Deise Up & Running

Brian Flannery Reports

National Hurling League Division 1A (Waterford v Clare, Walsh Park, Sunday, 2pm)

There’s no doubt that victory against Cork is a major shot in the arm for Waterford and ought to boost confidence following three successive defeats to Wexford, Tipperary and Kilkenny in Division 1A.
Certainly Waterford was more business-like and showed far greater appetite for the competition than in previous rounds.
Noel Connors was brilliant at corner-back, completely outplaying Alan Cadogan from start to finish. Tadhg de Búrca was also at his commanding best as the seventh defender, catching some great balls and his distribution was more composed in this game.
The Clashmore man also sortied forward to land a fine point in the opening half. Seventh defender, sweeper, false number three, call him what you like but de Búrca is the jenga piece that holds the Derek McGrath system together.

Austin Gleeson started at left-half back but when Seamus Harnedy was sent off Gleeson was also now unmarked although possibly too deep lying to influence the game more from an attacking sense.
Mikey Kearney from Ballyduff Upper is another whose stock is rising steadily after two successive successful outings.
The former minor star looks set to assume a more central role this season and is making a strong claim for a championship starting berth come May 27th.
It was good to see Pauric Mahony return to the form we’re more accustomed to expect from the Ballygunner man. Mahony was razor sharp particularly from placed balls and should improve further with more game time under his belt. Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran both threatened more often in this game than recently and transitioned more effectively from defence to attack.

Tadhg de Búrca produced another towering display on Sunday last.  									| Photos: Maurice Hennebry

Tadhg de Búrca produced another towering display on Sunday last. | Photos: Maurice Hennebry

This was the text book Derek McGrath systems with a compact defence led by Tadhg de Búrca while a frequently isolated and outnumbered Tom Devine manned the full-forward line.
Both Colin Dunford and Mikey Kearney occasionally joined Devine inside were more often than not filling in between the two 45-metre lines.
Maurice Shanahan operated on the 40 but is struggling to impact games and is perhaps too similar to Tom Devine to have both big guys in a five man forward division.
With both Stephen Bennett and Stephen Roche scoring off the bench Waterford were able to see out the game comfortably.
There was areas of concern with Waterford hitting eight wides in the second half (12 in total) as well as dropping a number of balls short into Anthony Nash’s hands. With Cork down to 14 men this was perhaps an opportunity to remedy the negative score difference. However the safety first sweeper system was not being tinkered with and Waterford ended up with two sweepers for most of the game thereafter.

It seems destined that Waterford will meet Cork again in the Relegation Play-Off on Sunday week in a Relegation Play-Off back in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Given Waterford’s substantially inferior score difference it’s difficult to see a path to escape a relegation eliminator. Similarly a trip to Tipp for John Meyler’s men is unlikely to prove fruitful.
Sunday’s home game to Clare may well have all the appearance of a dead rubber. This leaves manager Derek McGrath and his management with a team selection dilemma.
Waterford won’t want to disappoint in front of home fans again with many already off the bandwagon – I rarely witnessed so few Waterford hurling supporters at a Division 1A game as I did in Páirc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday last.

Colin Dunford is tackled by Cork's Bill Cooper

Colin Dunford is tackled by Cork's Bill Cooper

But there is also a possibility that we will have a virtual second string on view with management availing of the game to rotate the squad further as Waterford’s League fate seemingly already decided.And what will Clare opt to do. The Banner are already in the Quarter-Finals on six points and were without their UL Fitzgibbon players last weekend in defeat to Wexford – Tony Kelly, Ian Galvin, David Fitzgerald and Conor Cleary were all involved in last Saturday’s Fitzgibbon Cup win over DCU. Clare also may elect to ring the changes and give squad members a run out. We’ll have to wait and see the team announcements later this week.
Relegation may be a ‘dirty’ word around the Waterford panel but win lose or draw this Sunday their league fate is likely to be decided on Sunday week.
* Derek McGrath indicated in his post-game interview that even if Waterford’s League campaign ends on Sunday week, March 11th in a Relegation Play-Off, players will only be released back to their clubs on March 24th in preparation for the Senior Club Championship. This will leave clubs with just one week with their full panels to prepare for the opening round of the Hurling Championship.Now imagine if Derek McGrath was offered just a single week to prepare his full squad for the opening round of the Munster Championship? Clubs, club players and their managers once again appear to be firmly at the bottom of Waterford’s ladder of importance.

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