Michael Walsh made the short walk up the steps of the Walsh Park stand on Sunday evening to lift the Tom Cheasty Memorial Trophy after a rip-roaring second half of hurling.
The Waterford captain spoke briefly yet perfectly captured the mood after a derby meeting which electrified the 4,000-plus crowd and surely sent a charge of confidence running through the Deisemen’s limbs.
“Tom Cheasty was a great Waterford man and all the players in the panel knew him down the years,” said Walsh, his brow reddened from a gash inflicted during a lively 70 minutes.
“It was great to have the game here tonight in his memory and I’m sure he was looking down on us tonight, licking his lips probably.”
Some of the scores produced in the second half were mouth-wateringly good. Some merited a label marked exceptional, again offering a reminder of why hurling gloriously remains a sport without equal.
That a fortuitous Gary Hurney goal swung this end-to-end fixture in Waterford’s favour went against the trend of a half which produced no less than 23 scores, most of them outstandingly executed.
The trend was set from the resumption of action, with Kilkenny holding a two-point advantage. John Mullane snaked across the halfway line before rifling over a beautiful point off his left hand side.
Two minutes later, Dave Bennett, who surely played his way into the starting XV for the June 1st clash with Clare, bisected the posts with a 60-metre strike to draw the sides level.
There was an application to the homesters’ hurling that hadn’t featured in equal measure before the interval as the quality of the game notably cranked up a few notches.
Indeed, the second half display was arguably the best that Waterford had produced since last summer.
In black and amber, Brian Hogan was producing a masterclass of centre-back play, leaping highest to pluck several high balls to avert the danger.
While none of his fellow backs played poorly enough to describe his contribution as a one man show, there was little doubt that Hogan was the outstanding defensive performer on the night.
Cheasty’s fellow clubman Jack Kennedy also rose to the occasion, dealing excellently with the considerable amount of ball that came his way down the right channel. Kennedy, like Bennett and Eoin McGrath, appear to be coming to the boil at just the right time.
And given the considerable injury list facing Justin McCarthy, those still standing in white and blue, particularly Bennett from dead balls, will have to produce the goods by the bucketload in Limerick.
The first Championship outing of the year always carries with it the risk of being caught cold, be a panel hale, hearty or otherwise.
And Waterford’s level of walking wounded has certainly heightened the risk that the Munster champions might be derailed by Mike Mac’s boys on Sunday week.
Despite that, Waterford will still be favourites to overcome the Banner, the latter entering the summer with little expected of them beyond their county boundary, which no doubt suits them fine and dandy.
Buzz is back
Back to Sunday and it’s worth pointing out that, from Brian Cody’s perspective, this narrow defeat may well be the toughest game they’ll play until July or, more than likely, August.
Henry Shefflin played a half-hour for Ballyhale last week, giving rise to optimistic noises from the man himself that he’ll be fighting fit for the big challenges that lie ahead.
Granted, there’s something clearly wrong about a top team possibly not facing a stiff fixture until an All-Ireland semi-final – but again, as Deise folk are at pains to stress, not that this is the Cats’ fault.
That a discussion about revamping the Hurling Championship will soon again be in the offing is as likely as Kilkenny’s inevitable Leinster title success.
Yet as long as Munster remains a strong and vibrant competition, there’s little chance of any substantial changes occurring any time soon, even if that’s to the detriment of the game.
And try telling me that Kilkenny players and fans alike wouldn’t love the cut and thrust of quality ash clashing in the early summer too?
Waterford’s poor League campaign, coupled with the raft of knocks, bumps and bruises incurred by Messrs Kelly, Shanahan and McGrath of late, has certainly lowered fans’ expectations.
If you’re inclined to take GAA pundits’ views as gospel, be your postal address Modeligo or Mount Sion, then you might as well discard the freezer-bagged ‘hang’ sandwiches, thermos flask and ridiculous hat right now.
“Waterford?” the collective Dublin-based punditry has questioned. “Sure they haven’t a hope. They’re too old. Not even worth describing this year as their last chance.”
While Sunday’s win has got to be placed in context, you could sense the buzz growing around the ground during a high-quality second half.
If Waterford can engineer the same level of goal scoring opportunities against Clare as they did against Kilkenny, albeit with a slightly improved end product, then who’s playing or not will be immaterial.
Preparations, given the injury list, have been far from ideal, especially when compared to this time last year.
But as any hurling fan will tell you, there’s no Championship medals handed out in May.
Kilkenny have learned to time their run for the McCarthy Cup with geniality. In contrast, Waterford have had to hit the ground running during one of the Munster Championship’s most gilded eras, arguably to the detriment of their All-Ireland chances later in the summer.
Timing is everything, we’re often told. And if Gary Hurney’s decisive score on Sunday offers any portents of what lies ahead, that additional element of luck can never be underestimated. Roll on the days of summer, days that the late, great Tom Cheasty revelled in.
* Congratulations to all who contributed to the €34,260 raised for the South East Cancer Foundation’s cancer care centre project on Sunday night.