Friday 23 August 2019

Waterford's window to respond may have passed them

Waterford manager Paraic Fanning. Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford manager Paraic Fanning. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Almost a year ago Waterford hurlers found themselves in a similar dead-end position at the foot of the Munster round-robin group with a game left to play against Cork. There was nothing at stake except pride and a good send-off for their manager Derek McGrath.

With a few minutes left on the clock the sides were still level, but Cork's requirement was ultimately greater and they pushed on to a Munster final with a three-point win.

In the circumstances, it was an admirable effort as the Déise almost salvaged something from a challenging few weeks.

It said something about the character of the team that they could respond so positively when there was nothing tangible to play for.

It had been a bad campaign, bedevilled by injuries to Barry Coughlan, Tadhg de Búrca and Darragh Fives, among others, on the opening day against Clare as well Kevin Moran's red card.

But they picked it up a week later in a draw against Tipperary, a game they should have won, and while they dipped again against Limerick, the Cork display left the campaign on a sounder note.

Twelve months on, it's hard to envisage a similar response. In fact, the opportunity for such a reaction probably passed last Sunday.

Off the back of an 18-point defeat to Tipp two weeks earlier in Thurles, if there was a remaining kick in Waterford it would surely have been seen in Walsh Park against a team that had demolished them 12 months earlier.

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This was a venue, after all, that Waterford had fought hard to secure and were willing to 'go to war' over to host their two home matches there this summer.

To endure a second mauling at Limerick's hands in this manner, in front of a home crowd, was as dispiriting an afternoon as Waterford have suffered in a long time.

For some, it was worse than the seven-goal concession to Tipp in the 2011 Munster final. At least then there was a response with an All-Ireland quarter-final win over Galway.

It's been a harrowing start to championship life for manager Páraic Fanning (above).

Replacing McGrath, who had built up such a strong relationship with these players over the previous four years, was always going to be challenging.

However, after losing players such as Coughlan, Jake Dillon and Tom Devine, it looked like he had anchored it well after emerging from Division 1B and beating Galway to reach a final.

But since then the beatings have got progressively worse, with the exception of the home championship game against Clare. Another big loss would leave it difficult for Fanning to contemplate trying to turn it around in 2020.

Since Sunday, there has been much talk of the need for better planning to avoid further slippage in Waterford, who are without a championship win in their last eight games.

But their ills are surely fixable in the short term. It's not as if they've been crossing a development wasteland in this decade.

Only three years ago they were most impressive All-Ireland U-21 champions, lighting up Thurles with a performance full of creativity and style.

Limerick were champions at the same level before and after that triumph, yet the gap at senior level over the last two years has been significant.

Six of that team featured at some stage on Sunday. In the past many of the current squad have enjoyed schools success with De La Salle and Dungarvan Colleges.

They are not devoid of talent.

Nothing ever works in straight lines and the jump to senior is big, but it should still ensure the basis of a more competitive Waterford team than what they have been.

Irish Independent

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