McGrath relishing Waterford’s League opener against the Cats
Dermot Keyes reports

Waterford and Kilkenny will clash ash again at Walsh Park this Sunday as the NHL gets underway. 		| Photo: Noel Browne

Waterford and Kilkenny will clash ash again at Walsh Park this Sunday as the NHL gets underway. | Photo: Noel Browne

“Sure you’d have to be excited about playing Kilkenny in Walsh Park,” said Waterford manager Derek McGrath ahead of next Sunday’s National Hurling League opener.
“They’re the All-Ireland champions, they’ve been the standard bearers for many years and we’re looking forward to the challenge. This is what earning promotion was all about: getting a chance to play against the best teams in the country and seeing how the players respond to pitting their wits against the best that’s out there.”
The first top billing match of 2016 sees League champions Waterford taking on the side they faced in their last competitive encounter last year: All-Ireland champions Kilkenny.
“I wouldn’t say we’re motivated by any feelings of revenge or anything like that,” said McGrath, reflecting on Waterford’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat.
“But it’s going to provide us with a decent barometer of how we’ve progressed over the winter and should give us an indication of where we’re at, and how we’re shaping up in terms of June 5th (the Munster semi-final against Clare)…
“We’re probably going to be facing a slightly stronger Kilkenny team than what we’d be used to seeing lining out at this time of the year – not that you’d ever describe any Kilkenny team as being particularly weak.”
McGrath explained: “Ballyhale have had some great runs in the Club Championship over the last few Springs, that’s not the case this time around so they’ll have the likes of TJ (Reid) and Colin Fennelly available to them, and with Clara out of this year’s Club Championship, Kilkenny will probably be even stronger than what they tend to be at the start of most League campaigns, but all in all I have to say it’s very exciting. It’s Division 1A hurling after all, it’s where we all want Waterford to be.
“But I think supporters should be cognisant that we are gone up a grade this year, which presents a different type of challenge for us, but it’s one the players are very enthusiastic about. There might a sense elsewhere given the way our progress accelerated last year that we might have overachieved in terms of how we did in both the League and the Championship; that it might have come too soon for us.
“Now I don’t really see it that way myself. We came through a tough Division 1B, kick-started by that Paudie Prendergast point up in Limerick, winning away to Offaly and Wexford and then hurling as well as we did against Galway, Tipperary and Cork.
“But now that we’re back in 1A, it’s worth pointing out that we’ve only ever won two matches in Division 1A since it was split into the A and B sections, so maybe that might temper expectations a little as that’s been the history up to this point.
“After all, four points could put you in a quarter-final or you could end up in a relegation play-off as we’ve seen in recent years, but if we got off to a positive start on Sunday and got two points against Kilkenny, of course that’d be huge for us.”
Welcome back, lads. Let’s hope for another great adventure in 2016.