Strong showing in league clash gives cause for optimism
Published 23/07/2016 | 00:00
Isn't it amazing how one result can alter so much in the wonderful world of sport?
That point was hammered home forcibly to me last week when I saw the photographs from the media shoot to mark the remainder of the All-Ireland Senior hurling championship.
Posing proudly was our own Matthew O'Hanlon, representing one of just six counties still in with a chance of claiming All-Ireland glory.
Would anyone have believed that was a possibility less than two months ago? In fact, even after the Offaly game it would have seemed like an outlandish proposition to many folk.
Yet, here we are still in with a chance on the only stage that counts at this time of year, namely the field of play.
The twists and turns that a back door system can bring has worked in our favour for once. The Dublin team which demolished Wexford on May 21 saw its own interest in national honours ended by Cork, and we in turn proceeded to dump the Leesiders and didn't get the credit we deserved.
You can add Limerick into the mix of also-rans and, as another example to illustrate my point, which county was tipped to have a better run at Senior level in 2016 after the Shannonsiders went through us for a short cut in last year's All-Ireland Under-21 final?
The answer was T.J. Ryan's side of course, but they've taken their place on the scrapheap too while we still dare to dream.
Of course we will be rank outsiders, and the general feeling is that Waterford have invested too much time and effort into the last few years to be completely derailed by that Munster final thumping at the hands of a ruthless Tipperary side.
Still, there are reasons to be hopeful I believe, even allowing for the cruel injury crisis which continues to rob the team of players on a weekly basis.
Yes, we can talk about our decent championship history against Waterford and reference the 2014 victory in Nowlan Park in particular, but of far greater significance to Sunday's contest is the manner in which we stood up to our south-east rivals when they visited Innovate Wexford Park for the National League quarter-final on April 3.
It took an exhibition of free-taking from Maurice Shanahan to guide our neighbours over the line on a 0-17 to 1-13 scoreline, but they knew they had really earned their semi-final passage as they left the field that afternoon.
In one sense our performance in that game could be looked upon as a disadvantage, as it meant that Waterford were amply forewarned. It may have been better if Sunday's clash was a first meeting of the year, but there's nothing we can do about that now.
Any team which sets up like the beaten Munster finalists will find it very difficult to score goals. Indeed, to a large degree they are relying on defensive errors to present them with openings.
Waterford didn't rattle the net in that league quarter-final, and that has to be the starting point for our ambitions next Sunday. We must ensure that no back is isolated and that the sextet is extremely solid as a unit, and then work like demons in the middle third to deny Waterford the 20-plus points tally that they no doubt target every day.
Finally, a couple of random points to conclude this column. Even allowing for the percentage stuck in work, support for Wexford was frankly pathetic in Thurles Saturday week.
These players and their mentors have now delivered a significant championship victory, and there's a Sunday throw-in this time around, so there's no reason why the purple and gold colours shouldn't be seen to a much larger degree in the stands.
Just don't let me hear anyone making that idiotic statement about Wexford having the best followers in the country, because it's simply not true. We have a good core of fans when the team is winning, no more and no less.
Secondly, I realised leaving Croke Park last Sunday that, more by accident than by design, I had attended all eight provincial deciders this year - two apiece in Senior, Under-21 and Minor, plus Intermediate hurling and Junior football.
We contested three finals, and only Dublin on four have a better record. The county is far from perfect, but we're still a good deal better off results-wise than many others in the province.