Brian Flannery Reports
This Sunday afternoon sees Waterford renewing rivalry with neighbours Kilkenny in round three of the National Hurling League. Waterford have beaten the Cats in their last two League encounters, in addition to last July’s historic Championship win, the Deise’s first win over the Black and Amber since 1959.
Both sides come into this game on the back of two successive defeats and desperately in need of a victory.
Defeat on Sunday will almost certainly guarantee a place in this season’s relegation play-off for the loser while victory may offer a momentum shift and pathway to the quarter-finals for the winners.
Waterford appeared only mildly interested in their opening round defeat to Wexford while squad rotation always militated against an away victory to Tipperary.Having had the past fortnight to prepare for Sunday’s game, I expect Derek McGrath will put his best foot forward and select as strong a side as possible. Waterford supporters will expect nothing less, particularly with the ‘auld enemy’ visiting. Waterford has suffered aplenty against Brian Cody’s men and the possibility of nudging Kilkenny closer to relegation should not be passed up.
Of course, and while Brian Cody refuses to admit it, Kilkenny are very much in transition. The team-sheet no longer retains such familiar names like Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Jackie Tyrell, Eoin Larkin or Richie Power.
Current talisman Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly are on overseas tour duty with the Irish Army while the availability of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan is uncertain. It’s a tribute to Brian Cody that despite such a change in personnel that Kilkenny remain difficult to beat. In both their opening games Kilkenny were there or thereabouts although only wayward shooting from Clare kept them in that game. Eoin Murphy is a good goalkeeper, despite dropping one into the net last time out, with Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley the best of their defence. Walter Walsh has been a permanent fixture in the line-up over the last few years but is hardly a prolific scorer. Richie Leahy, Liam Blanchfield and Pat Lyng are striving for a regular spot while most of their scores now emanate from Alan Murphy and placed balls.
Kilkenny have difficulties at the heart of their defence at both full and centre-back positions and they no longer have the goal threat of old. There is no doubt about it Kilkenny have come back to the pack and are vulnerable.Derek McGrath is likely to name a much stronger XV this time out with Tadhg de Burca, Jamie Barron, Philip Mahony, Conor Gleeson, Pauric Mahony, Michael Walsh and Maurice Shanahan all likely to return. An impressive performance from Mikey Kearney in Semple Stadium should see the Ballyduff Upper player getting another opportunity to impress.
Austin Gleeson was hugely impressive in the number six position against Tipperary before being forced off with a thigh injury and would provide a major boost if he has recovered in time to play in this Sunday’s crucial game.In soccer terms, Sunday’s match is a relegation six pointer. The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work. In the words of the late, great Al Davis, “just win baby”. Expect Waterford to do just that.