Waterford down two hurling giants in six memorable days
Dermot Keyes at Páirc Uí Rinn
As that happy Deise fan strolled off into the Cork night from the venue previously known as Flower Lodge, it was difficult not to be enthused about Waterford’s National League chances, and what lies beyond – and not only in 2016.
“For three quarters of the match, I felt we were very dominant,” said a quietly satisfied Derek McGrath in the wake of his side’s 0-20 to 1-14 win over the Rebels, ensuring Waterford go into Round Three as the only side with a 100 per cent record.
“In the last quarter, Cork had a purple patch; maybe it was more a case of us drawing them onto us a bit too much, but they’re a good team and they were always going to have a period of dominance and it took a brilliant Stephen O’Keeffe safe (from a Paudie O’Sullivan shot) to probably get us out of trouble in the end.”
For three quarters of last Saturday night’s Division 1A clash, Waterford oozed authority, hurled with great control, hunted in packs and picked off some terrific points. They were, to coin a McGrath-ism, relentless, and it was incredibly impressive to watch.
“They’re tearing up the scrapbook of traditional hurling,” Anthony Daly told Setanta Sports viewers, in a tone of unabashed admiration, it should be noted. “They’re a team that’s going places,” said former Cork great Tomás Mulcahy.
And when two All-Ireland winning captains are saying what your inner Deise fan is screaming inside, it’s difficult not to be optimistic about a team that’s only lost two of its previous 14 competitive outings.
Derek McGrath added: “It’s good, particularly because we felt the most difficult part of this game was preparing psychologically for the backlash from Cork, and we were wary of that; we knew the importance of hitting the ground running early on.
“Last year, Cork were comprehensively beaten by Kilkenny and then the next week came out with a brilliant performance against Clare, so we had that in mind, coming into the back yard of a team that’s been roundly criticised all week leading up to tonight.
“For me, that was the most difficult thing to overcome and it shows that the lads are able to deal with different performances put in front of them. Psychologically we were ready for the battle and that’s huge for us…they’re smart young men, they’re exceptionally clever in terms of their own ambitions outside of hurling and I’m absolutely delighted with their approach.”
Admitting he should have emptied the bench earlier (“I felt we got bitty”), that Derek McGrath could find time for self-reflection within minutes of the full-time whistle speaks volumes for his frame of mind. Just as it was against Kilkenny, in spite of victory, he’s already identified areas where he, as manager, can improve. And that in turn can only help the team.
Tipperary in Semple beckons a week on Sunday. Two springs ago, a narrow defeat in Thurles was widely seen as a missed opportunity in a League campaign that ended in relegation.
“The first three matches of the League for us have been Kilkenny, Cork and Tipp…the task is massive every week and it’s very hard to sustain it but we’re very proud of the lads’ efforts over the last few weeks, the way they’ve geared themselves up psychologically. To be ready every week is tough, but I’m delighted for them.” And so Derek should be.