Colm Bonnar: 'Waterford have earned the respect of everyone'
Colm Bonnar praises Waterford progress but cites Tipperary's greater need as decisive
Colm Bonnar doesn't have to look far to appreciate the rising tide that is Waterford hurling.
A glance at the profile of recent Waterford IT Fitzgibbon Cup teams, some of which he has coached, tells him all he needs to know.
In the past successful teams have been populated by players from Kilkenny and Tipperary. But with more college opportunities in other cities and towns the profile of Waterford IT teams has changed and the locals have been stepping up and filling the voids.
"The bulk of the lads on the Fitzgibbon Cup teams in Waterford IT have been from Waterford for the last two or three years," he reflected.
"In the past you'd be lucky to have two or three on it. It wasn't the sign of a very strong team if you hadn't your Kilkenny and Tipp lads on it. But the majority of the teams recently have been Waterford-led.
"You can go through all the lads that won All-Irelands with Kilkenny in the early days and a lot of them went to WIT. Not so many of late," he said.
"But Waterford lads have filled the gap of late, they were in the Fitzgibbon Cup final this year, they won it in 2014, lost a semi-final the year before and there would have been anything up to nine Waterford lads involved.
"They are at the forefront of hurling at the moment and have a lot of talented hurlers."
Bonnar, an All-Ireland winner with Tipperary and a former coach to both Tipperary and Waterford senior teams, sees it as a reflection of their current mindset that they are willing to embrace Thurles as a venue for the Munster final and thinks it tilts some added pressure on Tipperary.
"It shows the type of hurlers (in Waterford) they are. What good hurlers like are good conditions, good pitch, good atmosphere, good routine that you have used on successful occasions previously.
"They have a very good background in Thurles whether it has been Cork in Munster finals or whoever. It was a big, big ask to play Tipp on their home patch.
"The perception is that Tipp would do all their training in Thurles but they do most of their training beside it in Morris Park.
"Everything in Thurles is conducive to good hurling. Waterford are good hurlers so really it was a hurling decision and it shows where Waterford are.
"If Waterford wanted they could have opted to bring them to a lesser standard pitch and try to slow the game down but Waterford need a fast pace and a fast pitch as well."
Bonnar, an All-Ireland-winning club coach with Ballyhale Shamrocks earlier this year, says only really good hurlers can implement a system that has kept them unbeaten in their last nine competitive league and championship matches.
"It is something similar to what we have played in Fitzgibbon over the last three or four years. They work extremely hard and they are very grounded in terms of the commitment they have to give," he said.
"They work their way back from the half-forward very deep and they have the confidence to use the ball well up the field.
"A lot of teams, when the pressure comes on, hit the ball back up to where it came from almost instinctively but Waterford don't panic, they give that short 15-metre pass. It will be crisp, it will be fast; you need good hurlers to play this game."
That said, Bonnar believes Tipperary's need to win is greater because they are further down the road of development. "The bulk of the players are still there from 2010, they are still young and ambitious and will feel they should have won a couple of All-Irelands in those years.
"They might have felt sorry for themselves in one or two of those years and Kilkenny are an exceptional team but at this stage they have to roll up their sleeves, they have to do the job themselves and when they play to their potential they are capable of winning an All-Ireland. They need to get their hands on a trophy. They have fought very hard in games lately. The perception out there was that they were losing tight games and when it came to the crunch in games like the last two against Limerick in Munster they didn't battle it out. When it came to a league semi-final against Waterford they didn't battle it out.
"That's why it was so good to see them go down to Limerick and respond when Limerick asked a few questions.
"Obviously there is pressure on them because they know they have the ability to win an All-Ireland final and they will be under that pressure in every game because that's what the goal is.
"But I think they are dealing with it a bit better. They are that bit older."
Bonnar believes Waterford really served notice of their development in the league semi-final against Tipperary.
"They were unbeaten in 1B, they have a good record against Galway so it was a big test to come up to Kilkenny that day," he reflected. "I didn't expect they would turn Tipperary over because everyone was saying Kilkenny were their nemesis and once they were out at this stage it would be great to get their hands on something.
"The goals came too easy, they went well ahead. I don't know whether they got caught up in it and thought they were only playing a 1B team but they took their foot of the pedal. Waterford turned it into a battle and Tipp couldn't turn it around. They have earned everyone's respect."