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Tipp are unsurprisingly flying. Cork are unsurprisingly foundering. Galway are unsurprisingly topsy turvy and Waterford, contrary to pre-NHL expectations, are in with a shout of progression.
But let’s not get too carried away. There’s a lot of tough hurling to be played in Division One before the top two positions, this year’s finalists, are determined.
Victory over the All-Ireland champions at Walsh Park will not have banished the ghost of September 7th 2008 – lifting the McCarthy cup will prove the only ‘Ghostbusting’ remedy for that painful memory.
But defeating Kilkenny, the Cats’ first competitive defeat of note since last year’s NHL semi-final reversal to Tipperary, will have done wonders for morale within the panel.
As the TG4 producer cut to a close-up of the Ard Comhairle at Walsh Park, a few Waterford luminaries caught the eye.
There was De La Salle’s lionhearted captain John Mullane sporting some splendid headgear, with sideline cutting hero Bryan Phelan sitting a few seats to his left.
Of course, Kevin Moran, the other point on the DLS triple crown, was also out of selectorial bounds to Davy Fitzgerald, who has shuffled his pack to tremendous effect to date in ’09.
Between Mullane and Phelan sat Eoin McGrath, currently recovering from surgery to a groin problem, who was perched alongside his club mate, the age-defying Tony Browne; thankfully back for another spin on the merry-go-round.
On RTE, Michael Duignan referred to the seven players absent from Kilkenny’s All-Ireland final line-up, but no such reference was made to the similar number missing from the Waterford team.
When one considers Eoin Kelly was involved for just 10 minutes before his yellow card and with Shane Walsh forced to prematurely depart due to injury, Waterford really dug deep to win in front of a sizeable crowd.
This was not only an important win for Waterford, but an important result within the context of the entire hurling year.
Kilkenny have been cut for the first time in 12 months and guess what – they bled. They are, in case some people had forgotten, mortal souls like us all. They can be beaten.
But, as Fitzgerald himself pointed out post match, all this defeat will do is provide Brian Cody with further motivation to not let it happen again for quite a while.
And yes, it is only March, half a year away from an All-Ireland final, a time of year when only four club teams on the island can think about winning medals. But this was, nonetheless, a significant result for several reasons.
For Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan, winning a competitive senior game against Kilkenny at the first time of asking cannot be undervalued.
Their maiden experience at this grade against the kings of the game has been a positive one and from the off reduces the fear they may have had about encountering men in black and amber.
Winning early against illustrious opponents in one’s career reaps abundant benefits when it comes to team building and the foundation of a success-orientated mentality.
Think only of those Irish rugby players who faced the French for the first time at Croke Park a few weeks’ ago and emerged as winners.
When travelling to Paris next year, especially if they take to the turf as Six Nations champions, Stephen Ferris and Luke Fitzgerald shall respect their opponents but will possess little fear of them.
Reared on a culture of success at schools’ level, the same logic applies when considering the mindset of Waterford’s emerging senior hurling talents.
As Kevin Moran relayed recently, thanks to his experiences with De La Salle and WIT, whenever he takes to the fray, he expects to win; the identity of the opposition doesn’t dominate his thoughts.
One imagines the same applies for the likes of Noel Connors, whose confidence was so abundantly in evidence during his chat with Bill O’Herlihy at the Park Hotel Awards a few weeks back.
And what a game Connors had on Sunday, combining tremendously with James Murray to repel several Kilkenny advances down the left flank.
The Passage corner back has made a tremendous start to life in the senior grade and already looks a likely starter against Limerick on June 14th.
At midfield, Jamie Nagle and Shane O’Sullivan are building a decent partnership and more than demonstrated their worth against John Tennyson and Michael Rice.
To use their manager’s phraseology, Nagle and O’Sullivan hassled, harried and battled for all their worth for 70 minutes, providing an excellent link between backs and forwards.
Quality support play and good distribution of the ball were also major features of the Waterford effort on Sunday.
On few occasions, despite Kilkenny’s customary swarm defence, was a Deisemen ever left isolated by a team mate.
And if this meant a player had to pass backwards when the time demanded it, then that’s what he did; the absence of the fool-hardy hurler trying to charge through a body of defenders proving notably absent.
The sensible use of the sliothar in the vast majority of instances was also noted; the wayward shooting from near impossible angles, once a Waterford staple, now firmly a thing of the past.
And at the heart of the most of Waterford’s positive play was Ken McGrath, scorer of nine points and a willing link man for this fellow forwards throughout.
His redeployment at centre-forward has been an unabashed success, not that there was ever any doubting he’d prosper there given his ownership of the slot for Mount Sion.
But what has really hammered home the efficacy of the switch have been the terrific displays produced by Michael Walsh at centre-back, a position it appears the former captain was born to play in.
His exemplary fielding, including one wonderful catch in the final moments of this compelling fixture, is undoubtedly the most photogenic feature of his game.
But Walsh’s ability to emerge from a morass of limbs and find a team mate with a pass via hand or stick was marvellously prominent once more when encountering Willie O’Dwyer, whom he kept scoreless.
In fact, Waterford’s half-back line limited the Cats’ half-forwards to just three points, no mean feat whenever one encounters the McCarthy cup holders.
Dan Shanahan, minus his beard and looking lean, was thankfully back on the mark, chipping in with 1-1, while Shane Walsh and Eoin Kelly, during their brief periods in action, looked decidedly lively.
Declan Prendergast’s sending-off aside; this was an enormously positive performance from Waterford, who could yet figure in the shake-up for the National League title.
Dublin await the Deise in Parnell Park on March 22nd. Let’s have more of the same, lads.