DON’T LOOK BACK IN ANGER
Waterford hope to bridge a ten-year gap on Sunday to claim the Munster senior hurling title in this strangest of hurling seasons.
The Covid19 pandemic saw a redrafting of the hurling championship with a return to a previous structure with Waterford fortunate to be drawn straight into a semi-final against Cork.
This favourable draw saw reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary and Munster champions Limerick on the opposite side of the draw.
Getting a favourable draw is one thing, taking advantage is another. But this is exactly what Liam Cahill’s men have done with their tremendous victory against the Rebels last week at Semple Stadium.
Important too that this win broke a run of nine championship games without a single victory dating back to August 2017.
On reflection the win over Cork is just the tonic hurling in Waterford needed. Not only at senior level but also at minor and U20/U21 results have been disappointing in recent years. The evidence suggests that Waterford hurling is falling behind.
Does this single victory at senior level dispel this notion of regression? Perhaps not but nonetheless is great fillip for the county.
I know it’s been commented on a number of times in many places, but the work rate of this Waterford side showed a marked improvement from recent efforts. This aspect of our game also shone like a beacon last week because it was in such a contrast with the insipid Cork performance.
All the common tropes about this Cork team were visible is plain sight. Brittle, reluctance to work, nice hurlers, playing as individuals, no centre-back, no full-back could be identified in this Cork effort.
Manager Liam Cahill was reluctant in his post-game interview to linger too long to heap praise on players for putting an effort in. These are minimum requirements to be handed a jersey. To quote another Irish sportsman “you don’t thank the Postman for delivering the post”.
And of course the Bannisteoir is correct. There was much more to the Waterford performance than simply work-rate. Goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe was the ‘assist’ king, frequently finding a white shirt with his accurate puck-outs with a number of memorable scores coming directly from them. The Ballygunner man was afforded an armchair ride behind a rock-solid full-backline. New captain Conor Prunty easily contained the efforts of Seamus Harnedy while the St Ita’s man was stationed around the square while both Shane McNulty and Shane Fives contributed in both defence and attack.
It was the half-back line where Waterford completely dominated. Kevin Moran showed a liking for the battle with both Calum Lyons and Tadhg de Búrca vying for the man of the match crystal. Lyons has really blossomed from his underage days and is one of the real impressive players in this team. Dominance in the air with an ability to score is the hallmark of great half-backs with both Lyons and De Búrca falling into this category. Jamie Barron was back on form in the middle with significant help from Kieran Bennett. Only a couple of wayward shots at the posts prevented Austin Gleeson from getting into the MOM frame with three from play still counting for plenty. Jack Fagan was tireless and will benefit from his championship experience. Jack Prendergast picked up where he had left last season with Stephen Bennett showing great commitment to the jersey and huge skill level to notch some difficult long range frees. Dessie Hutchinson showed plenty on his debut to confirm he belongs at this level while Jake Dillon complimented those around him. Debuts off-the-bench too for Clonea’s Billy Power and Neil Montgomery with former minor and U-21 hero Patrick Curran being sprung to register the all-important insurance point.
I imagine we’ll get a vote of confidence for the same starting fifteen this Sunday.
There will be plenty of clichés spouted this week too. Nothing to lose, shot to nothing, give it our best, anything is a bonus from here on etc etc.
Of course this is far from true. Munster senior hurling championship titles are rare enough with only Clare and Kerry with fewer. Waterford has nine titles (to-date) with four of them coming between 2002 and 2010.
For any Waterford player in any era title winning opportunities are scarce. Nothing is ever certain and for many players this may be as good an opportunity that they’ll have in their careers while for some of the more experienced players this may well offer their final chance shot at glory.
You just don’t know especially in these ever uncertain times.
Few will expect Waterford to win however I’m sure players and management will. Liam Cahill and his management team have shown an ability to plot a winning game plan against perceived superior opposition and not for the first time.
Limerick are worthy favourites though. They have already dispatched both Clare and Tipperary with the minimum of fuss. Earlier this week former great Ciarán Carey predicted a Limerick hurling dynasty to rival Dublin’s football dominance. Steady on there now, Limerick have yet to win this year never mind a five in a row.
Limerick were beaten twice last year (Kilkenny and Tipperary) and by Clare in 2018 during their run to that season’s All-Ireland.
Formidable? Yes. Unbeatable? No.
Waterford’s strongest line, their half-back line will be in direct opposition to the games’ most potent half-forward division in Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey. Who wins this battle may well decide the game. Cian Lynch started at centre-forward last time out but likely to revert to centre-field in this game. Limerick have a strong back-line too with Aaron Gillane and Peter Casey the sharp shooters at the opposite end with 1-3 coming from their bench against Tipperary last time out.
While Waterford’s supporters were angry after the capitulation to Limerick at Walsh Park last June, I imagine manager Liam Cahill won’t be looking back.
The line-up last June v Limerick was as follows :-
Stephen O’Keeffe, Callum Lyons, Conor Prunty, Noel Connors, Darragh Fives, Tadhg de Búrca, Kevin Moran, Jamie Barron, Austin Gleeson, Jack Prendergast, Mikey Kearney, Pauric Mahony, Thomas Ryan, Maurice Shanahan, Stephen Bennett.
Subs: Shane Bennett for Austin Gleeson and Michael Walsh for Maurice Shanahan (both ht), Conor Gleeson for Darragh Fives (50m), Brian O’Halloran for Thomas Ryan (63m), Shane McNulty for Noel Connors (69m).
Nine from the starting line-up survive in a new look team. But still it looks a major task for any team to beat Limerick at the moment.
David did slay Goliath after all and in this year of years anything is possible.