The emergence of Iarlaith Daly as a fresh injury concern for Waterford ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC round-two qualifier against Galway in Thurles could leave Liam Cahill with a couple of major selection decisions.
The 20-year-old from Lismore has ably filled the hole left by the injury-stricken Tadhg de Búrca at centre-back for Waterford this year.
He played a key role against Laois last Saturday in Nowlan Park, as Cahill’s team contrived to blow an eight-point half-time lead, trailing by two at the second-half water break, before two late goals saw them belatedly to safety.
However, the Waterford News and Star reported that Daly suffered a quad injury in training on Tuesday night and is now doubtful as a result.
Given his growing importance to the team, particularly in the absence of the pivotal De Búrca, the potential loss of Daly would be a significant one.
Nominated for Young Hurler of the Year in 2020, making his championship debut in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, Daly subsequently replaced De Búrca in the final after he was struck down by an ACL injury.
Speaking in June, De Búrca expressed confidence in Daly’s readiness to step into the breach, and the Waterford No 6 jersey, in his own absence.
“He’s a serious player,” De Búrca stressed. “He’s only 20 years of age, I think, but he’s a good head on his shoulders – and is well able to fill that spot.”
It was an area in which Dublin blunted Galway in their shock Leinster semi-final win of almost three weeks ago.
With Liam Rushe and Conor Burke alternating as a holding number six, they were pivotal in preventing Galway from prising open the Dublin defence as they pushed for a late goal.
Their tally of 1-14 was the lowest Galway had hit in any game since scoring 0-16 against Wexford in the round-robin stage of the 2019 Leinster SHC.
Should Daly be ruled out, Cahill must weigh up whether to switch the versatile Austin Gleeson to centre-back. Although given the former Hurler of the Year’s recent influence in more attacking areas, he may be reluctant to do so.
Against Laois, Gleeson played predominantly in midfield, but occasionally took up a posting on the edge of the opposition’s square.
It was there that he caught two vital late balls – the first to set up Patrick Curran for a goal and the second to win a steadying free, converted by Stephen Bennett.
Curran, one of five changes to the Waterford line-up from the defeat to Clare in Munster, started in midfield but switched at various stages with Gleeson.
Jamie Barron, who played the last 20 minutes against Laois, could be in line for a start, though Cahill insisted he was still “very early in his recovery” from injury.
Waterford scored 2-5 directly from their own puck-outs last week, vindicating Cahill’s selection of Shaun O’Brien in goals ahead of Billy Nolan, though the Tipperary native described their wastefulness in attack as “unforgivable”.
In all, Waterford hit 18 wides.
They were guilty, too, of over-elaboration in attack, frequently attempting to work the ball in for goal from inside scoring range, when a steadier flow of points would have likely spared them the late drama.
As Cahill observed afterwards, “a number of players in key positions lost the individual battles at key stages and we tended to switch off.
“We went there, at one stage through the second half, where we drove seven or eight wides, one after another.
“That’s unforgivable stuff with the quality you’re meeting here and the level of hurling you’re at.”