'There's a realisation that we're not as good as we think we are'
Derek McGrath detects a sense of pragmatism sweeping Waterford hurling these days, a realisation that maybe they aren't as good as they think they are.
The euphoria of last September's All-Ireland U-21 success has faded somewhat with the awareness that almost of all the chief protagonists on that team have already graduated to his senior team over the last two or three years.
McGrath looks like he will have a clean bill of health for Sunday's Munster semi-final against Cork, with Jamie Barron recovering from broken ribs, Barry Coughlan overcoming a broken jaw and Conor Gleeson back after a hand injury. Darragh Fives is also making progress from a long-term leg injury.
McGrath is adamant Waterford are still part of the chasing pack despite signs of progress in recent years.
"There is a genuine pragmatism in Waterford now, a realisation that we are not as good as we think we are, but that we are in the chasing pack and that we are capable of beating a team on a given day and sustaining that over a consistent period.
"It has been done over the last two seasons in the league and getting to two All-Ireland semi-finals is a mark of consistency.
"But there is more of an awareness there that, in the last few months, the U-21s winning in the manner that they did, people asking 'who are you going to bring in from the under-21 team?' - they realise that they have been in there already."
Darragh Lyons and Conor Prunty have joined the senior squad but McGrath predicts little change from the core of the team over the last two seasons.
"It will be back to the lads who have formed the basis, the fulcrum of our team for the last three years, the Bennetts (Shane and Stephen), Austin (Gleeson), Patrick Curran, Conor Gleeson, the guys who have been there already, who have been exposed to it. It won't be a new team," he said.
Waterford will be the last side to make their 2017 hurling championship bow, 11 weeks after their last competitive outing against Galway, when a seven-point lead with 14 minutes remaining was eroded in an unanswered 10-point swing for a three-point defeat.
McGrath fielded a relatively inexperienced team for the game, drawing some criticism at home, but has admitted in hindsight he should have stuck to his guns during that spell when Galway came back instead of offloading the bench with more established players.
"It was a tough day for us as a management in that the general theme of the day was a newness of approach in terms of the changes," McGrath said.
"When the new players who got their debuts started to flail a little, we went with the experienced, whereas I think we should have stuck with the new theme for the day and not brought in the guys who had been exposed. And that would have maintained the theme and showed what we wanted to do.
"When we saw the finish line, 10 points up and started slipping to six points up, we went to 'Brick' (Walsh), Pauric (Mahony) and Noel (Connors) whereas I feel now, in retrospect, within five minutes of the end, we should have... it was a day for Michael Kearney, Ian Kenny and Colin Dunford, those guys."
The 11-week break contrasts with 2016 when they had a league semi-final and two finals condensed into a nine-week period. Now they are two weeks further on and the feeling is that Waterford have calibrated their season better this time around.
"It's not an eggs-in-one-basket approach but it is certainly pointed towards that approach, towards being ready on Sunday for the summer.
"You have to nearly prepare your team for the possibility that we could be out two weeks later in a qualifier or a Munster final.
"While June 18 is hugely important, it's not the be-all and end-all either."