Players determined to 'repay commitment' Waterford boss has shown
In the aftermath of their Munster semi-final defeat to Cork last month, chill winds blew hard in this Waterford team's direction. However, the more severe gusts, it seemed, were reserved for the manager Derek McGrath.
From their tactical approach to the loss of backroom staff and the nature of their league exit to Galway in April, everything was up for discussion post-Cork.
McGrath has committed much to this Waterford project, even taking parental leave from his work to devote as much time as he can to it and being quite candid about it.
Even that has drawn significant attention.
It was a pressure felt by the players and, as the ball rolled last Monday morning to put them on a collision course with Kilkenny once again, the criticism shipped by McGrath had as much resonance for the players as any 58-year stretch without a championship win over Kilkenny.
Noel Connors sensed a motivation among his colleagues to make a statement for the boss even more than themselves.
"There was probably more pressure on Derek than there was on the players," acknowledged Connors after making his way through a gathering throng outside the Kinnane Stand.
"Everyone is well aware of the amount of pressure that he has come under the last number of weeks.
"We'll be the first to say as players that we didn't perform on the day. Derek has taken a lot of criticism for that.
"One of the motivational factors was playing for him. A lot of people forget about where we have come from in the last three years. Our character was questioned, everything about our game, and if we had leaders on the field and so on.
"Derek was the biggest person questioned in the last number of weeks and, for the commitment he's put in the last three or four years, it was something we mentioned as players about trying to repay him."
And the joy of finally beating Kilkenny will be fleeting, Connors predicted.
"Any time you win a championship match it is always something special, but just in the manner of last year and going to extra-time and falling a small bit short, getting over the line is something special.
"But we have to be very focused again because we are out in another two weeks' time.
"For years we've looked up to Kilkenny and they continue to be an incredible team and set-up. They're fellas you looked up to as kids and admire and getting the victory against them is something special. But we're not going to dwell on it."
McGrath said they didn't burden themselves with history in the build-up.
"We referenced it last Monday when the draw was initially made, but then we turned our focus to play by play, minute by minute," he said.
"We felt that it might have burdened teams over the years to be concentrating on the whole 58 years thing.
"This group has come on in terms of their approach to the whole thing - the siege mentality thing, or this fella has said this about Waterford over the years. I don't think we're really fuelled by that any more."
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