Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Walsh Park…..is it fit for a county of Waterford’s GAA standing? Photo: Inpho.
It’s funny the way things come up.
After the recent great win for the Waterford hurlers against Kilkenny in the National Hurling League in Nowlan Park, for the first time since 2004, I was surprised by what was excercising Déise hurling fans on Social Media.
While all were delighted with the win, naturally, an awful lot of people were talking about the venue instead of the game itself. The general reaction was that they were pretty taken by Nowlan Park and its facilities and I agree Nowlan Park is a very decent inter-county ground and has come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade and a half or so. Huge money has been pumped in there and it now really is a top class modern county ground.
Not surprisingly much of the talk after that Kilkenny game on Social Media was a long the lines of comparing the newly developed Nowlan Park and the comparative facilities on this side of the river Suir, namely Walsh Park and Fraher Field. Some of it might have been a bit over the top but I see where these Déise fans are coming from.
First of all I must say that I quite like Walsh Park. There’s something about it, especially on big days or nights. Like last year’s Munster U-21 Hurling Final against Tipp, the place was rocking that night and the atmosphere and the scenes of the massive home support almost filling the field afterwards are ones that will live with all of us that were there for many years to come.
But is Walsh Park up to the standard of a county that is without doubt one of the top three or four hurling counties in Ireland? I would say not.
I was on the bank behind the Keane’s Road goal for the recent league game against Tipperary and while a lot of work has been put into developing that area and the terrace opposite the stand, it’s really lagging behind nearly all the top county grounds in the land. I’ve already mentioned Nowlan Park, then there’s Wexford Park, O’Connor Park in Tullamore (which is unreal for a county the size of Offaly), O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, Dr. Cullen Park in Carlow, Pearse Stadium in Salthill and so on and that’s obviously staying away from the top grounds like Thurles, Killarney, Cork (when it’s rebuilt), Limerick, Clones, Castlebar etc which are not comparing like with like.
These are counties with similar or lesser means and populations than Waterford but yet their county grounds are far superior, why is that?
The reason that can’t be ignored is that all these counties have one county ground. Waterford has and most likely always will, have two. Walsh Park in the City (THE EAST) and Fraher Field in Dungarvan (THE WEST). And there’s no doubt that over the years a huge amount of resources have been divided between the two when ploughing all those resources (and other funds that may well have been provided if that was the case) into one ground surely would have made more sense. I don’t think that’s rocket science but I’m sure neither those in the East or the West were or still would be willing to concede their ground for the greater good. Herein lies the problem I believe.
June 2 1996 was the last time that Waterford hosted a Munster Senior Hurling Championship match. Tipperary were the visitors to Walsh Park in a Quarter-final tie played in front of a sell out capacity of 15,655, a game which Tipp won by a goal (1-14 to 1-11).
There have been a few All-Ireland Qualifiers held in Walsh Park in recent years but nothing like that, nothing to get the House Full signs out for and that’s a shame. It would be brilliant to see Munster Championship hurling return to Waterford but eventhough the hurling attendances have been well down in recent years, there’s no way the Munster Council would agree to it. If it could hold 25,000 plus like the likes of Nowlan Park, O’Moore Park and the likes then it could be a totally different ball game. Imagine the buzz that it would create for hurling in the county.
So what are the solutions? Or more importantly is their any appetite for change?
There was a lot of talk a few years ago about Waterford GAA teaming up with WIT to develop a stadium at Carriganore but that ship has now sailed with the completion of the excellent WIT Arena and of course you’ll be told that the finances aren’t there but that hasn’t stopped other, less successful counties. Where there’s a will there’s a way…….I’m sure we’ll return to this topic anon. Send us your views on this or any sporting matter to [email protected] waterford-news.com.

If you fancy a road trip this weekend then I’d urge you to consider making the long journey to Ennis in the lovely county of Clare. Apart from it being a lovely part of the world, there’s the small matter of a hurling game on there next Sunday as Clare and Waterford battle it out in the final round of the National Hurling League in what will be a repeat of last year’s League Final draw and replay epics.
This might not be an epic but this is game is all about one thing for the two teams and that’s the result. The winner of this game (if it’s not a draw again) will be guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals of the league and more importantly will be guaranteed their status in next season’s Division 1A. For the loser though all bets are off. With three teams on four points and one on three, the identity of the counties who will battle out the relegation playoff and those who will advance to the knock-out stages will not be known till the final whistles have sounded in Ennis, Cork and Dublin.

Shane Bennett in action against Clare last year, expect another cracker between these two teams on Sunday. Photo: Inpho.
After a great start to the league, with a rare win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, Waterford haven’t quite been themselves since. They were well beaten at home by Tipperary in round two, just did enough to see off Dublin in Croke Park in round three before losing by eight points to Cork in Walsh Park in round four.
Clare for their part have been a bit up and down too. They were well beaten by Cork in round one before they had a very impressive home win over Kilkenny in round two. In round three they lost by seven to All-Ireland champions Tipp in Thurles before scraping over Dublin in Ennis in round four.
I must say I fancy Waterford. They were very poor against Cork and if they don’t come back with a massive reaction then I think there are serious problems. But because I don’t believe that there are I think they’ll come out with all guns blazing and I think it’ll be a cracking game.
Derek McGrath spoke after the Cork game about sticking or twisting in terms of team selection. Do you continue with more or less the same team that has played all the games in the league so far or do you switch it up and give fellas on the fringes a chance? That’s the question. You remember what happened when they completely freshened it up last year against Galway in the league….maybe they’ll do the same again. Whatever team lines out in white and blue on Sunday, expect a big performance and hopefully a win to seal a quarter-final berth.

There are a lot of figures in the media that achieve longevity and notoriety because they are outspoken. The same is true in sport. You only have to thing of Irish pundits like Eamon Dunphy, George Hook, Joe Brolly, Gerry Kiernan and I could go on. I have no problem with that. They are entitled to their opinion but sometimes you feel they form their opinions with a slight leaning towards what will wind people up.
Another man that is not afraid of sharing his opinions is former professional cyclist and Sunday Independent journalist, Paul Kimmage. I must admit that I’ve always been a fan of Kimmage. His book, A Rough Ride, is excellent as was Engage which he wrote with paralysed English rugby player, Matt Hampson and I followed him all through his crusade against Lance Armstrong, which was far from a picnic for the vast majority of it, including losing his job, don’t forget. But I have taken issue with him of late for his thoughts on Munster Rugby player, CJ Stander. “I don’t want to see him playing for Ireland,” he said. “I totally agree that he has fronted up for Munster and his buying into the whole Ireland thing but he is still depriving someone who is born and raised here of playing in that position and I think that should be the bottom line,” he said.
Again I respect his opinion but I feel it’s very unfair on Stander. First of all he didn’t come up with the residency rule and secondly what about all the other players who have been born abroad and yet pulled on the Irish jersey. He’s not alone. What about the soccer players, many of whom have never even lived in this country?
But sticking with rugby, I agree that it’s not an ideal rule. For me three years is too short. I believe it should be at least five years before a player should be granted residency in that country but the whole world is at it. Last weekend’s opponents, England being the most potent proponents of the rule. So should we take the high moral ground and not play anyone that qualifies under the residency rule and fall further behind our rivals?
I was always taught that you play by the rules, like them or not and that’s what Stander and the IRFU are doing. Nothing more or nothing less.
Personally I’m a huge fan of CJ Stander and I think he has been brilliant for Munster and Ireland since he arrived and I’m delighted that he felt strongly enough to commit his international future to Ireland when I know the Springboks would have had him back in a heartbeat.

Paul Kimmage.

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