Friday, May 19, 2023

The Waterford team that took on Clare in Thurles in the Munster SHC last Saturday night. Photo: Inpho. 

The game was not over nor the dust settled in Semple Stadium on Saturday night when the nameless ones on Social Media were in full cry calling for the end of Davy Fitzgerald’s second tenure as Déise Hurling manager. It was as though they had been waiting in anticipation and hope of failure though for the most part they were clearly not at the game.
Sure, the tactics were all wrong, though none could say what the tactics were or what they should have been. Whatever went wrong it was going to be the manager’s fault and then again it may have been but who really knows? Anyone at the game could see that up to the end of the first-half Waterford were well in the game and should have been ahead given the chances squandered against a rattled Clare side. Whatever the plan was, Waterford were executing it well and then came the disastrous red card on a key player. It remained to be seen how Clare would use their numerical advantage in the second-half and that is where they got their act together to control the game with Waterford unable to counter.

The cry over the weekend was that the manager had got the tactics all wrong and while I would have wanted to see Waterford going man for man with three forwards in front of the Clare goal I would have to admit that Waterford’s game plan from the start, however convoluted, was working. Had we faced into the second-half with fifteen players we still may not have beaten a more resolute Clare side in that period but we would have found out if we were good enough. And that is the question that now must be answered, not whether the manager, whoever he or she may be (diversity you know) can deliver but are our players good enough to deliver?
Elsewhere, in our match report, we pointed out that the four years of the Round Robin system have seen Waterford exit the championship under four different managers. How then does a manager make the difference?
The key players on this team have been on the road now for almost ten years that saw them winning underage age All-Irelands, Allianz League medals, All Star Awards and in the case of Ballygunner players Munster and All-Ireland Club medals. Injuries have taken their toll on key players but the question must be asked as to whether or not others have retained their appetite for further success or the hard graft that is necessary to achieve it.
There is a huge challenge facing the current players and management going forward. Our big name players are not as fresh, ambitious or enthusiastic as they were in their pomp. When Davy Fitzgerald was appointed to succeed Liam Cahill I believed it was a right choice, bringing in an experienced manager who had brought improvement to every squad he worked with and earned the respect of all the players under him. Recent interviews with players such as Jamie Barron confirmed that despite the injury list all was very well under Davy in the Waterford camp. The performance against Limerick confirmed that.

The championship was not lost against Clare on Saturday last it was lost in the earlier game against Cork where the players themselves simply did not perform. It was the same story against the same opposition the previous year. On next Sunday week Waterford return to Thurles to face Tipperary, the only side we have got anything from, a draw and a win, under the Round Robin system. Should Tipperary fail to beat Limerick in Thurles next weekend it will be a must win game for them. Davy Fitzgerald says that pride will be Waterford’s motivation in this game and that is good but perhaps one eye should be on next year with some players with hunger and ambition on board.
So, there it is., take your pick but focussing on the manager as a solution solves nothing where Waterford’s current or future hurling prospects lie. The County Board too, of course, is coming in for its share of flak and that is always par for the course. There are certainly shortcomings there where underage competitions, Coaching and Development plans are concerned but in the midst of all the negativity I could not be but struck last week by the impressive manner in which Clare secured the Munster Minor Hurling title at the expense of Cork. Then I remembered that the same Clare team had just hung on to beat Waterford by a single point in Fraher Field.
With the right guidance the road may not be as far back as some might think.

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