Wednesday 28 September 2016

Waterford's bright apprentices won't have enough for the craftiest masters

Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30

Maurice Shanahan
Maurice Shanahan

They are young, ambitious and unfazed by their powerful neighbours.

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Playing to a system they like and understand, under a manager they trust implicitly, they believe they have embarked on an adventure that will take them to All-Ireland glory.

Introducing Waterford 2015 - the squad with the best win record of all in what is their apprenticeship season.

Promotion from 1B? Limerick and Wexford were ahead of them in the betting, but Waterford topped the group.

Division 1 winners? Outsiders against Galway, Tipperary and Cork, they mocked all the odds.

Munster finalists? Surely Cork wouldn't get caught for a second time in five weeks. They were. Waterford 3-19 Cork 1-21.

Munster winners? How could Waterford be audacious enough to think they could sink Tipperary on a big Championship day? Because they believed.

Experience

It wasn't quite enough against Tipperary's greater experience, but Waterford did more than enough to prove that their season still had a whole lot more to offer.

They got back on track against Dublin, working their way carefully out of a first-half bind to take command in the second half.

So, after nine wins, a draw and a defeat from 11 League and Championship games, Waterford arrive in Croke Park for the biggest test of all.

Their Division 1B base, combined with Kilkenny's rare failure to reach the knock-out stages of the league, means that tomorrow's clash is the first this year between the counties.

It's also the first in the new Waterford era, underpinned by a mixture of steely-eyed gunslingers like 'Brick' Walsh, Kevin Moran, Maurice Shanahan and Noel Connors and fresh-faced accomplices who know no fear.

Austin Gleeson, only recently past his 20th birthday, spoke his week of how he wasn't feeling nervous going into big games. Now, if he - and his colleagues - don't feel a tingle of apprehension heading out tomorrow, then they are indeed a special breed.

Mind you, Kilkenny will experience it too, albeit in a different way. By this time of year, they usually know every last detail about the opposition.

It's different this time. Brian Cody will have them well briefed about Waterford, but that's not the same as having experienced it in game situations.

Still, Kilkenny are so seasoned that they react instinctively to what's put in front of them.

New Waterford are that bit different to what Kilkenny have met so far and, crucially, haven't had any really bad days as a unit, unlike their predecessors.

Various injury stories emanating from Kilkenny have raised the doubt levels somewhat, but then Waterford have had to work without Pauric Mahony all summer. Besides, Kilkenny are experts at improvising when the occasion demands.

It will be fascinating to see how Kilkenny deal with Waterford's style of play. One thing is certain - they won't allow it to influence their trusted formula, which runs off the basic principle that if enough players control their personal duels, Kilkenny win.

Ultimately that could again be the ace that trumps Waterford and steers Kilkenny into the All-Ireland final for the 14th time in 17 seasons.

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