Given how things fell apart in the wake of league success last year, Davy Fitzgerald was always going to have a free pass in the early stages of his second coming in Waterford with qualification from Munster the only currency that really matters.
There have been more questions than answers hanging over the Déise heading into tomorrow’s clash with Kilkenny, though, and discipline (or the lack of it) is one area that needs to be addressed.
Maybe it’s a bit rich coming from a man who sat out an All-Ireland semi-final for an act of stupidly, which cost us in 2004, but someone needs to get in the ear of targets like Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson.
Far too often we seem to take the bait and Eoin Kelly would be the perfect man to have a word with them. You can’t keep finishing games with 14 men, or 13 against Dublin, and Kelly was excellent at keeping his cool amid special treatment.
Our selector Nicky Cashin was great for me after ’04 and he kept saying, ‘Don’t rise to anything John, take whatever is thrown at you. Five minutes is all you need to hurt your opponent’. The Waterford lads need to do their talking on the scoreboard.
One standout issue I have is the deployment of Dessie Hutchinson – the best inside forward in the game – and seeing him coming out to midfield to try get his hand on the ball seems bonkers to me.
Dessie is a killer close to goal and that’s where he needs to be. Davy always likes to keep something up his sleeve and maybe Dessie could be integral in what he has planned for Limerick and Co come summer but he is not being used as he could be at present.
Jack Fagan also needs to go back to the forward line as a go-to guy, outside of Aussie, is needed under aerial ball as primary possession has been a tough thing to get in recent seasons. And he is a natural ball-winner.
Waterford have played in fits and starts and there’s been times in games where you can see where Davy wants to bring this team. But sometimes they feel like they are caught between two different styles.
They are so accustomed to playing under the Cahill mantra of all-out attack for three years and trying to adapt to Davy’s style of play has not been plain sailing. They seem to be caught in two minds at times while the injury list makes for grim reading.
Much was made after the Tipperary game about the handshake with Davy pointing his finger at Cahill. Reading between the lines, Davy would have been annoyed with how things played out and they way it unfolded with certain players seemingly targeted.
One of the Waterford boss’ strengths is that he’ll turn a negative into a positive come summer with his siege mentality approach, and he’ll be reminding his players of what unfolded with the niggle off the ball. I’d imagine Davy was thinking, ‘Enjoy tonight Liam, we’ll see ye in Munster’ with the wink suggesting he expects a different animal next time.
He often used words like ”soft“ and “pushed around“ with us and he’ll be keeping those in his back pocket for their next meeting.
A big plus is the number of players used with over 30 thrown into the mix. He’s unearthed gems like the three Fitzgeralds – defender Mark and attackers Patrick and Pádraig – whilst being smart with the older brigade.
Big players like Tadhg de Búrca and Gleeson have been kept fresh while the form of Jamie Barron, aside from his red card, will encourage any Waterford supporter. No matter what personnel are missing tomorrow, expect both sides to go at it hard.
Davy has gathered momentum off the back of a win over Kilkenny before, be it league or championship, but this one might be a big ask. But regardless of the result, expect Davy to have the Déise humming come April 23. We might even see that wink again matched with a smile come May.