Waterford find groove if not yet their freedom

Here’s a rough head count of items on the agenda this morning.

Waterford find groove if not yet their freedom

After the two games in Páirc Uí Chaoimh II, we have Seamus Callanan’s injury and Tadhg de Búrca’s red card. The new stadium. Davy Fitzgerald’s passionate defence of his opposite number with Waterford and his less-than-concrete plans for 2018. The traffic. The parking. Last-minute goals.

In all of the above Derek McGrath’s revelation of a strong distaste for golf almost passed unnoticed.

First things first. Waterford passed their test in the All- Ireland quarter-final with something to spare yesterday. Wexford were game and committed, but Waterford have been operating at this altitude for the last three years and can find the switch for cruise control when they need it.

The game never caught fire, with both sides deploying sweepers, but that’s not to say it was devoid of quality. Early on, when both sides were bouncing across the field on adrenaline, the dominant personality on show was Brick Walsh of Waterford.

The veteran’s calm movement, winning frees and scoring himself, all occurred in that particular wrinkle in the space-time continuum he can create: Brick Time, when the Stradbally man gathers the ball and sets off at a deceptive pace before releasing a teammate.

Wexford needed Lee Chin to be more involved but Waterford could probably say the same of Austin Gleeson, who still hit an unforgettable first-half point. Before the short whistle, the game turned when Shane Bennett, often an isolated figure up front, performed heroics to dispossess Eoin Moore and freed Kevin Moran.

The Waterford captain — terrific all through — remained cool, taking his goal with a calm strike rather than trying to blast the ball to the net.

The score gave Waterford a 1-12 to 0-10 half-time lead. In fairness the Leinster side rallied on the resumption, cutting the Waterford lead to two points in five minutes — Chin’s point bringing a roar to rattle the trusses in the new stands — but Wexford then conceded three cheap frees. The last, a 100m monster by Gleeson, restored Waterford’s advantage and reduced the game to its essentials: Waterford’s ability to get their scores easier helped them to their eventual victory. Wexford’s late late goal from substitute Jack O’Connor made it 1-23 to 1-19 at the end.

Waterford boss Derek McGrath was mindful of the significance of that Moran goal, mind.

“Until then we knew how it was going. It was a classic case of they have seven and we have seven and who is going to break first in terms of a tit-for-tat approach.

“Sometimes if you push your extra man up on their extra man it is a five on five situation at the other side and there is acres of space. So I am proud of the lads in terms of how we kept our shape, and our use of Daragh Fives in particular in the first half.

“It was obvious Podge Doran was not only going to try and discommode Noel (Connors) in the air but he was going to try and discommode Tadgh (de Búrca) as well.

“So that was a crucial score in the game, that goal, because it was the first time there was a chink of space in behind and I felt Kevin took it well for a guy that is not renowned for goalscoring.”

McGrath’s opposite number gave a free-ranging address to the nation on all matters hurling, and you can read selected highlights elsewhere on these pages, but he was as one with his Waterford counterpart on the turning point in the game.

“The honest changing factor in the whole game was the goal we gave away before half-time,” said Fitzgerald.

“I felt we’d got our way back into the game. If I’m right on the possession stats, unless my stats men are completely wrong, we’d a lot more possession in the first half than Waterford did. That’s fact.

“We gave away a few easy scores, I thought, just a bit naive. I can’t remember this off hand but of their first seven or eight points, most of them were from frees without a shadow of doubt. I’m not blaming the ref for that, I think that could be down to us just being a small bit over- enthusiastic.

“We had a plan which was to let the man in possession shoot if we wanted to, which I think we should have, more than give him a free puck. That was tough but we clawed our way right back and I think we played... them guys played some unbelievable hurling as regards their moves.

“You’ve seen that with the scores we got and when we worked the ball short.

“I thought it was A1.

“We got our scores and that was A1. Just the goal before half-time, without a shadow of a doubt, it just kind of knocked us. I felt that just got us a small bit.”

The word of the weekend? Here’s a hint from the dictionary definition: “A pair of fetters connected together by a chain, used to fasten a prisoner’s wrists or ankles together; a metal link, typically U-shaped, closed by a bolt, used to secure a chain or rope to something.”

The constant appeals in the last week to teams and players to cast off their shackles made a lot of match previews read like the plaque on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty (huddled masses optional).

Whether the players themselves yearn to be free is moot: Structure is all in the modern game. There is a sense, however, that Waterford, in particular, may play with more freedom in Croke Park.

After all, it was only when they reached Jones’s Road last year that they opened up against Kilkenny.

Will they do so again? Will they have to in the absence of Tadhg de Búrca, red carded late in yesterday’s game? How significant will his absence be in the context of his importance to how Waterford defend and attack?

That’s the micro level. On a wider stage, Fitzgerald’s tartly articulated dissent with pundits about the value of the sweeper system deserves greater scrutiny.

It pinpoints one of the great unspoken demands on the game of hurling: Not only must teams be exciting, skilful, fast, and physical — but there’s also an aesthetic imperative: Teams must look good in doing so.

They must perform with style.

What precisely does that mean? There’s a touch of the old saw about mathematical theorems about this — that beauty can be perceived, but not explained — and if all of this sounds a little too flowery, remember that one of the managers was quoting Oscar Wilde in his post-match press conferences.

In modern Ireland everyone is an aesthete.

The green carnation is optional.

What was compulsory was the pressure on Páirc Uí Chaoimh to accommodate more than 60,000 people over two days. Test passed with honours.

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