In the last number of years we are possibly spoiled when it comes to the success of our underage teams in the county.
The two teams entered into the Tony Forristal and Sony Walsh Tournament has seen an improvement in their results. For many years while effectively not true, Waterford could be seen to be there to make up numbers. However in the past number of years we have seen our teams, especially in the Tony Forristal section of the competition reach and win finals.
We have also seen our under 16 teams do well in the Tipperary Supporters Club under 16 Hurling championship (Still often referred to as the Nenagh Co-Op tournament by many). On the colleges scene we have seen results also improve. De La Salle got the ball rolling winning successive Dr. Harty and Dr. Croke Cups. Since then colleges sides from right across the county have been performing well at different levels which all bodes well for Waterford hurling than our best players are able to hold their own against the best in Munster and indeed nationally at the same age levels, while we also have a number of players involved with college sides outside the county and even outside the province who are more than holding their own as well.
What it is all meaning is that with almost a decade now, Waterford are putting together some good minor teams, who are now regularly involved in provincial finals and even bigger games, going as far as winning an All-Ireland in 2013.
No silverware was won in 2014 in the grades of Inter county hurling played beneath senior level down to and including minor level, but it is important to realise the while winning is nice and it breeds confidence that only one team can win each competition. It is also important to realise that the important thing from taking part in such competitions is that the best players are developed so that they can go on to play at the highest level in the years that follow.
While no silverware was won at Minor, Under 21 or Intermediate levels in 2014, it was none the less a good year, especially at minor levels. Maybe it could be argued that the next two levels, the year was a disappointment.
Waterford began the defence of the All-Ireland title won in September 2013 with a game against Clare at Ennis.
With a good number of the 2013 panel still available to new manager Derek Lyons for the year ahead, Waterford went into the game as the favourite’s something that does not always suit Waterford teams.
Waterford started the game very sluggishly and it was no surprise that Clare retired at the break with a 0-7 to 0-5 advantage on the score board but Waterford finished the game surge of 1-5 without replay to win the game 1-13 to 0-11.
In the first half lead by goalkeeper Jason Loughnane, Jamie Arthur, Seamus Downey, Rory Hayes, Brian Guilfoyle and the brilliant Aaron Shanagher Clare took the game to Waterford.
Waterford however in the second half came out a much hungrier side hitting points from Shane Ryan and Patrick Curran to level matters early in the second half.
Clare however with Darragh Walsh, Michael O’Malley and Ian Galvin to the fore lead 0-11 to 0-8 at the end of the third quarter.
Waterford however bossed the final quarter. Waterford began to empty their bench and one of the introduced played Eddie Meany proved to be the hero of the night hitting 1-1 the goal coming two minutes from the end of normal time.
The two sides met again in the semi final at Fraher Field after Clare came through the qualifiers.
If the first meeting of the two sides was close, this one was even closer.
At the end of the hour just one point (2-13 to 2-12) separated the sides in Waterford’s favour.
Patrick Curran was the hero for Waterford at one end of the field hitting 1-7 to help Waterford reach a fifth Munster Final in six years. At the other end, Waterford had an even bigger hero in Roanmore Club man Billy Nolan between the posts who pulled off an incredible injury time save to keep Waterford in the competition.
This was a reverse of the first meeting of the two sides. In the first game it was Clare who proved to be the better side in the first half, here it was Waterford.
Waterford retired at the break leading 2-8 to 2-2. Patrick Curran hit the first goal of the game on six minutes but it was cancelled out with an Aaron Shanagher double.
Waterford hit an important second goal just before the break when Sean Hogan found Patrick Curran who in turn found Shane Bennett and the Ballysaggart club man made no mistake in hammering the ball past Jason Loughnane.
Clare had their numbers cut by one when Michael O’Malley was sent off on a straight red but you could be forgiven for thinking that Clare were playing with a numerical disadvantage as they came tight back into the game with Colin Corbett, David Fitzgerald, Aaron Shanagher, Brian Guilfoyle and Ian Galvin all landing important scores.
With Clare in front Waterford steadied the ship with a Patrick Curran point followed by another vital score from Eddie Meaney which leveled matters and would later add the scores that would secure their passage to a meeting with Limerick in the final.
The final was a repeat of the 2013 final. That was a game that Waterford looked as though they were going to win, but took their eyes off the ball in the closing minutes and Limerick fought back to earn a draw. In the replay, Limerick proved too strong for Waterford and ran out worthy winners at Thurles.
Twelve months on, the two sides with many players involved on both sides that played in the final twelve months earlier again involved, the two sides fought out a game that a winner could not be found in on the day.
Limerick looked as though they would retail the title as the game drew to its conclusion, as they lead by three points, but just as happened to Waterford twelve months earlier when they looked certain winners and it was not they that took their eye off the ball, allowing Waterford to slip in for a late goal from Shane Ryan (to level matters Waterford 2-17 Limerick 3-14) who was on the field only moments.
There was plenty of drama in the replay at Semple Stadium. Both sides scored 42 scores, but the final outcome was the same as in 2013, a win to Limerick on a 0-24 to 0-18 score line.
Waterford lead by two at the break and eight minutes into the second half after Shane Ryan dodged two challenges Waterford lead 0-17 to 0-15 and it was looking good for Waterford, but Waterford would only hit one more score in the game.
