I TOOK my place on the bank behind the near goal in Walsh Park yesterday and, a couple of minutes into the match, I was congratulating myself on the decision.
Cork had two goals scored in a flash, and I had a bird’s-eye view of both their construction and execution.
I’ve always had a theory on the first score being a goal. It might sound like a contradiction, especially when everybody wants to start well, but I’ve always believed that it gives you a false sense of how the game is going, or is likely to go.
It’s only human nature then for a team to switch off when that first goal is followed by a second moments later.
The human mind has a funny way of transmitting signals, no matter how much you try to screen and edit those messages.
Cork have more players involved in the Fitzgibbon than any other squad, and you can justpicture the kind of stuff flashing through fellas’ heads at thatmoment.
‘We’ve had a tough week last week, we’ve a Fitzgibbon quarter-final on Wednesday, so we could do with a handy one today, which this looks like being.’
I’m not saying that’s what happened to Cork, but when the switch is flicked, it’s hard to turn it back on.
It looked early on that the Cork inside forward line would cause wreck but Waterford got to grips with that threat by winning the battle in the middle third. It was a great result for Liam Cahill because it was all the more pleasing again considering how many young players Waterford used.
Iarlath Daly had a fine game. So did Calum Lyons but the charge was led by the Bennett brothers, Kieran and Stephen, and Patrick Curran.
Previous managers have employed different systems to try to get Waterford to the top of the mountain but maybe those guys, especially Stephen Bennett and Curran, didn’t always have the best chance to prosper in it.
Waterford fully deserved the win, even if Cork nearly stole something from the game in the dying moments. Shane Kingston was unlucky not to nail his last chance but you couldn’t blame him for the defeat because he finished with a bag of scores.
He had Conor Gleeson in big trouble but Shane Fives got more of a handle on Kingston when he was introduced.
A number of Cork’s big guns up front didn’t fire. They still managed to hit 3-17 but Cork conceded too much, which is a problem that hasn’t gone away.
Waterford showed huge composure and you also got the sense that the Waterford crowd were delighted with, not only the win, but the direction in which the team appear to be going. They looked united, purposeful, full of running and they used the ball well.
THE big teams will always take points off each other but the opening day evidence confirmed everyone’s fears of how difficult it will be this spring for Westmeath, Carlow and Laois.
Still, it was positive opening day performances from Galway, Clare and Wexford.
Clare would always expect to beat Carlow well at home but Brian Lohan still needed to give the home supporters an injection of good vibes on his first league match. A good buddy of mine who was at the Clare game said Tony Kelly was on fire, which is always good for Clare supporters to see.
It’s still hard to know what to read into matches at this time of the year. Kilkenny are the only team that you know are going to put in an honest and reliable shift every day they go out.
The Kilkenny-Dublin match in Nowlan Park can be best summed up in a handful of words — Kilkenny worked like dogs and took their goal chances. Nothing new there but it’s another win for Brian Cody. Dublin badly need to get their act together for Laois next week.
I was filling my car with diesel in Birdhill on Saturday when I glanced at my watch. It was 3.50pm, one hour and 25 minutes away from the start of the Tipperary-Limerick game, which in my mind, was leaving me plenty of time to comfortably make it into Thurles.
By 5.15pm, the sweat was steaming out through my pores as I was still stuck in traffic. I had turned off at the Ragg to go in around by Holycross, thinking I’d have a better chance of avoiding the gridlock by going that route, but traffic was backed up outside the Ragg.
I missed the first five minutes but it would have been far more if a sound Garda hadn’t let me in closer to the ground than he probably should have.
Limerick’s first-half performance reminded me of my own mad-rush into the ground — all over the place. John McGrath caused havoc at centre-forward and Limerick couldn’t seem to get a handle on him.
Alan Flynn was keeping Cian Lynch bottled up. Jake Morris and Mikey Breen were doing damage. Goalkeeper Brian Hogan was deliberately going shorter with the puckouts to keep the Limerick half-back line out of the game.
Aaron Gillane was missing frees he’d normally nail in his sleep but the whole first half was almost surreal from a Limerick perspective.
I was thinking at half-time, here we go with the start of the league shadow boxing. I said to myself, they’ll be accused of doing what was often levelled at us in Clare under Ger Loughnane — training hard on Friday and Saturday to make sure we conned everyone on Sunday.
I was sitting high up in the Kinane Stand but it was still clear from John Kiely’s body language and demeanour that he wasn’t happy. He was bulling.
I’m sure the Limerick lads got the hair-dryer treatment at half-time because there was a completely different intent there early in the second half. Limerick were getting more stuck into the rucks and physical exchanges but management didn’t hang around either with the changes.
Robbie Hanly had a great Munster League but he was whipped off without any sentiment and Will O’Donoghue’s introduction really shored up Limerick around the middle. O’Donoghue gave the last pass for the two goals from Gillane and Gearoid Hegarty.
Whoever was on Hegarty completely lost him but his first touch was brilliant and Hegarty’s finish was first class, especially when Hogan — who is a huge man — had made himself as big as physically possible to try and get his body behind the ball.
Limerick got the goals at the perfect time but Liam Sheedy won’t be too disappointed because Tipperary — who aren’t long back from their team holiday — clearly faded and tired in the last quarter.
I was listening to Liam in a radio interview on the way down and, while he said he’d been happy with the two weeks training prior to the game, that was nothing compared to what Limerick have already in the training bank.
Everyone was saying beforehand that the training deficit between the sides would be critical but none of that makes any difference if your head isn’t in the right place.
Even at that, Dillon Quirke had a great chance to put Tipp ahead late on, while Jason Forde’s late free came back off the crossbar via Barry Hennessy’s hurley.
Saturday evening was a great start to the campaign. It didn’t look to be going that way at half-time but that’s the modern game.
In my time, if you were nine points down at half-time, half your own crowd would be gone home five minutes into the second half if you weren’t throwing a few shapes to get the show back on the road.
Now, big leads can always be hunted down, for a multitude of different reasons; S&C levels are at near professional standards; attacking defenders can create and take scores from anywhere; managers and coaches are so tuned in to so much live data and analysis that the tide can always be rowed back.
In the modern game, anything is possible.