Monday, July 09, 2007

Waterford Stay On Course

Everyone happy?

Waterford, ultimately taking Munster in style. Limerick preserving honour through a typically feisty performance, happy in the knowledge that the Tipp-tych of the semi-final took the legs out of them for the last ten minutes yesterday, and holding no fear of (probably) Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The neutral sees The Great White (and Blue) Hope of hurling dispatch a dangerous foe with a late knock-out, thereby staying on track for a title shot. And the Munster Council watches another provincial championship close with its product in as robust health than ever.
Perhaps only the poor souls getting soaked through on the terrace had something to gripe about.

No doubt indignant Limerick correspondents will claim the right to be peeved at yesterday's events. After all, who loses a provincial final with a smile on their face, especially when 11 years have passed since they last won one? But in reality, they would be merely going through the motions of disappointment.

Limerick displayed the full range of their wares yesterday, and, for roughly sixty-two minutes of the seventy-odd, they proved sturdy and durable. Eventually, however, after enough wear and tear, the seams began to come apart. The denizens in green in Ardán Uí Riain might have cursed the skullduggery of the ref, but there will be few who left Thurles yesterday genuinely feeling their team had been in anyway pickpocketed of their rightful prize.

Yes, they will look at their wides tally (12 to Waterford's 9), and a number of goal chances passed up. But many of their wides were from speculative, long-range efforts, whereas Waterford missed some jaw-droppingly convertible chances from the usually safe hands of Eoin Kelly and Paul Flynn.

Maybe J.P. McManus (whose helicopter landed alongside Mary McAleese's in the greyhound stadium across from Semple, to accompanying cheers from the Limerick faithful for their tireless benefactor) will have been frustrated at the inability of his money to push his beloved county further toward the promised land. But, hey, if he wanted to buy success, the Premiership is that-a-way!

Going back to the neutral (that lowly knave whose ample backside took up the birthright of a deserving disciple of Munster hurling in the stand) and the bigger picture. Had Limerick's guerilla forces derailed the Waterford convoy yesterday, the blow to hurling's self-esteem would have been most untimely, given the tears shed over the past week for the state of things in that godforsaken province to the east.

As it is, Waterford remain the cause célebre for those who are weary of the sales pitch for Liam McCarthy's ribbons: any colour, so long as it's black, amber or red. They won't meet another team who'll challenge them with the close-in ferocity that Limerick did. Most of the scrappy, scrambly squabbles for possession seemed to conclude with a Limerick man emerging with his life and the ball, to the enthusiastic roars from the massed ranks on the town end.

But let Waterford hurl, and hurl they will. When play opened up, the Waterford instinct towards flair and style was irresistible, and where once the Semple field seemed as roomy as a rush hour train, soon its new vast expanses prompted a land grab by Déise forwards. And no man planted his flag more gleefully than Dan Shanahan, whose charismatic and colourful presence makes all the more perplexing the description of him having once been "shy".

The force of personality is strong in Waterford. A good thing too, for it's one thing that any championship winning team needs as much as the prerequisites of talent. A bit of star appeal is as useful in an All-Ireland contender as in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Probably the first time messrs Shanahan, Mullane and McGrath have been likened to Clooney, Pitt and Damon, but you get the point.

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