Allianz HL Division 1 - Waterford v Kilkenny
In his 68 years, Waterford legend Jim Greene has seen many things but his county going in fancied to a game against the well-off neighbours was never one of them. He doesn’t think it’s warranted either — “we’re having a particularly bad league as well (as Kilkenny)” — but then what happened on July 8 last has changed many perceptions.
Greene didn’t just return back to Waterford city from Thurles that fateful summer’s evening: he floated. His back was broken with backslaps of sympathy from the Cats. Now he was the one giving them.
“We never had the bragging and the slagging rights up to then. I was only 10 in ’59 and I don’t remember back that far. It was greatly overdue, given the teams we had since the late 1990s. You were kind of expecting it a lot more than we used to expect it.
“Then all of a sudden it happened and it was marvellous. We had been getting closer and closer and when it happened, I’m sure every Waterford man felt the way I did. There was great euphoria, a great buzz and at last… we had the bragging rights and the Kilkenny fellas were shutting up. It’s not easy to shut them up.
“It’s a decent rivalry. They were having the craic — ‘we took pity on you,’ they were saying. That’s all we were hearing, that they gave it to us because they were fed up having it all their own way and beating us the whole time. The truth of the matter was we beat them fair and square and we went to an All-Ireland that we could have won and should have won, really.”
When Maurice Shanahan swooped to fire home that goal in the second half of extra-time, Greene felt he had been exorcised of a series of painful memories, even that 23-point All-Ireland final defeat in 2008. “Us beating Kilkenny by a point, we would have to lose by 20 points to feel that kind of pain. It was a brilliant night. Every single thing about it was joyous.”
But now as the pair find themselves winless at the foot of Division 1A, Greene is unsettled. Kilkenny have been without players for a variety of reasons whereas he feels Waterford could be playing stronger sides.
“I read something recently that there were players who have been on the panel three years that he wants to have a look at. If you don’t know a man’s worth in three years, you’re doing something wrong. I think we have to get out of this development mode.
“Derek (McGrath) has done great work and I admire him and his management team, and these youngsters are eating out of the palms of their hands but at some stage we have to realise we’re there and this is the team now. Let’s go after this.
“The biggest problem I have with Waterford at the minute is pre-match plans set in concrete. Even in the All-Ireland last year, the semi-final, we have this set plan and we stick to it. It’s the same for this league and maybe he’s right and I’m wrong but of all the 100 metres Usain Bolt won, I’m sure he never ran the same race twice. He didn’t stick to one thing religiously and I think we’re suffering a bit from that.
“Everything is pre-orchestrated and you could nearly put money on with the bookies as to when lads are coming on and off. It’s very predictable and it makes it easy to manage against. Galway knew exactly what Waterford were going to do on the day. Every game is different, especially hurling, which can change in minutes.”
Greene also likes Waterford’s attitude and he can’t get over how good their collective level of fitness is but he does have concerns about some systems of play and how they have been approaching the league since winning it two years ago.
“It was obvious last year in the league that the emphasis wasn’t on the competition. We had a couple of teams beaten and then we made a couple of switches and we then used it to develop players, and the same the year before, but winning is what this whole thing is about and it’s habit-forming.
“We didn’t take the league serious enough last year, I feel. The fella at the other side of the table would say, ‘Well, we were in an All-Ireland final’, but we didn’t win it. We didn’t win Munster either. Against Cork in the All- Ireland semi-final, things happened that could have changed things. We had a rub of the green. I don’t think we’re taking the league serious enough and this Sunday is a very serious game. Kilkenny are stung at the moment and they’re dangerous.”