McGrath puts faith in young guns to fire Deise to glory
When Shane Bennett made his way into the action in the 42nd minute of Waterford's opening Allianz Division 1B match against Limerick on Saturday night, it brought to five the number of 2013 All-Ireland winning minors fast-tracked into competitive action since that landmark win over Galway.
Bennett (18) was following in the footsteps of brother Stephen, Austin Gleeson,Tom Devine and Michael Kearney, the latter making their competitive senior debuts.
With Cormac Curran, Mark O'Brien and DJ Foran elevated to the squad last October and Patrick Curran also in the mix since last year, it brings to nine the number of All-Ireland winning minors who have graduated over the last 17 months, underlining the pace of change of recent months.
Waterford drew the match at the Gaelic Grounds, having led for much of it, and deployed six of the 14 U-21s that manager Derek McGrath is carrying in his 30-man squad over the course of the 70 minutes.
Take out the 33-year-old Michael 'Brick' Walsh and there is not another 30-something in sight. At 28 Kevin Moran was next, while Shane Fives was also a little above an average.
But the bulk of Waterford players currently constituting McGrath's re-shaped squad are between 22 and 25.
Few hurling managers have ever taken quite the gamble he took over a few days last October when up to eight players were released from the squad.
Some like Stephen Molumphy, Shane Walsh and Seamus Prendergast, with long service behind them, retired but others like Liam Lawlor, Jamie Nagle and Ray Barry were deemed surplus to requirements.
Taking 2010, the last year they won a Munster title, as a barometer, the personnel shift has been greater in Waterford than any other county. Only Walsh, captain Moran, Noel Connors and Brian O'Halloran remain of those who played championship that summer.
"It's not easy. Those who were left off are all honourable men," reflected McGrath on the choices made. "But I'm clear in my mind where we want to go.
People are probably sick of me saying this but there is still more integration to go and there will be bumps along the way. I would be confident that by the time our three-year term is up we will be a very competitive force ready for the future."
Earning a draw in Limerick will help to appease those in the county who feel it may be too much too soon and lift the sense of gloom that has prevailed since relegation last year.
"It will be a great boost to the players and management. A lot of people might have been expecting a heavy defeat by a team considered to be 'top four," admitted former corner-back Brian Flannery.
"I don't think Waterford have been in too many people's conversation."
With home games against Laois and Antrim to come either side of a visit to play Offaly, Waterford can look optimistically towards a home quarter-final with the prospect of promotion still strong.
A problem that was never sufficiently addressed last season was the dearth of goals.
Gleeson may have won TG4's Goal of the Year for his splendid effort against Cork but they only scored seven from 10 competitive games, and drew another blank last weekend.
The 19-year-old Mount Sion man knocked in three goals for Waterford IT last week and Flannery admits it is one of the biggest questions for Waterford in 2015 - where best to play him?
Flannery observed he is playable "anywhere" on the field and future Waterford teams will revolve around him.
"He can scores goals but from Mount Sion's point of view our placement of him at centre-back after a couple of early defeats in last year's championship changed our season."
Three to watch
Three players who can help smooth Derek McGrath's transition phase:
Austin Gleeson: The talented young Mount Sion man offers options at half-back, where he won an All-Ireland minor medal, or up front where he has a sharp eye for goals, scoring three for WIT last week.
Brian O'Halloran: Thrust into championship action as a teenager in 2010, he has only featured briefly in one of 14 championship matches since. But against Limerick last weekend he gave All-Star Seamus Hickey plenty of trouble, scoring two points and winning another four frees.
Shane Bennett: The younger brother of Stephen also offer versatility. Scored an impressive point with almost his first touch on Saturday night.