Waterford began their memorable run to the 2017 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final on June 18th last year when they exited the Munster Championship at the hands of Cork.
This Sunday, June 17th, they will face the same opposition with their fate already decided, leaving players, management and supporters with a quiet summer, a far cry from the euphoria of last year.
It’s Waterford’s earliest Championship exit since 2001 when a highly fancied Deise side were eliminated by Limerick, and this reversal will take some to digest.
There is no doubting the impact that a raft of injuries to key players had on Waterford’s chances (Darragh Fives, Barry Coughlan. Tadhg De Burca), added with the relatively limited game time which other top performers such as Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony had since the end of a disappointing League campaign.
It’s fair to say that any top ranking county with so heavy and prominent a list of injuries would have suffered, and a sense of the inevitable regrettably hung over the county’s chances since the first round defeat in Ennis.
In addition to four successive weekends on the road to play their games, coupled with the bad luck of conceding a goal that never was against Tipperary on Sunday week, the stars never looked like aligning for Waterford this summer, and so it came to pass. While the good weather has lifted the general mood and with the FIFA World Cup about to kick off in Russia, this disappointment will linger for months to come. And with no competitive matches of note for the team until late January, the rest of the hurling year will feel decidedly long indeed.
Waterford’s elimination is likely to bring the Walsh Park redevelopment firmly back into focus, which we touch upon on Sport 4 this week.
There is no doubt that not having a suitable venue for Championship Hurling negatively impacted upon Waterford’s prospects and until such time as a redeveloped ground is developed, our players will not be competing evenly with their provincial neighbours. And that’s an inarguable sporting fact.
As things stand, there is every likelihood that Waterford will have to play next year’s ‘home’ outings against Clare and Limerick in Semple Stadium since it is scarcely foreseeable that the works required at Walsh Park will be completed by late May 2019. Talk of a brand new stadium on a greenfield site is not a runner as far as the Waterford County Board is concerned as starting from scratch would lead to a lengthy and expensive levy on the county’s clubs. Chairman Paddy Joe Ryan has described Walsh Park as the “only game in town” so it’s incumbent that the Deise GAA community gets behind the project, which we hope will be delivered as soon as possible. While 2018 is a year best forgotten for our senior hurlers, we hope that our minor and Under-21 teams can still make it a summer to remember for Deise supporters.
* Congratulations to Waterford’s senior footballers on their magnificent All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifier win in Wexford on Saturday last. The footballers play a firm second fiddle to our hurlers so here’s hoping they lap up all the praise that will come their way between now and their Third Round Qualifier meeting with Monaghan, presumably on Saturday week. Déise Abú!