It is now mid July and we now know the six teams remaining in the All Ireland series. Reigning champions Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Waterford, Wexford and Clare. While some questions still remain unanswered, one big one was answered last Sunday, when Tipperary easily overwhelmed Waterford to retain the Munster title. While Tipperary showed why they are still the other half of hurling’s Big Two, Waterford were given a harsh lesson. Not only did their confidence take a beating, but the concept of sweeper systems in hurling was quickly thrown into disrepute. It appears if Waterford are to go far this year and beyond, they may have to throw off the shackles and go toe to toe with the big boys. I could go on and on, but instead I’m going to hand you over to last week’s featured writer, Richard Holden who has his own reflections on the state of Waterford hurling. Enjoy!
NO REASON FOR DEISE TO PANIC!
Last Sunday was a most disappointing day for Waterford but most teams have had those type of days where nothing goes right. Tipperary experienced it against Kilkenny in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final when they suffered an eighteen point reverse. The following year, they ran the Cats to three points in an All-Ireland qualifier.
The Suirsiders had plenty of possession during the first-half but missed a lot of chances which had to sap into their confidence. They also conceded an untypical sloppy goal, which would have further eroded their belief. Tipp went in at half-time, with their tails up, two points ahead with the elements in their favour for the second-half and kicked on from there.
It should be kept in mind that most of this Tipp team have considerably more experience under their belt than their Suirside counterparts, with a sizeable quota part of the All-Ireland winning team six years ago. They would feel a sense of underachievement having not added another All-Ireland since 2010 so their hunger should not be underestimated.
The Premier County were very impressive in the second-half and arguably possess the greatest goal threat of all the counties still in the hunt for McCarthy, including my own county, Kilkenny who tend to burn off teams with strong point-scoring bursts now. For instance, Michael Breen scored three goals from midfield in the Munster campaign and he is a huge ace to have up their sleeve.
Waterford have taken a lot of flak over the last few days and I even read about the pressure Derek McGrath will now come under. This seems absurd given how much progress he has made with this team and a more sensible and balanced analysis is called for. Their ‘system’ has evoked a lot of negative comments but it has made them much harder to beat, similar to the approach Jim McGuinness took with Donegal and which received similar negative appraisal.
So, where do Waterford go from here? Well, they have a quarter- final against Liam Dunne’s rejuvenated Wexford and they must swiftly turn all their attention to that and not dwell too long on last Sunday. Perhaps, giving Colin Dunford a chance to start would give them an attacking threat. Dunford, after all gave an impressive display against Kilkenny last August. Also, Shane Sullivan could be worth another chance at midfield releasing Jamie Barron to go further forward.
The Deise have more strength in depth than last year, and should draw on the positives from their impressive win against Clare in the Munster semi-final when a seven point margin in no way flattered them. They missed a couple of goal chances that day, too. In the League semi-final, Waterford also racked up 3-23 against Limerick and 2-19 against Clare in the League Final replay so there is a lot of scoring potential in this team, if they can perform to near their peak.
The McCarthy Cup may not visit Suirside this year but reaching a League Final and, should they beat Wexford Sunday week, a second consecutive All-Ireland semi-final appearance would be nothing to be sniffed at and shows Derek McGrath’s troops were able to deal with the added expectation levels this year – a Munster Final defeat should not be the benchmark upon which their season, and the overall development of this team, is assessed.
Should Waterford overcome Wexford, they would go into a semi-final with Kilkenny with less expectation than against Tipperary and this should also assist them. The future is still bright for this team, and it would be a surprise if they can not regroup and make all the ‘experts’ think again. Most, if not all, of the team will still be around next season and they can only learn from an experience like last Sunday.
They should also draw on the experience of Clare, under Ger Loughnane, who suffered two dispiriting Munster Final defeats in ’93 and ’94 and a League Final defeat prior to winning Munster and All-Ireland titles in ’95 and ’97.