‘There’s all this talk, if they were to lose another final … that's absolute crap talk’ – Mullane calls for Déise league push
After a weekend of dead rubbers at the top end of Division 1 Group A, it was down to Group B to provide the meaningful Allianz Hurling League action with Kilkenny’s win over Waterford seeing the Cats join the Deise in the semi-finals.
The victory also secured top spot for Brian Cody’s men although how much of an advantage that will prove is debatable with a trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and a clash with Kieran Kingston’s Cork on Rebel soil the reward.
With Waterford’s semi-final place already in the bag bar what would have been an unfathomable set of results, Liam Cahill took the opportunity to ring the changes. Ballygunner’s All-Ireland winners Dessie Hutchinson and Pauric Mahony both made their first league starts, with Cathrach Daly, Conor Dalton, Coin Dunford and Austin Gleeson also brought back into the side.
Whether it was the changes, the fact that the semi-final spot was all but secure or another reason, it was a flat performance from Waterford compared to their 10-point shellacking of Tippearay in round four.
There’a also been talk in some circles that the proximity of the final two weeks before the provincial championships begin that the quick turnaround could be a disadvantage heading into those group stages.
But that’s a nonsense argument according to Deise legend John Mullane who issues a rallying cry for his county to put everything into chasing the silverware on offer.
“I'm not buying all of this talk that Waterford shouldn't go for the League,” Mullane told The Throw-in podcast in association with Allianz.
“I mean, we're not a Kilkenny, we're not a Cork, we're not a Tipperary, we're not a Limerick. We're not awash with trophies, we're not awash with medals falling out of our back pocket.
“They're in a semi-final now, I think go for it. One of the four teams left has to go and win it.
“There's one sure thing, Waterford's opponents next week, Wexford, are going to go all out to win it. I would take it Kilkenny will go all out to win it and I would be thinking that Cork, home advantage with a home following, will go all out to win it.
“So I think from a Waterford point of view, they should go all out next weekend. get to a league final.
“There's all this talk surrounding it, if they get to a league final they're out (in Munster) two weeks later and you know if they were to lose the league final, lose another final ... that's crap talk, absolute crap talk.
“They're in a great position next week coming up against the form team in the country who haven't been beaten this year, Wexford. Go out and have a right crack off of Wexford. Maybe get to a league final.
“I'd much rather be one of the four teams that are left in the semi-finals and getting another one or two games under the belt just before the Championship rather than playing a couple of in-house games or a couple of challenge games.”
Of the teams left standing, it’s only really Kilkenny that won’t have half an eye on their Championship openers.
Brian Cody’s men begin their Leinster campaign with a trip to Westmeath, whereas Wexford will take on Henry Shefflin’s Galway. And in Munster, Cork begin with a rerun of last year’s All-Ireland final against champions Limerick while Cahill’s Waterford face his native county Tipperary.
But Mullane pointed to examples from both ends of the spectrum during his own career to emphasise the benefit that the momentum provided by a league final can bring.
“It's unfortunate that there's a two-week gap but I think it's crucial that you get Calum Lyons back into the team, possibly get (Conor) Prunty back into the team, get a good few bodies back into the team,” he finished.
“There was a bit of a common-sense approach on Sunday from Liam Cahill with regard to resting Stephen Bennett, resting Patrick Curran, resting Jack Pendergast, resting Conor Gleeson because they played the bulk of the matches. From Cahill's point of view, he's been very clever in how he's used the league and how he's used his panel.
“Now it's the semi-final stage, I would be saying, 'You know what, lads? We're in the last four. This is a national competition. We've only won three national league titles in the history of Waterford hurling. Let's go and win it.'
“In previous years any Waterford team that's won a National League ... we won in 2007, pushed on and had a great summer. We won the National League in 2015, pushed on and had a great summer.
“And look, even if they were to lose it, I know it's back 18 years ago but we lost the National League final in 2004. We were out a week later against Clare, and we went and pulverised them.
“I just feel winning a National League would be fantastic for this group and I think it would it would kick them on to greater things in the summer.”