Déise men likely to be bolder but could still come up short against the masters
Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30
Within minutes of losing to Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, Derek McGrath spoke of why Waterford had come up short and what the future held.
"We found it hard to push on and it didn't even look like we were trying to push on - a bit of inexperience as much as anything else in the last 15 minutes," was his verdict.
Asked if he felt they could eventually reach Kilkenny's level, he replied: "I'm not sure. You'd hope but there are certainly no guarantees."
He also mentioned how Limerick were in the same position a year earlier, having put in a good performance against Kilkenny in the semi-final. They had high hopes for 2015 but didn't get past the Munster semi-final or Round 2 of the qualifiers.
Unlike Limerick, Waterford have made it back to the semi-finals, with Kilkenny again coming at them from the opposite corner, offering McGrath and his players a massive opportunity to do something special.
However, to achieve that, they have also got to do something different, or at least tweak their current set-up, which is now being read quite easily.
That doesn't necessarily make it easy to disrupt but there's no better team than Kilkenny to work their way through whatever challenge is placed in front of them.
It's why Waterford must trust their instincts as much as their systems and let their natural talent lead the charge. They certainly need to have more forwards in the attacking half all the time if they are to really put it up to Kilkenny.
Surely this is a day to take a chance and engage Kilkenny along more traditional lines. The system deployed by Waterford over the past 18 months has taken them a long way but they need to move on.
This group is in All-Ireland territory and feeling quite confident that it's their destiny to win the title for the first time since 1959.
"Their time is now," said McGrath after a feisty comeback beat Tipperary in the Allianz League in Thurles in early March. He had watched happily as a team with four 20-year-olds in the forward line hurled with great intent and maturity.
Five months later the stakes are far higher as Waterford attempt to beat Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final, something that hasn't been done since 2005 when Galway hit one of their golden days.
The odds are stacked against Waterford, especially after that inexplicable collapse against Tipperary in the Munster final, but isn't that a great time to make a bold statement?
Tipperary came back from a heavy defeat by Cork to win the All-Ireland title in 2010 and Kilkenny did likewise after losing the Leinster final to Galway in 2012. Why should spectacular revivals be confined to superpowers?
Individual sloppiness, as opposed to a systems failure, was at the root of their thrashing by Tipperary so it was no surprise to see Waterford return to what they knew best in the quarter-final against Wexford.
They needed to get their touch back as individuals, which was more easily done within a structure they knew. Having achieved that, there will be a temptation to remain true to what they've been doing but since it wasn't good enough to win the league or Munster finals, why should it succeed against Kilkenny?
That's why playing a more direct game carries a certain logic for Waterford. McGrath is one of the shrewdest tacticians in the game so it certainly will be no surprise if he tries something different.
Galway's win over Clare in the quarter-final franked Kilkenny's form and silenced those who claimed that the champions had little to beat in the Leinster Championship, where they galloped to comprehensive wins over Dublin and Galway.
The law of averages, plus Waterford's determination to finally end Kilkenny's dominance over them, makes this game far more interesting than the odds suggest.
It's still hard to go against Kilkenny but they will need to be at the peak of their powers to stay in line for the three-in-a-row.