Can Waterford make the breakthrough?
The All Ireland-semi-final against their big rivals Kilkenny is a massive game for the Waterford men. If Waterford win this game, it could be the making of a really special team. If they lose it will raise serious doubts about their tactics and their future success. Waterford had a superb win against Tipperary in the Munster U21 final recently. They have a magnificent U21 team and the future for Waterford is certainly very bright. It took Waterford a long time to recover after the likes of Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan, John Mullane etc. retired from inter county hurling. It is hard to believe that players of that caliber went through their careers without at least one All Ireland medal. It’s sad really, as they brought so much to the game. Everyone used to love watching Waterford in the 00’s. They had players who played off the cuff, you never knew what they were going to do and it was always exciting to watch. Sometimes the players got carried away with themselves-the fist pumping, grabbing the Waterford crest and celebrations after a score- but it was something different and enjoyable to watch.
It was very disappointing for Waterford to perform like they did in the 2008 All Ireland final. They met a Kilkenny team who were in their absolute prime. Everything went right for Kilkenny that day and everything went wrong for Waterford. Players have been quoted as saying afterwards that they didn’t do enough hurling in training in the build up to the game, they felt there was too much emphasis on team bonding exercises and tactics. Davy Fitz did a marvelous job getting Waterford to that All-Ireland final after coming in as manager mid-season, but he has to take some of the blame for that Waterford performance. The players also will also have big regrets as they completely froze on the biggest stage of their careers.
At the time of writing, Waterford can be backed at an attractive 3/1 in the bookies against Kilkenny. The Munster final was simply a disaster for them. They had a nightmare start to the second half and never recovered. They did what they had to do in the quarter final against Wexford. They could and probably should have won by a lot more……….Austin Gleeson’s shooting! My biggest worry for Waterford is the lack of a goal threat that they pose. I really think they will need at least 2 goals to beat Kilkenny. I can’t see the likes of Austin Gleeson being given acres of space to shoot by the Kilkenny middle 8. They will close him and others down very quickly – forcing the Deise men to shoot quickly.
I do wonder if Derek McGrath has something up his sleeve for Sunday. Will he go more attacking and adventurous? I think he will definitely play a sweeper to stop Kilkenny scoring goals but surely he has to keep at least two forwards in the full forward line. They really need to be much more efficient in their striking and they can’t afford to rack up a high number of wide’s against Kilkenny.
Kilkenny have two of the best forwards in the country in TJ Reid and Richie Hogan. Their influence must be curbed if they are to have a chance of reaching their first All-Ireland final in 9 years. Instead of playing a sweeper, I personally would go man to man on these two players. Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin are out of form so far this year but they are capable of having a big day. Walter Walsh has improved a lot this year and John Joe Farrell has been a revelation so far this summer but Hogan and Reid are the main men to stop. Waterford have some very good backs, Noel Connors had an off day in the Munster final but I think he would be a good man marker on Richie Hogan. I’d go with Philip O Mahony on TJ Reid as he would be physically able to compete with him in the air but I expect TJ Reid to play full forward where he will be marked by Barry Coughlan.
If Waterford were to win Sunday, and at least have an appearance in an All-Ireland Senior final and win an U21 All-Ireland title, it would give the county a huge boost going forward. These players need to go out Sunday and cut loose and play off the cuff in a similar way to Shanahan, Mullane, McGrath and co.
Waterford have young players who are as fit and fast as any young inter county players. Patrick Curran, Shane Bennett, Austin Gleeson etc. are excellent hurlers who should become main players for Waterford in the future. Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh have been two massive leaders for Waterford down through the years, but they haven’t too many years left in them, so it would be huge if Waterford had an All-Ireland title in the bag this year to give these younger players an experience of winning going forward.
They have to play the game on their terms if possible. They are certainly capable of beating Kilkenny but they need to have a lot of things going right for them. Will they be able to compete with the physicality of the Kilkenny players? Austin Gleeson said a few weeks back, he received a shoulder from Michael Fennelly 8 minutes before half time in last year’s All Ireland semi-final and that it took him until the half time break to recover from the hit. As a result, the Waterford players went back to gym work in October last year. Sunday will tell us if that work was enough to match The Cats physically. I think if they win that will tell us that all that hard work has paid off and Waterford can look forward to avenging the disaster of ’08 on the first Sunday of September.
Written by: Hurler on the Ditch