Category: Archive

Cult heroes

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

When the fitness revolution came in the mid-90s, they met it halfway and on their own terms and that kind of idea sat well with outsiders looking in. Beyond the odd die-hard here and there, nobody in the wider hurling world could feasibly have had a bone to pick with them.
Since the last of the Offaly sand fell to the bottom of the hourglass in 2000, however, there’s really been nobody to hang your hat on. So dominant have Cork and Kilkenny been – Tipperary’s 2001 All Ireland title notwithstanding – that there hasn’t been room anywhere for the beautiful outsider. Clare under Anthony Daly made a couple of shapes at it but we all knew in our hearts that they were at least two and probably three or four players away from where they needed to be at any given stage. Galway made a couple of All Ireland finals but the randomness of the breakthroughs kind of left the rest of us cold.
Waterford could be different, though. After winning their first league title for 44 years in Semple Stadium last Sunday and after beating Kilkenny to do so, there’s a wave of optimism doing the rounds just now that’s giddy enough to assuredly make them the side that carry the neutral’s vote into the summer.
They tick all the necessary boxes. First off, they’ve been around a while without ever making it to the big day in September. Gerald McCarthy first turned them into something approaching a force when they made the All Ireland semi-final in 1998 and between then and now, they’ve been involved in epic scraps most years. They won the match of the decade in the 2004 Munster final against Cork and just came out on the wrong side of a one-point game against the same opponents in last year’s All Ireland semi-final. In Offaly’s pomp, they were invariably involved in the best match of the year almost every year. Waterford are repeating that happy trick.
Secondly, they have a scattering of readily identifiable cult heroes throughout their team. Maybe it’s because they play without helmets but Ken McGrath, Eoin Kelly, John Mullane and Dan Shanahan stand out every time they take the pitch. McGrath is the side’s spiritual leader and is rapidly approaching the kind of status where it’s unthinkable that he could end his career without an All Ireland medal. Kelly seems a player reborn since he fell out with his club over the winter and took himself off to play in Waterford’s junior championship. Mullane could start a frenzy at a funeral and in Shanahan, they have the most likeable galoot this side of a Big Foot movie.
Thirdly, they play to the crowd. Possibly not the most welcome of traits if you were to look at it scientifically but endearing all the same. With only injury time left on Sunday and with Henry Shefflin having just brought the game level with an easy free, the sliotar dropped the Kelly right in midfield. He more than had time to catch it, control it and shoot but instead he flicked it up on to his stick with his first touch and sent it soaring over the bar with his second. Just like in the league semi-final against Cork, Shanahan floated over the insurance point from way out on the left having only just stopped the ball on the sideline and having run past it almost into the crowd in doing so. The way McGrath will go for a point from a free 110 yards out, they way Paul Flynn will go for a goal from a free 85 yards closer in – these things all add up.
Then there’s the fact that nobody really has a bad word to say about them. Brian Corcoran raised a few hackles when he brought out a book last Christmas in which he detailed Cork’s preparation for last year’s All Ireland semi-final and, in the course of it, a team meeting in which Waterford’s weaknesses were explored. But even then, it was harmless stuff like the fact that they can fight amongst themselves when things aren’t going well. They’re not a dirty team, nor even a particularly physical one. Nobody would begrudge them their year in the sun.
And finally, there’s hope. There’s no point in being the neutral’s choice unless there’s a chance you might actually live up to it and last Sunday’s win has underlined that chance. They beat Kilkenny when nobody tipped them to do so. When next they meet, they’ll know and Kilkenny will know that there’s nothing between them other than who turns up on the day. And this is a team that has already proved time and again that it has no fear of Cork either.
Sunday’s game was a cracker which nicely warmed up the crowd for the summer’s main act. The reviews will be gushing if Waterford manage to stay in the limelight for the duration.

Chairman gives
credit to Keane
So Sunderland are going to the Premiership and all that’s left is to see can they finish the season top of the Championship by beating already relegated Luton on Sunday. If they do, it will be the first time in post-War England that any time in any division has lost its first four games of the season and gone on to finish top of their league. And all because Niall Quinn was a big enough man to forget the past and ask Roy Keane if he’d be interested in coming and taking over the team.
“Roy is 100 per cent responsible for all of this,” Quinn said in an interview the Sunday Tribune. “He took time to look at it all, didn’t panic or make rash decisions and just bit by bit turned things around. He has made it all happen. He boiled things down for the players so that they were in no doubt that there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things. His is the right way and they trust him to tell them that.”
The whistle had hardly fallen from the referee’s lips to confirm Derby’s 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday and send Sunderland and Birmingham City up before talk turned to what Keane and Quinn would be doing in the summer to prepare their club for the big time. Quinn had already committed to spending

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