Saturday 17 March 2018

McGrath's slick outfit use brains and brawn

De La Salle 1-21 Dungarvan 0-12

De La Salle team captain Kevin Moran pictured lifting the cup when they won the Waterford SHC title last year - he was away on holiday for their final game over the weekend
De La Salle team captain Kevin Moran pictured lifting the cup when they won the Waterford SHC title last year - he was away on holiday for their final game over the weekend

No David and Goliath tale here, only an impressive flexing of the muscles from a team who don't just have dates in October and November in mind, but red rings on the calendar pages of February and March next year too.

This is as ambitious as De La Salle can be after a third Waterford title in five years consolidated their position as the new powerhouse in the county.

"If you had told me five years ago that we'd have three county titles by now I would have laughed at you. A lot of people in Waterford would have laughed at you," remarked John Mullane afterwards.


In time, Dungarvan may well occupy that mantle. Without a senior title since 1941, the hub of west Waterford has for too long been a bystander on the main hurling thoroughfare.

But they have been sweeping the boards at underage level in the county for some time now and the fruits of that labour were evident in a team sheet defined by youth.

In truth, they may have got ahead of themselves this season and quite possibly found themselves in the right place at the wrong time, coming across such a seasoned and battle-hardened team as De La Salle.

Physically, this was a contest they were never likely to win, a perception that was added motivation for De La Salle in the build-up.

They didn't like the idea that age and brute force alone would see them through. They took it as an insult to their hurling, according to manager Derek McGrath.

"We would have had a chip on our shoulder about that. Physicality suggests not being able to hurl. We were using that as a stick, saying to them, 'they're saying you're not able to hurl'," McGrath said.

Yet, the most telling factor was that vast age difference between them. Dungarvan's ambitious underage programmes have yielded these impressive recruits with an average age of just 20.8, surely the youngest at senior level to play in a county final in recent history.

At 27, Jamie Nagle is the team's father figure, 10 years older than Kevin Daly, one of their two corner-backs. Yet Nagle still wouldn't even surpass the average age of De La Salle, just under 27.5.

That scale of concession in years was something they simply couldn't cope with on an occasion like this and it told in almost all the physical exchanges as they were unable to make use of 'home' advantage in Fraher Field, just down the road from their own home ground, with a 5,500-strong crowd in attendance.

Kevin Moran dominated at centre-back, aided superbly by Stephen Daniels behind him, while Dean Twomey was a colossus at midfield, breaking tackles relentlessly to create scores.

The full-forward line -- John Mullane, Jack Kennedy and John Keane -- had a combined age of 95, but collectively they hit big figures on the scoreboard too, guiding over nine points from play between them.

Mullane was quietly influential, making a searing run for a cracking Jake Dillon goal after only three minutes that was a statement of intent in itself.

De La Salle's intent had already been signalled as players clashed breaking away from the pre-match parade. Clearly, no ground was being conceded by the 2008 and 2010 champions.

Kennedy has been a big addition since his transfer from Ballyduff Lower earlier this year and his great aerial power was evident early on.

De La Salle led by 1-4 to 0-2 after only 10 minutes, but to their credit Dungarvan steadied the ship as Cormac Curran, one of three brothers in the team, took full advantage of some over-zealous defending that earned a sequence of frees to take them to within one point again by the 18th minute.

The last of those frees may well have been a goal after Eoin Healy's interception put him one on one with Stephen Brenner, but Brenner was able to smother Healy's kicked effort to deny him a maximum.

That was as close as the young pretenders came. Mullane showed his class with the next point from a tight angle and by the break De La Salle were 1-11 to 0-7 clear.

The ferocity of their play was reflected in their second last point of the half. Kevin Daly, Dungarvan's youngest player, was surrounded by three opponents, including Mullane, and the award of a free for overcarrying brought a communal burst of highly charged fist pumping and an eventual John Keane point.

"We wanted to take a leaf out of Kilkenny's book so that our forwards could hunt in packs and if we could get them to overcarry it would almost be like a score for us,"explained McGrath.

Dungarvan needed the start to the second half that De La Salle got as they reeled over four unanswered points inside four minutes for a 1-15 to 0-7 lead.

It was a procession after that, though players like Shane Kearney, Kenny Moore and Gavin Crotty battled bravely to the end. De La Salle's improvement in discipline was something McGrath reflected on afterwards.

"Last year ended with a bit of hurt. We lost our semi-final, not in controversial circumstances but our discipline cost us. We had a year to think about it so we said we would come back earlier. We only got one yellow card in the nine games we played in this championship.

"The one thing about our lads is that they are ordinary. It's inherent in them. There's a decency in them, no egos. We have some big personalities but they just row in."

McGrath admitted that being such strong favourites was a real challenge.

"Go into the bookies and you're 7/1. It's hard not to dwell on that and to go into the lions' den where you are set up for a fall. It's very hard psychologically to deal with that."

A Munster championship now beckons in four weeks' time and without a loss in two previous campaigns, De La Salle are entitled to aim as high as they like.

Scorers -- De La Salle: J Dillon 1-4 (4f), J Keane, J Kennedy, J Mullane 0-3 each, B Phelan (2f), P Nevin, S McNulty 0-2 each, E Barrett, D Twomey 0-1 each. Dungarvan: Cormac Curran 0-9 (7f, 2 '65s'), S Ryan, G Crotty, Colm Curran 0-1 each.

De La Salle -- S Brenner; C Watt, I Flynn, S Brenner; B Phelan, K Moran, E Madigan; E Barrett, D Twomey; D Greene, J Dillon, P Nevin; J Mullane, J Kennedy, J Keane. Subs: S McNulty for Greene (33), O Keevers for Madigan (52), C Sheehan for Watt (60), J Sage for Crotty (60), T Kearney for Barrett (61).

Dungarvan -- D Duggan; K Daly, D Barry, L Egan; S Kearney, K Moore, C Sheridan; J Nagle, S Ryan; E Healy, G Crotty, Cormac Curran; Colm Curran, R Donnelly, Cathal Curran. Subs: K Duggan for Sheridan (h-t), M Power for Cathal Curran (42), D Houlihan for Donnelly (60).

Ref -- M Wadding.

Irish Independent

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