Monday 19 August 2019

Déise on the edge after seven-game winless run

Waterford’s players and backroom staff try to come to terms with their 2017 All-Ireland final defeat to Galway, a loss which started a worrying winless run in the championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Waterford’s players and backroom staff try to come to terms with their 2017 All-Ireland final defeat to Galway, a loss which started a worrying winless run in the championship. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's not where Waterford hurlers expected to be, but less than two years after reaching the All-Ireland final they are trapped in the longest run of games without a championship win since the 1920s.

Unlike in the distant past when a county might have only one championship game in a season, or the more recent past when they were guaranteed two, the round-robin provincial formats have greatly expanded the schedule, so it's possible to accumulate several wins or losses over a relatively short space of time.

Unfortunately for Waterford, the latter has been the case. They have had seven games without a win since the inspirational success against Cork in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final.

It was seen as a major turning point in Déise fortunes, generating three weeks of incredible excitement before the dream-crushing defeat by Galway in the final.

Last year, they lost to Clare, Limerick and Cork and drew with Tipperary in the Munster Championship and two more defeats against Clare and Tipperary have followed this month.

It leaves them desperate to end the barren run when they play Limerick in Walsh Park on Sunday. Defeat would end their prospects of a top-three finish, which is required to advance to the All-Ireland stages.

"There are two ways we can go. We can let the season peter out, or we can fight for our lives. And I'd be very surprised if it's anything other than us fighting for lives in Walsh Park," said manager Páraic Fanning after the 18-point defeat by Tipperary in the last round

"It's all about trying to rescue our season now."

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Limerick's defeat by Cork in their opening game increases the pressure on Waterford as the All-Ireland champions are also in a tighter corner than they would have expected. They too are predicting a positive response to the first-round defeat.

Capable

"Our dressing-room is full of guys capable of grabbing this thing by the scruff of the neck. There will be a response," said Limerick manager Kiely after the Gaelic Grounds setback.

The background mood will be altogether different to the almost carefree atmosphere which surrounded the Limerick-Waterford clash in the Allianz League final in Croke Park two months ago.

Limerick won by eight, but Fanning insists Waterford will be much more formidable in the championship.

"You will see the best of us there. You saw it earlier in the league and we see it in training as well, what our lads are capable of. Trust me, we will be back again as well," he said.

It hasn't happened - well not yet anyway. Granted, they lost to Clare by just a point, but it wasn't an accurate reflection of the Banner's overall superiority. Still, Waterford's powerful late rally was encouraging, unlike the similar stretch of their game with Tipperary a week later.

They started it only three points down, but were 18 adrift in the end, having been out-scored 2-13 to 0-4.

Even allowing for Tipperary's high-momentum start to the championship, it was fiercely disappointing for Waterford to find themselves swatted aside so easily in the final quarter.

Their workload increased when they had Conor Gleeson sent off in the first half, leaving them with a burden which would have been difficult to bear against any opposition but which was always likely to break them against super-slick Tipp.

It wasn't the first time disciplinary issues cost Waterford. Gleeson's dismissal in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final left them without one of the best markers in the game for the final.

And Kevin Moran was sent off on a straight red in the third quarter against Clare in last year's Munster Championship, adding to the challenge for a squad already weakened by injuries and carrying the big disadvantage of having no home games.

Waterford played the last quarter of this year's league semi-final with 14 men after Mikey Kearney's dismissal and while they still beat Galway, his departure was a handicap that should have been avoided.

It's an aspect of their game they need to get right if their poor championship run is to end on Sunday.

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