Owens hopes to get break for Deise date with destiny
WATERFORD football boss John Owens will be battling to keep a lid on the hype surrounding his side's chance of making football history in Dungarvan next Sunday.
They may be dining far from the top table but there is huge excitement locally about Waterford's chance to play Division 3 football for the first time, which hangs on their final league game with fellow-table toppers Clare.
A win or a draw against the Banner would clinch promotion; even if they lose, the Decies could still go up if third-placed Limerick fail to beat Leitrim. Many felt Limerick had done Waterford a favour last weekend by downing previously unbeaten Clare to set up this thrilling Division 4 finale, but Owens says that a draw in that game would have secured Waterford promotion, so David Tubridy's late missed '45 proved costly for them.
Owens, a Down native who played for and managed Tipperary before taking over Waterford from local legend John 'Jackson' Kiely this season, is nothing if not an expert in the mathematics of this fascinating promotion battle.
And he stressed that his players' destiny remains solely in their own hands. "We cannot be depending on other teams to do us a favour; that is how we have approached the season right from the start," he emphasised.
"But it is an amazing situation. If ourselves and Clare go up, we will be playing in three consecutive games because as well as a league final, we're already due to meet them in Munster."
That all three teams involved in Division 4's exciting title tussle will also be vying for one of the Munster final places this summer only adds to the intrigue. A one-point defeat of Limerick followed by a nine-point victory over Wicklow, when they also shot 12 wides, was seen by many as the turning point in Waterford's season but Owens says it happened much earlier.
He reckons their opening round defeat of Leitrim, in Ballinamore, set the tone for their league.
"It was a tough opener, even for me because I had played for Leitrim," he said. "We went four down but we scored seven unanswered points to win that game by three.
"Winning that way, away from home, in our first game, showed a lot of character and gave us a great start to the season."
He credits their trainer Joe Hagan (of Monaghan) for Waterford's strong finishing ability and also acknowledges the contribution of selectors Kenny Hassett, Liam Dalton and Jimmy McGrath.
Waterford have also got one very notable mid-season boost.
Dual star Gary Hurney, who had previously committed solely to the county hurlers, recently returned to the footballers, coming off the bench against Wicklow and scoring 0-5 against Kilkenny last week.
Owens, who lives in Clonmel but has worked in Ballymacarby for 18 years, is well versed in Waterford's considerable football talents, having coached Rathgormack and The Nire, who reached the 2006 Munster final.
"We have five starters who played Railway Cup for Munster last year there's lots of really good footballers in Waterford," he enthused of players like Liam O Lionnan, Hurney and the O'Gorman brothers.
"But it's the same in Clare," he stressed. "They take huge pride in their football in West Clare and have the Kilmurry-Ibrickane lads back now. In this division there is only a kick of the ball between most teams so it could go any way.