Déise chasing history as they face Treatymen

National Hurling League Semi-Final
(Waterford v Limerick, Semple Stadium, Sunday, 2pm)

Brian Flannery reports

The Waterford side pictured prior to their draw with Limerick in the opening round of Division 1B fixtures in the 2015 National Hurling League.				| Photo: Sean Byrne

The Waterford side pictured prior to their draw with Limerick in the opening round of Division 1B fixtures in the 2015 National Hurling League. | Photo: Sean Byrne

Waterford will once again have their League title on the line when they travel to Thurles this Sunday to take on Limerick in the semi-final curtain raiser.
The bookies have the reigning champions pinned as 8/13 favourites to progress to a second league decider in successive seasons. Waterford in fairness had a much better season in 2015 than Limerick with Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final appearances to add to their league title.
The fact that Waterford have been plying their trade in Division 1A of the League and can boast victories against Kilkenny, Tipp and Cork further gives further credence to their favourites tag.
Limerick are an interesting side though. Their Munster and All-Ireland Under-21 victory last year signposts a team with potential.
They did also get the better of our All-Ireland minor winning side in the 2013 Munster minor final and again in the 2014 decider, both in replays.
And when you add in that fact that Na Piarsaigh and Killmallock have shared the last three Munster club titles with Na Piarsaigh becoming the first Limerick side to win an All-Ireland club title last St. Patrick’s day, Limerick is not without talented hurlers.
It was in Croke Park on Paddy’s Day to witness the Limerick club’s impressive victory over Ruairí Óg Cushendall. They played an entertaining style with a mixture of pace, strength and just old fashioned good hurling. They also had guys in attack who could win their own ball like Shane Dowling, David Breen, Kevin Downes and Peter Casey.
Ronan Lynch at centre-back was a joy to watch as he continues to deliver on the promise shown at minor level. There are eight Na Pairsaigh players on the current Limerick panel.
Limerick’s lacklustre performance and defeat to Clare in confines the Shannonsiders to yet another season in the second tier of the National Hurling League.
League games against the likes of Laois, Kerry and Offaly is hardly ideal preparation for a cup semi-final never mind the upcoming championship. The difference in revenue of approximately €100,000 per year is another reason Limerick’s absence from the top tier is being sorely felt.
That said, last time out, TJ Ryan’s men went to Parnell Park and turned over their hosts to set up this weekend’s tie.
The Limerick manager took the opportunity in his post-game interview to round on the local media. The Limerick scribes it seems are “vultures” with “hidden agendas” and are “all wrong”.
Maurice Shanahan was at his All-Star winning best at Wexford Park on Sunday week last.										| Photo: Noel Browne

Maurice Shanahan was at his All-Star winning best at Wexford Park on Sunday week last. | Photo: Noel Browne

Former Manager Eamonn Cregan decried the performance of Limerick in their defeat to Clare while another ex-manager Tom Ryan also predicted a summer of discontent if the quarter-final in the capital had been lost.
I do wonder what managers really expect form the media, local or national. Do managers really expect analysts, pundits and journalists from their own county to be some kind of cheerleading group? I for one call it as I see it. Good, bad or indifferent. You may agree or disagree but that’s the essence of an opinion piece. My opinion.
So how are Waterford fixed for this game? Winning while not at your best is always good, right? Well that pretty much sums up our performance against Wexford. Waterford didn’t set the world on fire yet were good enough to win the game.
It was remarkably similar to the performance against Dublin. In both games the opposition out-worked and out-fought a lethargic looking Waterford side. Had Wexford a reliable free taker I’d be talking about the predictability of Stradbally, Ballinacourty and The Nire dominating the local football championship.
The ‘system’ or ‘systems’ Waterford operate with has Tadhg De Búrca as a free defender, a sweeper minding the full-back line and available to launch attacks unfettered by the necessity of marking duties.
But there is a price to pay for this ‘insurance’ policy. There is always a price to pay. The tax due is paid for at the other end of the field. Waterford have scored 1-107 (average: 18.33) and conceded 4-94 (average: 17.66) so far in this year’s League.
Do such stats really mean a lot? Well as along as you keep scoring more than your opponent then you’re in clover. It does however seem that in the absence of scoring goals (one in six games) you will find it difficult to get away from your opponent. In our two Championship defeats in 2015 we failed to score goals against either Tipperary or Kilkenny.
Will there be a major shift in tactical approach? Unlikely. The team is predicted to be very similar to the Wexford starting XV, if not in fact exactly the same.
There must be a case for the inclusion of Brian O’Halloran from the off while I wonder when will Pauric Mahony get an opportunity to reclaim a starting berth. Will we see another starting cameo for Austin Gleeson at full-forward?
The midfield was underpowered against Lee Chin and Harry Kehoe and perhaps if Darragh Fives was fit we might see this area further reinforced. I do expect to see Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett to return to their early season form and ask questions of the Limerick defence.
Semple Stadium is a home from home for Waterford and another potential day out at the ‘Field of Legends’ our neighbours across Rice Bridge will do nicely. So too would a historic second successive League title. But let’s hope for a positive result on Sunday next first and then take it from there.
* Postscript: While watching Mount Sion against Ballyhale Shamrocks in a challenge game on Friday night last it was interesting to notice the differing philosophies with regard to allowing county players play with their clubs. All-Stars and Kilkenny seniors TJ Reid and Joey Holden looked like new spring lambs abound with energy a verve for the game while Mount Sion’s Waterford stars looked on from the other side of the white lines.

