Kevin Moran adamant Waterford are on the right track
Veteran backs manager McGrath for devising a successful game plan for the county
Waterford’s Kevin Moran tries to block Darragh Fitzgibbon during the semi-final. “We have to try and set up as best we can to prevent teams from scoring goals.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
In the nine years since Kevin Moran last played in an All-Ireland hurling final everything has changed, and changed utterly.
As one of only two Waterford survivors from that 2008 defeat to Kilkenny, it’s the first question for Moran ahead of Sunday’s showdown against Galway and he also makes sure it’s the last.
“No, I wouldn’t draw too much at all on what happened nine years ago,” says Moran, who will captain the team on Sunday. The only other Waterford survivor, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, was captain in 2008.
“I think the game has changed . . .I’ve changed . . .The management has changed . . . .so everything has changed since then. Obviously there are small things you would like to learn from it.
“But being honest with you I haven’t looked into it that much. It’s just another game for us. Look, it’s massive and I’m not putting it on the long finger and there’s a super buzz around, but we can’t let it be anything more than what we have been doing.
“That mightn’t be the answer you’re looking for, but that’s the reality. That’s the way we’re going to prepare for it. That’s the way we’re going to play. The hurdle we’re encountering is the biggest of the year, and they [Galway] are a phenomenal team so far this year and we just have to get ourselves right.”
Truth is that 2008 final – Waterford’s first All-Ireland in 45 years – wasn’t much of a game anyway. From the throw-in, Kilkenny were on top, Eddie Brennan’s two first half-goals killing the contest, which ended in a 23-point victory – the biggest winning margin on final day in 65 years, and giving Kilkenny their first three-in-a-row since 1913.
But Moran certainly didn’t expect to have waited nine years until his next final.
“No, and we played in two All-Ireland semi-finals straight after 2008, which is always good for the team at the time. We probably just weren’t good enough to get over the line.
“Being straight about it, I don’t know if we’ve been good enough the last six or seven years. It’s only since Derek McGrath has come in that there has been a drive and an ambition to get back there and go for it. Because I think we are good enough and there’s no better time than the present. But no, I absolutely wouldn’t have thought it would take that long.”
The McGrath reference is no throwaway remark. Moran now teaches in De La Salle Waterford alongside him, knows McGrath better than anyone, and despite some of the criticism of their style of play, is adamant he’s done the right thing in revitalising their game over the last four years.
“Nowadays, in hurling, it’s very easy to pick up the ball and let rip. The game has changed. If you look back on games that might pop up on your telly from 15 years ago, you mightn’t be laughing, but it’s totally different.
“Sure that’s the same with every sport. If you look at pictures of matches of Roy Keane and going back to as far as Beckenbauer it’s a totally different game. The players now look quicker and fitter and the ball is moving quicker, there seems to be more skill, the pitches are better. All of that is a contributing factor.
“The team that I came into when I was 18, more than 10 years ago, they were some of the best hurlers Waterford has ever produced. But, what, do we keep trying to do that and produce these types of players?
“I’m training with lads now who mightn’t even be on the starting 15 but are more skilful than 90 per cent of the lads that were there when I first came onto the panel and that’s just the way it is. The skill level is absolutely through the roof, way ahead of where it was. The speed, the fitness, everything got to do with it.
“Plus the workload you’re putting in is far superior than when I first started. So if you’re putting in all that you have to be careful about what you’re doing with the ball. You have to use the ball as efficiently as possible. Waterford have suffered heartache from seven-goal drubbings against Tipperary in a Munster final to being absolutely hammered in the 2008 All-Ireland final, by a super team. But that doesn’t make it any easier for ourselves.
“So we have to try and set up as best we can to prevent teams from scoring goals because the more goals you score the more chance you have of winning it and the more goals you concede the less chance you have.”
No wonder Moran has little time for any criticism of Waterford’s style of play.
“If we take what people from the outside are saying, sure it would cripple any man, especially this year. So we have to stick to what we and Derek believe in, what suits us. There are hundreds of people, I’m sure, that are high up who have a lot to say on us and blah-de-blah and those critics are entitled to their opinion.”
Nine years on, and Sunday’s final has extra meaning for Moran, given his father, Paul, is a Galway man.
“He’s from Tuam, so I think it’s more football country up there. But he’s having a great buzz about it and I’m trying to stay out of it. It’s small banter more so for the aunts and uncles and things like that. It’s great, it adds to the whole thing.
“It’s what the GAA, I suppose, is all about. There’s always somebody who’s related or connected to a county. Hopefully, he’ll have the bragging rights, that’s all I can say, because he’s gone out of Galway a long time.”