Waterford’s reigning Munster and All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling champions, will lay it all on the line against a resurgent Cork at Walsh Park this Thursday, and manager Sean Power simply cannot wait.
“We’d love a big Waterford crowd to come on Thursday night,” said the Mount Sion clubman. “And I do think that there’s a genuine good feeling for these fellas. People just have to remember last year and they’ll go! My job, between now and then, and when talking to newspapers and radio, is to jog the memory a little bit, remember how good those nights in Walsh Park and Thurles were last summer, and to turn out in big numbers again to get behind these players.
“Having a big home crowd there will help the lads really tear into the challenge, and we know that Cork, with the senior and minor successes over the weekend, are going to coming up to us with a pep in their step. But our own seniors pulled off a fairly significant result of their own last weekend too, so when you take that into account, it really has all the ingredients for another huge night in Walsh Park, and one in which our lads’ best hurling will prove good enough to progress on the night: that’s our ambition.”
Preparing this group, again given the overlap between the Under-21 panel and the extended senior squad, has not been easy. There’s no doubt that Sean and his management team of Kieran O’Gorman, Eoin Kelly and Paul Flynn would like to have had all their players together for training before Thursday. But that hasn’t been the case up to this point.
“I’m not going to look for or try to come up with an excuse,” he stated., “I’ve never been that type of fella. You just hope that the players that we have, and we have some really good players, that on the night things will go their way, and that they can get as much out of each other as they can. And if they perform to their potential, we have every chance of winning and that’s just an honest assessment of it. And sure Cork will be saying the same thing, but that’s the reality of the situation.”
Sean Power continued: “Now, there is a slight difference between us and Cork this year in the preparation stakes in that John Meyler is their manager and he’s also a selector on the Cork senior team. I understand they’ve had plenty of in-house matches in the lead up to this week and there’s 12 to 13 Under-21s on the extended Cork senior panel, and four of them were central to the seniors winning the Munster title last Sunday. They’ve other lads who’ve seen regular game time as well and I reckon the senior sub goalkeeper and Under-21 keeper, Patrick Collins, is as good as Anthony Nash, but Nash is their quarter-back and it’ll take a lot to shift him in the short term. They have a seriously good team, so when you have senior and Under-21 feet in both camps, both in terms of players and management, that’s got to make things easier – at least I imagine it would – and that’s what Cork have. From an organisational point of view, that’s got to be a help when it comes to Cork.”
Thursday night’s match will arguably be the biggest match in Walsh Park this year given the calibre of player on display in either jersey.
“Well you’re talking about senior inter-county stars,” said Sean Power. “You’ll have your Patrick Currans, Conor Gleesons and Shane Bennett s lining out for Waterford and then you’ve the likes of Luke Meade and Shane Kingston togging out for Cork – and Mark Coleman, who must be in the running for a senior All-Star with the way he’s played in the last few weeks. So you have all these guys who are going to pitting their wits against each other in what you’d expect would be a slightly more free flowing environment, which is perhaps the best feature of the Under-21 Hurling Championship. Because of the way it’s structured, sometimes it’s a bit more free, a little bit – now that’s not to say that tactical battles don’t come into it of course they do – but it’s a bit more off the cuff and lads tend to hurl away that little bit more than they do at senior and all these guys are so skilful, so that’d be another reason, even if I wasn’t manager, I’d be going to this match on Thursday night. And what you have as well is the fact that it’s in Waterford, it’s easier to get there, and it’s cheaper than going to a senior match and all that goes with the big day out for a match. So all those things ought to work in our favour and it’d be great to see a huge crowd at a big game that’s only up the road from home for a lot of people, so I’d be urging as many people as possible to get along on Thursday and get behind these fellas.”
Sean Power also noted that this particular Deise group formed the nucleus of the side which tasted Tony Forristal glory back on 2010, and would have been widely considered as a better group than the 2011 panel which went all the way at this grade.
“Now, last year’s group couldn’t do much more for Waterford in fairness to them over the course of their time playing underage hurling but it would have been said, years and years ago, that this group maybe had a little bit more than last year’s group. They’re very capable, they’re a great bunch of fellas and they’re top class athletes who give their all for Waterford and that’s all we can ask for as management. We’ve a right chance, but we know it will all come down to how we play on the night and sometimes a bit of luck is always a help too.”
Cognisant that the players have to be catered for given the vagaries of third level and senior panel demands, Sean Power is hoping he’s got the formula right for 2017.
“The players are happy with what we’ve been doing, and that pleases me a lot. We’ve had a few challenge games, while not having our full contingent at all, ever – not once – but that’s just a hard fact and a reality. We know what these lads are capable of and we hope that what they produce will be good enough to get us past what’s shaping up to be a tough and very confident Cork team. And we’re really looking forward to it.”
Another cracking contest awaits in this firecracker of a hurling summer. “We just can’t wait for the ball to be thrown in at this stage,” said Sean Power. Amen to that, Sean.