Waterford wary of Fitz factor -- Walsh
Anyone who knows Michael 'Brick' Walsh will appreciate that he is not given to overstatement. There are few more reticent hurlers around.
So, when he singles out two games in the last three months that were as big as anything else he has been involved in during a 10-year career with Waterford, which encompasses one of the county's most glorious spells, then you know that's the way he feels.
As captain for the second time, 'Brick' will have felt the pressure more than most -- especially when John Mullane's brief sabbatical came in the days when he was overlooked for captaincy at the expense of 2007 league-winning skipper Walsh.
The chronology of that created its own whiff of suspicion. And, when results went against them and performances began to collapse over the opening three rounds of the league against Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork, the pressure built.
With Mullane out of the picture, Eoin Kelly overlooked and Michael Ryan seemingly struggling with the role, Waterford looked like they were in free-fall. The departure of two selectors, Nicky Cashin and Brother Philip Ryan, only added to that narrative.
So that was the context of their journey to Pearse Stadium to meet a Galway team that was dealing comfortably with an abbreviated top flight up to then.
That week, Mullane and Kelly came back into the picture and Ken McGrath joined the back-room staff, but the pressure still didn't abate.
For Walsh, a veteran of six Munster finals, the importance of those two weekends to round off Division 1A cannot be over-stressed. "In my time playing, it was one of the biggest wins we've had," he said of the match in Salthill.
"Getting the win over Galway and then beating Dublin really lifted the players in Waterford," added Walsh, who will lead the team out against Clare in the first of the Munster hurling championship semi-finals on Sunday.
"It had been a poor league up to then, but it ended on a high point against Dublin in Dungarvan.
"We knew we were up for that Galway game. To be fair to Galway, they wouldn't have played as well as they would have wished. We were just right going into that game and we knew there was a big performance in us."
Walsh acknowledges that a county like Waterford just can't afford to be without any of their big names and identifies the return of Mullane and Kelly as a crucial turning point.
"Having the lads coming back into the fold was a huge lift for us and they obviously drove things on for us and played well," he said.
"At the end of the day, it was 30 players pulling together to get the job done."
Walsh admits that the respect from within the Waterford dressing-room for Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald is huge.
"He did a great job with Waterford over the last couple of years. Obviously, Davy is top class and he will have Clare well prepared for the game, but it's what will happen between the white lines that will determine the outcome."
Waterford have not played a competitive match since beating Dublin all of 10 weeks ago -- the longest break there has been for any team -- but Walsh is unconcerned by that.
"It's a long break, but we've had some good club activity to occupy us," he added.