McGrath aiming
for another step up

Dermot Keyes

That Waterford have become difficult to beat is a source of tremendous encouragement about where this team might be headed over the next few summers.
But that expectation remains somewhat tempered, given, as Brian Flannery justly points out in this preview, that goals remain somewhat problematic to source for the Deisemen.
If, for example, 0-21 became 2-19 or 3-18 on a more regular basis, then it’s going to take one hell of a team to get the better of them, given their excellent defensive attributes and superb work rate.
Derek McGrath’s side has lost just one of its last 14 League matches, the best record in senior inter-county hurling in that period, and is lining out in its second successive NHL semi-final.
They have already proven themselves to be more than worthy champions, which made the presence of the trophy at last Saturday’s Club Deise event in London all the more noteworthy.
Said McGrath: “The boys are going to be exposed to a double header in Thurles, in front of 25,000 to 30,000 supporters and that’s very pleasing. You benefit from playing in as many of these games as you can and we’re delighted to be lining out in another semi-final.”
While the quarter-final win over Wexford was a cagey, and, at times, patchy type of game, it was pleasing to see how Waterford stood up so well to the kitchen sink treatment on someone else’s patch. Wins away to Cork, Tipperary and Wexford in a single spring, after all, are not to be sniffed at.
“We like to think that our guys are able to compete on all fronts, and we were mindful of the way Wexford had been written off all week in the build-up to the quarter-final,” said Derek McGrath.
“So to be able to deal with that, to be able to go six points down twice and come back from that, when things weren’t looking good for us, when we looked, at times, stuck to the ground, made the win doubly satisfying.”
These remain heady days for Deise hurling and it’s a measure of how far the team has come in such a short space of time that observers can make reasoned comment on the team’s composition and style without being described as “vultures”, as Limerick boss TJ Ryan labelled his detractors.
The thing is, from a Waterford perspective, I believe the commentary of the panel and management has been fair and even-handed: neither too condemnatory (there’s no need for such comment – look at the results!) nor too cheerleader-ish.
There’s been no blacklisting or snubbing of local hurling scribes or broadcasters that I can think of, which speaks volumes for the integrity of those on both the sideline and, in turn, the press box.
After all, we all seek the same outcome: the ultimately glory, bridging that 57-year gap between Liam MacCarthy crossing Rice Bridge. Vincent Hogan identified Waterford as the county most likely to break Kilkenny’s grip on the holy grail and I would tend to agree with him.
But Limerick have to be negotiated on Sunday, and as the trip to Wexford illustrated, opponents with chips on the collective shoulder can prove difficult obstacles to clear. For Liam Dunne, read TJ Ryan.
That Waterford face opponents in siege mentality mode for the seconds successive round will have the men in white and blue firmly on their guard.
“We got a drubbing from Limerick in the Munster Senior League when we supposedly had a full team out that day and I was hugely impressed by them but not in any way surprised,” McGrath continued. “Go back only two years ago when they lost by a point to Kilkenny (in the All-Ireland semi-final) and they were being tipped as the team most likely to challenge Kilkenny for the All-Ireland, and when you consider the returning Na Piarsaigh guys coming back in (after winning the Club All-Ireland crown), this is a really good side with a potent forward line. And they’ve had to be put up with a lot of unfounded rumours of late as well…
“Limerick are very formidable opposition, but it’s a match we’re all really looking forward to.”

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