In the final quarter of the game, the winners outscored Waterford nine points to one to run out deserved winners.
Ronan Lynch hit ten points on the night for Limerick. Tom Morrissey hit half that tall and Barry Nash also impressed.
For Waterford Patrick Curran was scorer in chief, hitting eight points. Colm Roche hit four double what Eddie Meaney and Shane Ryan hit for Derek Lyons men on the night.
There was a quick turn around for Waterford as there was twelve months earlier after loosing a Munster Final replay as Dublin laid in the long grass in an All-Ireland Final replay.
Maybe having a few days between a Munster Final replay and an All-Ireland quarter final is not ideal and maybe is something that the Munster Council could look at.
It’s hard to find a balance when it comes to games. Maybe the ideal situation would be for the Munster Council to play a replay the Thursday or Friday evening after a drawn Munster Final if the senior game does not also end in stalemate, allowing teams’ greater time to prepare and recover from the replay to the All-Ireland quarter final.
Maybe another solution might be for the Munster Council to bring their finals forward a week, allowing teams who may need a replay to find a winner of a competition a week and a half between the drawn game and a replay and another week and a half between the replay and the All-Ireland quarter final for the side that looses out.
Against Dublin at Thurles, Shane Ryan fired a brace of goals which helped Waterford to a 2-18 to 0-19 victory.
Waterford lead 1-8 to 0-8 at the break, the goal coming just before the half way point in the first half, a score that helped Waterford into a 1-4 to 0-2 lead.
The crucial second goal of the game came 12 minutes into the second half when Shane Ryan again hit the net after he was set up by Colm Roche to give Waterford a 2-13 to 0-13 lead.
Dublin managed by Waterford man Pat Fanning did come fighting back and to go within thee of Waterford (2-16 to 0-19) but Waterford finished strong with Peter Hogan and Shane Bennett landed points to set up an All-Ireland semi final for the second year in a row against Kilkenny.
Twelve months earlier Waterford beat Kilkenny at the same stage of the competition, but this year the Cats had a much stronger outfit to pick from, being able to call on several of the Kilkenny CBS and St Kieran’s College sides that contested the All-Ireland Colleges final for the Dr. Croke Cup.
At the end of the hour, the sides could not be separated, thanks in no small part to Alan Murphy if you were a Kilkenny supporter on the day as he put over a late ’65 to force the game to an extra 20 minutes beyond the hour mark.
Kilkenny lead 0-19 to 1-14 at the break in added time and in the final ten minutes of the game they continued to dominate as they ran out 1-23 to 1-14 winners, the goal coming from Mullinavat’s John Walsh six minutes from time.
At under 21 level, the year was a very disappointing one for Waterford.
Having reached five of the last six Minor Munster finals, Waterford would have been expected to field a strong team, and in truth they did, but the problem for Waterford is a lack of time together as a unit to prepare.
With a great deal of the senior panel to choose from, many were not released to train together with the under 21’s that were not part of the senior panel.
On the night, Cork had a five star performance from teenager Patrick Collins between the posts who made upwards of at least half a dozen great saves. The on-looking Jimmy Barry-Murphy could but not be impressed by the Ballincollig club man and surly it is only a matter of time that he will have him challenging Anthony Nash for the number 1 shirt in the rebel county.
Waterford went to the dressing rooms leading 0-11 to 0-10 but on another night that led would have been a double score one as Collins made terrific saves from senior players Austin Gleeson, Donie Breathnach and Jamie Barron to deny the goals.
An Aidan Cadogan goal in the third quarter turned the game. He did well to field a Cormac Murphy delivery between two defenders, beating both and fired home from close range.
Cork were reduced to 14 players for the final quarter as an umpire called the attention of the referee who sent off Cormac Murphy for an off the ball incident.
However as we have seen many times before playing with fourteen can often prove to be an advantage as the onus is on the opposition as to how to best deploy the spare man, something many find hard to work out what to do (for what its worth I would play a regular 3-3-2-3-3 formation with the forwards rotating to keep the opposing backs on their toes, keeping one man free and playing a lot of ball to him).
Cork in the final quarter added two more goals both from Anthony Spillane, the first coming about as a result of a disastrous short puck out, and he added a second three minutes from time which proved to be the icing on the cake as Cork ran out 3-18 to 0-16 winners.
At Intermediate level, Cork just like at Senior and Under 21 level eliminated Waterford from the Munster Championship.
On the day Peter O’Brien was outstanding for The Rebels in Thurles hitting 13 points from his side’s tally of 1-21.
Waterford went in at the break trailing 1-9 to 2-4 despite a perfect start where there was two quick goals scored by the Dungarvan duo of Gavin Crotty and Ryan Donnelly. But a Jamie Wall goal on twenty minutes proved crucial it drew the side’s level (2-3 to 1-6).
Waterford just as they had in the first half had a dream start to the second half as Ryan Donnelly cracked his second goal of the game while Killian Fitzgerald and Thomas Ryan also hit important scores to give Waterford a 3-8 to 1-11 lead with 40 minutes played.
But Waterford would collapse after this as they would hit just one more point in the closing twenty minutes, while Cork would average one point every two minutes of the last third of the game.