Conveyer belt of talent points to bright future for Waterford, insists Connors
Minutes after their extra-time loss to Kilkenny in Thurles on Saturday night, Waterford's redoubtable corner-back Noel Connors was already looking to a brighter future in 2014 on the back of the performance.
It's a future that is likely to be shaped without Tony Browne, who reached a modern-day hurling milestone when the 40-year-old appeared in a championship match for the last 22 minutes.
Browne is unlikely to commit again to a 22nd inter-county season but Connors believes Waterford are well fortified for future challenges, despite the loss of so many familiar faces.
"It's not easy to say now, but we're all looking forward to next year already. I know it's devastating after getting beaten, but it won't be long until we're back on the field and back in the gym," said Connors.
"We lost so many household names in the last two years but there's a lot of good young talent there and the minor team is a prime example – hopefully they go on to win silverware.
"With the colleges teams also going well, the future is bright. We're lucky to have a few young fellas that will definitely step up to the mark next year.
"This year we had Jake Dillon, Jamie Barron, Ray Barry and so on, and next year they'll be a totally different animal.
"A year under their belts, they'll come on leaps and bounds, and you could name 10 or 12 fellas in that category. The future is very bright in Waterford. You look at Ray Barry coming in and scoring a goal."
Connors refuses to accept that Waterford retain a mental block about Kilkenny.
"Everyone is looking back to the All-Ireland final in 2008 but I don't think we have a barrier with any team," he said.
"People say the same thing with Tipperary but we played well against them in the league and won it by a point. I keep referring to the younger fellas but they are the future and they've beaten all the Kilkenny teams, the Tipp teams, the Cork teams, to win their All-Ireland titles. I don't think that's a factor any more at this stage."
Michael Ryan has already put his hand up for another term in charge, having completed two years where he has had to overcome the departure of some high-profile players.