'We all know what they can do, we must be at our best' - Molloy
It's exactly three years today since Waterford put Galway to the sword to claim minor All-Ireland honours and while the same sides will do battle again in Saturday's U-21 decider, Brian Molloy acknowledges that much has changed since then.
Molloy's once flowing locks have been tidied, for one, and the diminutive skipper has added some brawn to his brain and undoubted skill after spending the year with Micheál Donoghue's senior Galway squad.
The Kilnadeema-Leitrim attacker recalls feeling lucky that there was only eight in it at the final whistle in Croke Park back then as "it could have been 20" after they were "destroyed in the last 15 minutes".
But exciting talents like Fintan Burke and Sean Loftus have graduated from last year's All-Ireland minor-winning side while others who were on the fringes throughout 2013 "have stepped up the plate".
Conor Whelan, Éanna Burke - younger brother of senior skipper David - and Molloy have gained valuable senior inter-county exposure, but their experience pales in comparison to a star-studded Déise side.
After watching the likes of Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran and Stephen and Shane Bennett excel on the game's biggest stages already this year, the free-scoring captain is in no doubt about the scale of task facing them.
"Whether we're favourites or whether we're not, we're still going to prepare the same way; I know everyone's talking about the Waterford team but they're right to," Molloy says.
"We've seen what they're doing with the seniors and they're well deserved to be favourites for this game and they've come through two tough games in Munster so we know what we're up against.
"Everyone knows what they're capable of, they have so many well-known hurlers, and while things have changed over the last three years, we know we're going to have to be at our best to be in this game."
Interestingly, Waterford lost twice en route to ending their 65-year wait for minor success, something not afforded to any Galway underage sides, with Molloy calling for their inclusion in Leinster.
"I probably would prefer to play in Leinster because more games would help a lot and you'd be able to sort your team out quicker. We played the 15 that started against Dublin and you wouldn't be sure if it's your best 15 or not," says the final year Accounting and Finance student at NUI Maynooth.
"Luckily, it got us over the line but Waterford had two or three games to sort out their 15 before the weekend. When the seniors went in to Leinster, everyone should have gone in and have us off the one hymn-sheet really."
Molloy gave a virtuoso display in Galway's extra-time victory over Dublin, shooting 10 points and showing nerves of steel under pressure, and he admits they badly needed the added game-time ahead of Saturday's acid test.
Having met in February and March, Tony Ward's panel beavered away for 15 weeks without a competitive game and those extra minutes in Semple Stadium's pressure cooker taught them everything they needed to know about their side's resilience.
"Extra-time will hopefully have brought us on a bit. We worked well together, as the game grew on we got more used to hurling with each other. It was my first time hurling with a lot of lads there and the extra-time was great because we got to see the character in our team," he says.
Having won a minor title in 2011 and an intermediate crown last year, Molloy, who turns 21 tomorrow, will be looking for medal number three before hoping to turn prodigious underage days into a stellar career.
'Tough cookie' Whelan in 'race against time'
Galway senior star Conor Whelan is in "a race against time" to be fit for Saturday's Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 hurling final with manager Tony Ward set to make a decision on his participation after a fitness test tonight.
Whelan burst onto the senior scene last season and his absence would be hugely felt with the Tribesmen already massive underdogs against a talent-laden Waterford side.
But Ward and skipper Brian Molloy are hopeful that the influential Kinvara attacker can play a part despite sustaining a shoulder injury when colliding with Dublin's Shane Barrett in last month's semi-final win.
"It's a race against time really with Conor. His recuperation has come on well, he's doing well, we're hoping, fingers crossed. It wasn't dislocated, just damaged. He probably did most damage by staying on that evening. Look, he's a tough cookie," Ward said.
Molloy added: "He was at training during the week, we'd hope he'll be fully right come the weekend. He's a serious hurler and a massive part of our team."
On the flip side, senior footballer Eamonn Brannigan has been training fully since the Dublin game having only come on board since their quarter-final exit at the hands of Tipp.
"Eamonn is an athlete, he's just a pure athlete," Ward said. "It takes him a while to get his hurling touch going but he's an option. He just needs to get his hurling in gear and he'll be fine."
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