“We went out and got five goals and Dan The Man got none!” he laughed when the RTE people collared him on the final whistle of a game his side won by 5-. This was a good old-fashioned ambush, a performance that fell from the clear blue sky like a long-forgotten Russian satellite. Everyone knew Limerick would give Waterford plenty of it but nobody saw them being 10 points up after 20 minutes. That they’d make an arm-wrestle of it was a given; that they’d leave Waterford chasing after them like pups after a speeding car was not. They freely admitted as much themselves.
“I never felt that Limerick hurling, that we could be where we are,” said Ollie Moran afterwards. “That’s being straight out. I’ve been in a lot of Limerick dressing-rooms where there was no self-belief or heart. Lots lacking. I don’t know where this has come from. It has come from nowhere.
“Richie Bennis hasn’t studied psychology, but he has done what a lot of people couldn’t do, what a lot of people thought could never be done with that bunch of players. It’s him ye should be talking to really. To be 17 points down last year [when Clare put them out of the championship in Ennis] – and lucky to be 17 points at that – ’twas a very dark day in Limerick hurling. A lot of guys alluded to that this year, you were holding your head in shame, you were embarrassed to say you hurled for Limerick. It has been a rollercoaster since. We’ve got a run of luck, it is phenomenal to come from where we have come from.”
In all the delirium, though, you’d have needed rocks for ventricles not to weep for Waterford. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Five times this team has come to the All Ireland semi-final, five times they’ve gone home with tears in their eyes. The vagaries of the championship system meant that they melted out of the summer having played five games against just two counties and to judge by how flat they looked on Sunday, the cumulative effect of it all was just too much for them.
“The ultimate goal was always our aim,” McCarthy said afterwards as he stood forlornly outside the Waterford dressing room door. “Three games in 14 days was always going to be tough going. Maybe it is a jinx in semi-finals. We were chasing the game for long periods. I knew we would get back but in fairness to Limerick they never faltered.
“We had a very successful year. Won two trophies, which is unusual for Waterford and we have been building the team. Players have come through. Others might have to look at it now but we just have to keep going.”
Can they, though? Can men like Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn and Tony Browne keep on lowering the bucket down the well only to hear the echo of its thud against the ground come back up at them indefinitely? Is it even fair to ask them to? McCarthy has spent six years trying to coax an All Ireland out of them – an All Ireland, by the way, that nobody really doubts they have in them – and yet not once have they seen a September.
As another winter stretches in front of them like a prison sentence, the soul-searching will be thorough and it won’t be pretty.
Kingdom break Monaghan hearts
Waterford’s travails can serve at least to remind others that life could, all things considered, be worse. In Monaghan especially, where last Sunday’s mugging by Kerry took a terrible toll, it might do no harm to look at Waterford and realize that heartache isn’t just the preserve of the callow and the inexperienced and that some rain must fall into the careers of even the most hardened of sportsmen. Not the most optimistic of viewpoints perhaps but it could in a perverse kind of way provide some succor.
Sunday was a hard one to have to take. Monaghan did everything but win the game. They hammered into Kerry just like they said they would, stood up to them and reduced midfield to a chaotic battlefield just like anyone who’d watched them all year knew they would. But they missed out on key scores at key times just as those who had their hopes placed in them feared they could. In the end, they only scored 1-11 on a day when 1-13 would have won it, missing a couple of 45s and taking the wrong option in front of goal at precisely the wrong moments.
Kerry were two points behind with six minutes left on the clock but kept their heads to close out the game with the coldness of a prison warden at lockdown. The Monaghan people in the stadium were left numb. When manager Seamus McEnaney came to talk to the press afterwards, he had tear-stained eyes and was ashen as man standing in the front row at a funeral.
“If any of ye had been in the dressing room in the past few minutes, the silence was deafening. I feel myself that I have had my heart taken out without surgery. It is wild, wild disappointing. Words cannot explain how disappointed we are. I felt leaving Carrickmacross this morning that this was the best-prepared Monaghan team that ever came up the road. This was the best Monaghan team that was ever ready to challenge Kerry. We came here, we gave it everything, we couldn’t ask for more.
“It was a massive effort but we didn’t come here for effort, we came here to win. Listen, we gave it everything. We were a bit wasteful in the last five minutes and kicked ball away but I could not give out about anyone in that dressing room. The togetherness, the friendship, everything – we are gutted. But look, Armagh and Tyrone had to come down here and get beaten by a point. Monaghan will learn.”
For their part, Kerry knew well they got away with murder on Sunday. The