Wednesday 22 May 2019

John Mullane: 'How Waterford are not allowed bring home games to Nowlan Park I'll never know'

Waterford captain Kevin Moran, 10, leads the players
Waterford captain Kevin Moran, 10, leads the players
The expected return of Austin Gleeson to the Waterford fold should boost their chances of a much-needed victory against Tipperary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Mullane

I won't lie, this has been a deflating week in Waterford as everyone's suffered in the wake of that horror show in Ennis - players, management, supporters.

I'm on the record before as stating that Walsh Park doesn't suit this Waterford team and that playing away from there might not be too much of a hindrance.

I've revised that opinion somewhat because in this revamped round-robin system, home advantage is massive and results are bearing that out.

And you know what extra home games mean? You feel the love, you truly feel part of the Championship. But not if you're from Waterford because we're missing out not having a home venue.

We're missing out on that feel-good factor in the city; the razzmatazz, the economic benefits. That makes this week even worse when you pile the injury crisis on top of everything else.

Waterford will be on the road again in 2019 and possibly 2020 as well. That's a bleak short-term picture but if something positive does come out of all of this, we'll finally have a place that we can truly call home and a venue fit for inter-county purpose.

We'll be proud to welcome other counties to Waterford and for them to see our top-class facilities and experience the hospitality that we experience when we're on our travels around the country.

While I'm at it, how we were not allowed to bring our home games to Nowlan Park I'll never know.

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It might be outside of the province but if your home ground is being developed and your wish is to play in Kilkenny for the next two years, or however long it's going to take to get Walsh Park up to scratch, surely that had to be granted?

Still, it is what it is and hopefully our supporters will travel in big numbers to Limerick tomorrow and get behind this team, in what is our first 'home' fixture.

I'm sure they will and, in fairness to Paddy Joe Ryan and the Waterford county board, their hands have been tied in trying to clear down what was a substantial debt.


That's almost done now and while we give out about not having a proper home, we have to acknowledge the work that's been done in clearing that debt.

Hopefully it's a case of short-term pain for long-term gain and while the county board have been working on finances, and some hard decisions have been made along the way, we've still remained competitive on the field.

Last weekend gave us a clear indication of what this new Championship is all about.

It's uncertain and gloriously unpredictable. In true Tipp v Cork fashion, the counties churned out a thriller. Cork hit Thurles with a real swagger and picked up where they'd left off against Clare, producing a brilliant first 35 minutes.

Tipp, for their part, were as bad as the previous 70 minutes against Limerick but whatever was said at half-time, they were a team transformed in that second half.

Waterford's Patrick Curran. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Waterford's Patrick Curran. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

This was the Tipp we love to watch in full flow, showing glimpses of why they were All-Ireland champions in 2016 and so close to Galway in last year's semi-final.

Michael Ryan made some bad calls against Limerick but he got them right last Sunday at half-time - Brendan Maher to wing-back, Ronan Maher to midfield, Paudie Maher to centre back and 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer introduced.

Tipp in full flow are frightening as an attacking force and that's what worries me.

They've had the Indian sign over Waterford in recent times and while you'd think Tipp might like a week off now, as they face into a third game in as many weekends, they probably can't wait to get out there again.

Tipp will smell blood against a depleted Waterford and I'm worried about how our entire summer is going to pan out, never mind tomorrow.

Derek McGrath and his back-room team must be wondering if someone's placed a curse on them.

Shane and Kieran Bennett decided to go travelling and then we had Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony injured.

We go 1-4 to 0-3 up against Clare in Ennis and then we lose Tadhg de Búrca to injury, followed by his 'next of kin' sweeper, Darragh Fives.

If that's not bad enough, Barry Coughlan and Noel Connors get injured too and Kevin Moran's sent off, which is not in his DNA.

To finish with just five of last year's All-Ireland final team was incomprehensible and you're asking yourself if this is a dream you're going to wake up from soon.

But this is no dream, this is reality and I can only compare it to our first-round Munster Championship game against Clare in 2008, when we were short Eoin Kelly, Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn.

Even though we went out and gave it everything, and still believed we could win, missing players of that standing was too much to cope with.

The current situation also reminds me of 2007 against Cork, when we played them after 'Semplegate'.

They were without the marquee trio of Donal Óg Cusack, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.

But they had a game under their belts and we were coming in as League champions on a hiding to nothing.

We were expected to win the game but it was 70 minutes of intense pressure and it was a magnificent match, Cork fans turning out in their droves and their players giving it everything.

We were lucky to win by a goal and that's why I've no doubt that Derek will get a maximum effort from whatever Waterford team takes to the field.

It's also why it might be a lot closer than people think and not the Tipperary cakewalk that many are anticipating.

With so many lads out, opportunity knocks for others and the talk is that we'll get Austin and Pauric on the field.

Throw in Patrick Curran (left), Stephen Bennett, Colin Dunford, Mikey Kearney - who had a decent League campaign - and Brian O'Halloran.

Shuffle the pack and Waterford can still give this a right crack. I'd also like to see Conor Prunty get a run. He was a stand-out performer for the All-Ireland U-21 winning team of 2016.

Yes, it's been a tough week and yes, Limerick's a venue that has been unkind to us through the years but Derek will ask for another 10-15pc from the lads who run out at the Gaelic Grounds and see where it takes them.

The injury situation is unprecedented but you have to park it and crack on. Waterford have nothing to lose and they should have a go.

Tipp have the sweeper system sussed but they're vulnerable themselves in their full-back line so I'd love to see Waterford throw caution to the wind; put three men in that full-forward line and test Tipp, ask them questions.

Maybe three weeks on the spin will catch up on Tipp a little because it certainly seemed to affect Kilkenny and Offaly in their last games.

That's also why I think Limerick will take out Cork this weekend.

Cork have really surprised me and I didn't think they'd be on three points after two matches. But Limerick will be fresh and ready for them - and with that week's grace under their belts.

The way the games are laid out is a dream for John Kiely and Limerick and I'm backing that freshness to get them over the line.

In Waterford, meanwhile, we live in hope.

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