Now, once more with feeling! For the sixth time since their renaissance in ’98, Waterford’s hurlers bid next Sunday to jump the semi-final hurdle and reach the All-Ireland.
In that time they’ve won three Munsters and a league and become the glamour team of a sport for which they’ve done wonders in the promotion stakes. But the big day has eluded them.
This time Tipp stand in the way and, untypically, the Deise have arrived all low key, comparative to the accompanying hype of previous years. Defeat by Clare and narrow wins over Offaly and Wexford, after brushing aside Antrim, have helped dampen expectations.
The flags are less prominent and the opposition are hot favourites. So Waterford, hopefully freshened by new management, have the incentive to prove the doubters wrong and arrive under the radar to clinch a crack at the old black-and-amber enemy on the biggest, September stage.
What would happen there, against the best of the lot, ever, is another matter. (The cream of the old crop, with respect, might stay with them for about ten minutes, before being blown away. So it’s frustrating and annoying that TV and newspaper pundits don’t give them due credit instead of pussyfooting around, debating whether “they might be one of the great sides”. What nonsense! And don’t talk about comparison difficulties – the evidence is on the video?)
Anyway, next Sunday is a separate issue and on the basis of performance so far this year the bookies probably have it about right at 4/9 for Tipp and 9/4 Waterford.
But those kind of odds, which are replicated in the minds of many among the hurling public, can only sting the lads into a ferocious effort which just might be good enough against the other Eoin Kelly’s men, rejuvenated and impressive, not to mention unbeaten though they have been thus far.
The crowds will flock to Croker again (two special trains from Waterford sold out within five minutes on Tuesday morning) and blue and white will likely be dominant, with the wearers madly willing their favourites to victory and hoping it’s a case of sixth time lucky.
If that’s how it transpires it will be brilliant and the build-up to the final phenomenal. If not, the fans – the real fans – will know that this wonderful team owes them nothing. The debt is to players who through a glorious decade have raised sporting excitement in the county to a new level.
Hurlers’ race meeting
The Waterford players, understandably, will be busy training rather than attending Thursday’s Hurlers’ Evening at the Tramore Races. However, manager Davy Fitzgerald will make an appearance at the track as guest of team sponsors Glanbia.