Bennett and Déise have eyes fixed on redemption
What's rare is wonderful and Stephen Bennett is enjoying life without injury worries as he sets his sights on 2019 and redemption with Waterford after a disastrous season.
Bennett is a poster boy for the toll which too much activity can have on a teenager's body and persistent hip problems have been part and parcel of his budding hurling career.
With double hip surgery aged 17 and 20, he's been under the knife on four occasions as the effects of playing with a myriad of teams in various codes quickly caught up with him.
Playing Harty Cup with Lismore's Blackwater Community School as a second year highlights his natural talent but also the added strain which his body would quickly succumb to.
If he could talk to his younger self, he would have yelled stop when training three times in two days because a manager expected him to, and listened to his body, but he admits there's little he can do about it now.
Thankfully, that's in the past for the Ballysaggart attacker - an All-Ireland winner at minor (2013) and U-21 (2016) level with the Déise - and he can concentrate his attention on an uninterrupted pre-season under new senior boss Páraic Fanning.
"I'm a lot better now, I'm back doing a pre-season this year which is maybe my second one in six years now which makes a huge difference, to be able to train this time of the year with the team," Bennett said.
"They (the hips) are as good as they have been in a long time. It is just about minding them, the physios say if they are bad to know to stay out of it, just manage them better.
"Last year was my first year where I trained nearly every training.
"Some of the years I was coming back in January and February so you were starting off behind already.
"Now I'm back perfect. I do all the gym and training. I'm looking forward to the year, to get in playing matches. I've done everything so far this year so hopefully I can get a clean run at it."
Bennett is joined in the Déise fold by brothers Kieran and Shane (currently out with an ankle injury) once again after the pair opted out of Derek McGrath's final year in charge.
Shane had a similarly hectic schedule growing up with three years at minor, three years at U-21 as well as breaking into the senior fold at 18, and Bennett believes that's "half the reason" that he needed time out of the fold.
"He took the year off so he is happy out again. He is back working, playing a bit of soccer, so he is happy out. It is nice to be back fighting for positions again. For the three of us, it is nice to be driving to trainings and stuff," Bennett said.
Bennett would have considered joining his siblings in America were it not for starting the Hibernia Primary Teaching course and it forced him to endure the greatest hurling championship in recent years with Waterford not involved.
Relegation from Division 1A of the league was followed without a win from four games in a disastrous Munster SHC round-robin series riddled with major injuries, but the 23-year-old is eager to make amends in 2019.
Much like his Tipp counterpart Liam Sheedy, Fanning inherits a squad which is refreshed and eager to impress ahead of the Co-Op Superstores Munster SHL.
"We haven't played in six months so everyone is itching to get back started again. I would say maybe 10 of the lads went off travelling to America, they had an unreal summer," Bennett said.
"Other fellas went back playing with the clubs so everyone is excited coming back in. You have the few newer lads coming in trying to impress which will add to it as well.
"I don't see it as any disadvantage playing in Division 1B, it could actually be good even for newer fellas coming in getting game time, they might adapt to it a bit easier."