide. They’ve got to keep hanging tough.
“We threw the shackles off, maybe,” said the Deise manager when reflecting on his side’s first half effort in Portlaoise. “We made a few changes (from the Antrim match at Carriganore) and it worked, and I suppose I you wanted to be overly critical, we probably should have got two more scores in that first half when we were playing particularly well. It showed against Antrim and it showed again tonight that we’re now, four or five weeks into our (training) programme while the likes of Laois and Antrim started back in November so we are that six weeks behind. Now I know a lot of the lads had (Senior Championship) matches but that hard conditioning work that you need to do at inter-county level is missing at the moment. But we’re going to use the next weeks now to get that up to scratch. We have to focus now on the Championship match against Tipperary, hopefully get more game time into our new players, and hopefully when it comes to the Championship, we’ll have a stronger hand to deal from.”