Having overcome neighbours Kilkenny in the qualifiers two weeks ago, can the Déise finally capture Liam MacCarthy in 2017? While it will be difficult, there are reasons to suggest that maybe 2017 will be the year Waterford win a first All-Ireland title since 1959.
Hurling is a funny game and one result can change everything. The general consensus in Waterford following defeat to Cork was that this could be a bleak summer.
A slaughtering of Offaly did little to change the opinion of the Déise folk, as this was expected. The following game would change the opinion of some however.
Derek McGrath’s side mixed the brilliant with the awful in their triumph of Kilkenny. For the majority of the game they dominated but old failings raised their ugly head once more.
Having led by eight points late into the second half, Waterford once again let a comfortable lead slip. And it is this problem that causes concern in the south-east.
On a more positive note however, this wasn’t a killer blow to Derek McGrath’s troops. Inspired by Jamie Barron and Tadhg de Búrca, Waterford swept Kilkenny aside in extra time.
Which leads to the question, can Waterford capture All-Ireland glory in 2017?
In a championship as open as this, of course they can. There are several reasons for Waterford to believe 2017 can be there year.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors is one particular part of the draw. Having come through the qualifiers, the Déise cannot face Tipperary unless the pair should reach the All-Ireland final.
Many may point out that Tipp haven’t exactly set the world on fire this summer, but their victory over Dublin proved a statement of intent. The All-Ireland champions are not done yet.
As well as this, Derek McGrath has yet to register a victory over Tipperary during his tenure. Michael Ryan’s side have had little difficulty in counteracting the defensive system of Waterford.
While on the subject of the draw, the Déise will by no means fear Wexford. You could argue the same in the opposite direction, but this Déise side are just that little bit further down the road.
The Yellowbellies were brought crashing back down to earth following their defeat to Galway, and this may have brought some bit of a dampener on the hype within Wexford.
Galway, who have handled the favourites tag extremely well so far in 2017, do still have question marks. The fact of the matter is until they win an All-Ireland, they always will.
It is these question marks that would give the Déise confidence should the sides meet. Galway have never beaten Waterford in championship.
In fact, the same could be said for Cork and Clare. Despite Cork’s victory over the Waterford earlier this summer, McGrath would be quietly confident in a clash with the Rebels.
Kieran Kingston’s young guns have been flawless to date. Any criticism would be unfair but questions are justified. Many of these players are yet to play in Croke Park, how will they deal with this?
In Jamie Barron, Austin Gleeson, de Búrca and Kevin Moran the Déise contain some real match-winners.
Gleeson in particular will grow from his performance against Kilkenny. A player who thrives on confidence, Waterford supporters will hope to see Aussie return to the form that made him 2016 Hurler of the Year.
Also a positive for Derek McGrath is the strength of his panel. In their victory over Kilkenny a number of substitutes managed to impress.
Maurice Shanahan showed his steel by bouncing back from his missed free to bury an extra time goal. Thomas Ryan and Brian O’Halloran also stood out when introduced.
With Jake Dillon and Michael Walsh also putting in tireless shifts, there are plenty of positives here for McGrath. It might just be that Waterford are coming into form at the right time. Without an u-21 championship to worry about this year, McGrath will have more time with his squad also.
When all is said and done, each of the six counties remaining in the championship will fancy their chances. Therefore, there is no reason why Waterford shouldn’t believe this could be their year.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena