We’ve improved since that wretched effort at the start of the League. We couldn’t but improve with Michael Walsh back at center-back, and the performances of Stephen O’Keeffe have been a modest revelation, the kind of shot-stopper who can turn a certain goal into an uncertain 65 that we haven’t had since Pat Curran. In the meantime Cork do not seem to have pushed on from that game. Three games into the Championship, there’s surely no danger of them pulling a series of rabbits from the hat like they did in 1999. However did I say Gerald McCarthy lost his mojo that day? I think I did too. The sight of the immortal Jimmy Barry Murphy is scary enough in itself, and you can’t help but feel that while Waterford can go toe-to-toe with them for 70 minutes we’re passing them coming up while we are on the way down. The feeling of being in the last chance saloon, exacerbated by the knowledge that this must be it for Tony Browne, standing ovation in the Munster final and all, is getting strong. I think we might have quite a head on us se nu by the time Kilkenny and Limerick take to the field on Sunday.
It’s been awhile since I visited the topic of Waterford United (it’s a recurring theme), and while I can say with an utterly straight face that I’ve been following their efforts as they have roared up the table, it doesn’t excuse not going to the games. Summer soccer was meant to make going to matches more attractive, and at the time of writing an evening in the RSC looks like a pleasant prospect, but whoever came up with the idea didn’t twig that punters have a lot more going on in the summer months. What with weddings (one of which put the kibosh on me going to the Munster final), jaunts abroad and guests from abroad, there always seems to be something going on.
Excuses, excuses. When the decision was made to switch to summer soccer, the powers-that-be were probably only too well aware that those who didn’t want to go would swap one set of excuses (see above) for another (bad weather, dark evenings, kids in school, Liverpool on the telly, Pisces not aligned with Capricorn). So tonight I’m heading along with a feeling of dread that I’m about to put the mockers on their splendid run of late.
And what a run it has been. Their win over Long ford Town last weekend was their seventh on the bounce and has a potential long-term significance which we’ll get back to in a moment. After the debacle against Oxford Youths on the opening day of the season I opined that “there was nothing in the second half of last season to suggest Paul O’Brien is a huge improvement on Stephen Henderson”. Oh me of little faith. Speaking to an RSC regular after the bounce-back win over Limerick the following week, his considered opinion was that while doubts existed over O’Brien’s ability to manage a squad of unruly yahoos, there was no question over his tactical nous and his faith in the latter looks to have been justified.
After Ireland’s limp exit from Euro 2012, Eamon Dunphy pieced together a montage supporting his thesis that Giovanni Trappatoni’s excuses about the necessity of deploying tactics to maximize the potential of a squad with minimum talent were wearing thin. He showed the journeymen of Swansea City inflicting death by a thousand passes on Liverpool in their match at field last November. It was impressive watching the Swans knock the ball around with elegant precision compared to Ireland’s club-footed efforts, and it had the triple whammy of giving me a little encouragement about Brendan Rodgers’ appointment to Liverpool (not too much though; 237 times bitten, 238th time shy);making Mrs d a very happy camper as Dunphy, whom she has always disliked, said “Swansea were applauded off the field that day by the Liverpool crowd, the most knowledgeable in football”. She enjoyed that. And realizing that managers can make a difference, especially on tight budgets.
And it has come to pass that Paul O’Brien has made a huge difference.