Waterford travel to Parnell Park this Sunday to take on Dublin in the fourth round of Allianz National Hurling League action. An easy game beckons? Anything but.
Fresh from their charity cycle last weekend, Davy Fitzgerald’s men will be keen to record a third NHL win, a result which will keep his team firmly in contention for a top-two finish.
He’ll also be keen to pit his wits against his former Clare colleague and captain Anthony Daly, who has clearly settled into his new job in next to no time.
A win on home soil this Sunday will leave the Dubs with three wins and dreaming of what might lie ahead. It would also ensure their Division One status, their realistic target at the start of the season.
With both teams in good shape, all the portents are in place for a lively encounter in Donnycarney and one that, on reputation alone, Waterford ought to win.
But should the Deise see off the Metropolitans, it’s difficult to see it being won by anything other than a few scores.
Having overcome what was effectively Cork’s third team on the first Sunday of action; Daly’s side clobbered Galway by 11 points and went down by just a point to Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds.
Confidence is unsurprisingly high in Dublin ranks, with Liam Rushe picking up February’s Vodafone Player of the Month award thanks to his 2-1 against Cork and impressive displays against Galway and Limerick.
And with Stephen Hiney, Alan McCrabbe and David O’Callaghan part of the victorious Leinster panel that claimed Interprovincial honours in Abu Dhabi last Saturday, there’s no denying the pep in the Dubs’ step.
And what of Waterford? The Deisemen lost on a soft Walsh Park sod to Tipperary but followed that up with an impressive win on the road in Ennis and a deserved, morale-boosting victory over Kilkenny on March 1st.
The only negative that day was the dismissal of Declan Prendergast, now out of Fitzgerald’s NHL plans following his eight-week suspension.
Once again the old nugget of who wears the number three jersey will occupy much of Fitzgerald’s time this week with a redeployment of a panelist in that slot virtually unavoidable.
But with Aidan Kearney back to full fitness, Fitzgerald at least has the consolation of having another quality defensive talent at his disposal.
His is a team also high on confidence. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh has taken to the centre-back slot with consummate ease, while Passage’s Noel Connors is hurling with a maturity beyond his years in the left corner.
Shane O’Sullivan and Jamie Nagle appear to be sowing the seeds of a formidable midfield partnership while Ken McGrath has resumed inter-county life at centre-back to tremendous effect.
With Eoin Kelly, yellow carded against the Cats and Dan Shanahan back in the goalscoring groove, it’s difficult not be a little optimistic.
All this, minus Eoin McGrath, John Mullane, Kevin Moran, Bryan Phelan and Tony Browne suggests that Fitzgerald and his selectors are expertly weaving the new, the repositioned and the older guard together.
“The one thing I want to do is create a lot of fighting for places,” said the Deise boss following victory over the All-Ireland champions.
“If there’s seven lads coming back into [the panel], let them try and get back. There’s no one going to walk onto the team. You have to work your way onto the team and that’s the way I want it.”
Of course, it’s early days yet but the signs for Sunday and, ultimately, June 14th against Limerick are unanimously positive right now.
Waterford should take the spoils at Parnell Park and greatly enhance their hopes of reaching the League final – but expect the points to be hard won against a stern Dublin challenge.