Munster SHC: Cork v Waterford: The Big Match Review
Can you take any solace from a thirteen-point defeat? Some but not too much.
The pitch must have felt like a sanctuary for Déise players and management after a gruelling six days. Dónal Óg Cusack, Henry Shefflin, Anthony Daly, Ger Cunningham, Derek McGrath and Ger Loughnane all piled in during the week.
John Mullane’s column in the Irish Independent offered the most balance. From his experience with the under 21s in 2015, he sympathised with Paraic Fanning’s plight and didn’t pin all the blame on him. He did point out some tactical errors but also questioned the work ethic against Limerick. “What annoyed me most was the body language and the lack of effort on our home soil.”
With that backdrop, championship 2020 started on Saturday for the visitors. Seven switches. Six All Stars in the stand. Brian O’Halloran was the oldest Waterford starter and he only turned 28 last month.
Signs of disharmony, evident against Tipperary and Limerick, disappeared. Players, subs, management, backroom team and board officials gathered in front of the South Stand for Amhrán na bhFiann. Thomas Ryan won an early free and three players raced over to slap him on the back. Three white shirts surrounded the officials when John Keenan signalled a penalty instead of a Shane Bennett goal in the second half. All this should be a given, of course, but it was heartening for the Déise diehard to see some fire back.
Waterford’s player of the year Calum Lyons duelled with Patrick Horgan like his life depended on it and launched his first point in championship hurling. His only reward was Horgan’s number fourteen shirt afterwards. The Bennetts were bang on form (2-10 between them) and showed up weak spots in the Cork rearguard.
Afterwards, Paraic Fanning gave his most revealing post-match interview yet. The strain of the past month was evident but he remains committed, through it all, to put things right. He admitted that they let the supporters down against Limerick. He also defended the preparation and commitment of the players throughout 2019 and pleaded for calm as they work out solutions for 2020.
It’s time now for all parties to sit down and discuss the way forward for next year. And the sooner the better. Waterford need clarity not another long winter of discontent.
A clearing of the decks has been suggested all week. “A lot of those older players have to go,” Ger Loughnane told Off The Ball’s Hurling Show last Thursday. Only Noel Connors (11 seasons), Maurice Shanahan (11 seasons), Kevin Moran (14 seasons), and Michael Walsh (17 seasons) have clocked up high mileage however. O’Halloran said his goodbyes in the dressing room afterwards. Sweeping changes are unlikely. Maybe just a spring clean.
Fanning introduced six players to championship hurling this summer. He will hope to blend these, and others like Jordan Henley, with the underage winners (Patrick Curran will come back into contention after a year ravaged by injuries) and with Tadhg De Burca, Stephen O’Keeffe, the Mahonys and the Fives’ who still have plenty to offer. Loughnane was on the money when he mentioned that new leaders need to emerge and take over from the old guard.
“I have a fair idea of what we need to do.” A strong statement from Fanning’s press conference on Saturday.
Derek McGrath got a second year after an unsatisfactory first. So did John Kiely. So did Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney.
In 2014, McGrath stuck with most of the 2013 squad and Davy Fitzgerald told him that winter to put his own stamp on it. Fanning must be thinking along similar lines.
McGrath shook things up both on and off the field. Fanning had been part of Fitzgerald’s set-up in Waterford and Wexford but this is his first post out front. Pa Kearney and James Murray are also newcomers in intercounty terms. McGrath leaned on Dan Shanahan (not just after the 2017 All-Ireland) for his vast experience. He had seen and done it all in Waterford dressing rooms and instantly earned the respect of the players. A new voice or two would help the rehabilitation process. In his column, Mullane also suggested that connections with Derek’s regime need to be cut entirely. “There are too many in the camp with attachments to the last set-up and it’s not healthy for anyone.”
2020 is up and running already.