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Underrated Dan Shanahan is Waterford hurlers’ lodestar

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Never rated by the purists, and never regarded as that much of a threat except by the defenders who had to grapple with him, Shanahan has confounded his critics by morphing into one of those players whose sheer presence can drive a team to an All Ireland title.
And boosted by last Sunday’s replay victory over Cork, Waterford are heading in the right direction as they attempt to reach a final for the first time since 1963. Now, only Limerick, the opposition they silenced by nine points in the Munster decider, stand in their way.
If the journey so far has been about the proud contributions of seasoned campaigners like Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Eoin Kelly, John Mullane and the highly promising Stephen Molumphy, Shanahan has been the county’s beating heart.
“His two goals really were the difference between the teams,” said Cork coach, Gerald McCarthy, of Shanahan’s key interventions last Sunday. “Our fellas tried very hard to keep him under wraps, but in fairness he came up with the two goals.”
That makes eight goals this championship summer, and if Shanahan’s eye is as sharp for the semi-final against Limerick as well as a possible showdown with Kilkenny, Waterford might just reach their Promised Land.
The thing about the big forward at Croke Park was that he didn’t perform particularly well, yet he turned a game in which the two teams were level as many as 10 times in the first 55 minutes. Waterford were under pressure when Molumphy’s perceptive hand pass created some space during the first half, and if for a moment it seemed as if Dan had no option but to try for a point, his thunderous shot to the net spoke volumes for his confidence.
Later when the ball broke kindly from Molumphy’s puck up the field, he still had a lot of work to do. Faced by Donal Og Cusack, the best ‘keeper in the business, he calmly struck a perfect ground shot low into the corner. “Dan? He’s a bit of legend isn’t he?” offered Molumphy.
That second goal was exactly the platform for Waterford needed to go on and finish off the game. Whereas Cork struggled to find any rhythm in those last minutes, the winners pressed on as Michael Walsh and Ken McGrath came into their own.
Cork rung the changes from the sideline, but none had the desired effect. “It eases the pain a bit when you know you were beaten by a better team,” explained Gerald McCarthy.
As for Shanahan, whose post-match duties included signing one of the umpires’ programmes, there was to be no summation of another big day from one of the game’s most generous talkers. This time, he was keeping his thoughts to himself, perhaps preparing for Sunday’s clash with Limerick.
With the prospect of a third championship match at Croke Park in the space of three weeks, might it be possible that Waterford will run out of steam? “We like games, this team is mad for hurling,” said their manager, Justin McCarthy. “We train at half six and they are down there at half five. They don’t want to come off the field at the end. There’s huge enthusiasm there.”
Much of that enthusiasm stems from Dan Shanahan whose scoring average from play is now eight points per game. Until now, it has been his summer, and there’s probably more to come. Waterford certainly hope so.

Meath raise eyebrows
If Monaghan have moved with stealth into the quarter-finals of the All Ireland football championship, the Ulster county are not the surprise packages of the summer. Strange to say, that despite their reputation, the team that has raised most eyebrows has been Meath.
A few months ago, no one would have seen them progressing as far as they have, and no one would have seen them ending Tyrone’s championship along the way. But the events of last Saturday at Croke Park were no illusion. Meath came, saw and conquered with a style reminiscent of their more illustrious forbearers.
True, Tyrone were hamstrung by injuries to Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher and Stephen O’Neill, yet the way they struggled to contain the Meath forwards especially in the first half raised the question over whether they could have reversed the trend even at full strength.
Winners of two of the last four All Irelands, Tyrone have slid down the ladder, and their coach, Mickey Harte, wasn’t scrabbling around for excuses. “You can point to injuries, but I don’t think that’s fair to our opponents. Meath were out there with a game plan, they were very good and they followed it through to the letter of the law. They are an emerging force again, and that’s the bottom line. Things come and go, teams come and go, and Meath are back and a force to be reckoned with.”
Go back to last April when Meath lost by seven points to Wexford in the last round of the National League, and they were seen as championship fodder for the stronger counties. Now though, they are up against Cork in the semi-final, and if anything, they will go into that game as slight favorites.
“I don’t care who we’re playing, it’s just great to be in a semi-final,” said manager Colm Coyle who was part of Sean Boylan’s great team of the late 1980s. “It was said we hadn’t really beaten anyone in the championship, and I thought some commentators showed a lot of disrespect for Down, Fermanagh and Galway. But Tyrone are an amazing team, and at the start of the year, I thought they would have beaten us out the gate. It shows the work the lads have put in.”
On his return after a two-year absence, full-back Darren Fay has added some badly needed steel to the heart of the defense, while Graham Geraghty remains a brilliant, if enigmatic presence. Geraghty popped up for Meath’s only goal against Tyrone and finished with typical confidence. Both players have experienced the long journey to winning the Sam Maguire, and both will have key roles to play against Cork.
Elsewhere, Stephen Bray appears to have already nailed down an All Star award with his superb form, and the way he tormented Ryan McMenamin, one of the best man-markers in the business, last Saturday was worth the admission money. Meath did lose their momentum in the second half, but as Harte pointed out, they are back.
After dispatching Sligo in a poor game, Cork will have taken note. And so too will have Kerry and Dublin.

Keane on the sidelines
A PREMIER League soccer season in England with Roy Keane is nothing unusual, except that when things kick off in earnest this Saturday, Keane will be on the sideline in a suit.
The former Manchester United and Ireland captain, who prowled the Premiership for well over a decade as one of the world’s greatest midfield players, is now manager of Sunderland. More mellow than before when he raged at teammates, opponents and managers alike, and prepared to make his mark as a coach.
When a consortium of investors, chaired by Keane’s former international colleague, Niall Quinn, took over Sunderland – a well-supported but underachieving club in the north-east of England – Keane was the preferred choice as manager. Having retired from the game after a season in Scotland with Celtic, he opted instead to continue with his coaching qualifications.
But with Sunderland languishing at the bottom of the Championship – the division below the Premier League – Quinn came calling a few months later, and this time Keane accepted. With some of his critics suggesting that his fiery temperament would be wholly unsuited to management, he dragged the club right back to the top and secured promotion.
“There’s no point patting yourself on the back because of what happened last season,” he said recently. “Your biggest challenge is always the next one. If I lose the first 10 games in the Premiership, I’ll be back walking the dog.”
With funds made available from the rich TV rights to Premiership soccer, Keane has been in the transfer market this summer bringing the promising Irish defender Paul McShane, among others, to Sunderland. Right now, he is trying to sign Tottenham’s Egyptian striker, Mido, as well as a Scottish goalkeeper, Craig Gordon.
It all begins for Keane on Saturday when Sunderland take on Tottenham. He doesn’t necessarily see the club as a stepping stone saying he might be in charge for one year or ten years. But with his one-time mentor, Alex Ferguson, preparing to relinquish the reigns at Manchester United maybe at the end of this season or the next, Keane could be in the running to return to his old club.

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