Sharp Déise decline a source of real concern
What's gone wrong with Waterford hurling? That was a question occupying the small band of supporters travelling home from Semple Stadium on Wednesday night after watching the U-20s overwhelmed by Tipperary in the Munster semi-final.
Back in Déise-land, the result reinforced the view that the county is in an alarming tailspin just two years after reaching the All-Ireland senior final.
In a few glorious weeks in 2017, Waterford beat Kilkenny, Wexford and Cork, sending hopes soaring that they would win the All-Ireland for the first time since 1959. They lost by three points to Galway, and while it was deeply disappointing there was still a conviction in Waterford that it was part of a learning process, which would eventually empower them to take the big step.
Now the landscape looks completely different at all levels. The seniors have won none of their last nine championship games, including two full Munster round-robin campaigns, the U-21s/U-20s were eliminated in first round games in successive years and the minors have won only two of eight games - none this season.
It means that in the three grades, Waterford have won only two of their last 19 championship games. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Colleges titles, the All-Ireland minor win in 2013 and the swashbuckling success of the U-21s in 2016 sandwiched an Allianz League triumph by the seniors in 2015.
The U-21 triumph was one of the most impressive ever seen in the competition as Waterford beat Clare, Tipperary and Antrim by a combined total of 57 points before a highly-rated Galway team were left trailing by 15 points in the final.
Austin Gleeson, one of many senior players on the U-21s, won an All-Star and Hurler of the Year Awards.
In the course of three seasons (2015-'16-'17), Waterford won 10 All-Star awards, but last year they didn't receive a single nomination.
Páraic Fanning, who replaced Derek McGrath as manager last autumn, enjoyed a good start as Waterford reached this year's league final, where they lost to Limerick.
They were still optimistic going into the championship, but after running Clare to a point in the first round, they were well beaten by Tipperary, Limerick and Cork.
The minors failed to lift any of the gloom, losing three and drawing one of their four Munster games and the season ended on a real low on Wednesday when the U-20s lost by 22 points to Tipperary.