As an exhilarating inter-county season draws to a close, we issue each team with an end-of-season report card, discussing whether or not they fulfilled expectations. Next up, we review the season of the Waterford hurlers.
Waterford began the season as All Ireland runners-up. They proved their resilience and determination throughout 2017 and it especially came to the fore in their superb semi-final replay win over Kilkenny. However, they failed to produce too much of challenge for Galway in the final three weeks later.
With relatively the same squad, Waterford were expected to reach the All Ireland series without too much difficulty in 2018.
How They Fared
A lot of factors beyond their control hampered Waterford’s season. They began the season with a trip to Ennis, without the injured Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony. During that game they also lost Tadgh de Burca, Noel Connors, Darragh Fives and Barry Coughlan to injury before watching captain, Kevin Moran receive a red for a high challenge on Tony Kelly. Needless to say, they lost that game by a margin of 2-27 to 2-18.
Not many people gave Waterford a chance in their next game against Tipperary. The Premier county had played poorly up to that stage but given the Deise had such a depleted side, Tipperary would win easily. Or so was the prediction. Two first-half goals helped from Tom Devine and Pauric Mahony helped Derek McGrath’s men into an eleven-point lead before Tipperary staged another miraculous comeback. Waterford fans were rightly aggrieved however, as Austin Gleeson was wrongly deemed to have carried a ball back over his own line, thus gifting a goal to Tipperary.
Waterford’s season failed to pick up against Limerick in their third game of the season. The Deise were first out of the blocks once again, but it didn’t take long for their opponents to catch up to them and subsequently overtake them with ease. The eventual All Ireland champions ran out winners on a scoreline of 2-26 to 1-16.
Though they were effectively out of the running by the time their final match against Cork came around, Waterford played as though their lives depended on it. Waterford stormed into the lead and it took until the 53rd minute for Cork to level the game. The game was so tight that the sides were still tied with two of the seven minutes of injury time played. Cork surged ahead but Mahony soon had Waterford back in front. In the last minute, the Rebels gained the advantage and ended Waterford’s in June.
Highlight Of The Year
There were many low points for Waterford during the summer but despite the injuries, the controversial calls and the constant ‘underdogs’ label, they persisted for as long as they could. To put up such a spirited performance against Cork when there was nothing to play for, was a testament to their pride and heart and it was a definite highlight for them. The occasion also marked the 74th championship appearance of Michael “Brick” Walsh, a new record. The Deise stalwart was deservedly given a standing ovation, from both sets of fans, when he departed the field after 55 minutes.
Player Of The Season
Pauric Mahony. The Ballygunner man scored 1-26 during his three appearances for Waterford this summer and was a factor in their performances against Tipperary and Cork. The 26-year-old was injured against Clare in the first round but made his presence known in the other games. He is rock solid and cool as an iceberg from placed balls while he was also magnificent from open play.
Waterford were dealt a huge blow at the end of their season with the announcement of the departure of Derek McGrath after five seasons in charge. McGrath had led the county to their third-ever Division 1 league title in 2015 and to the All Ireland final of 2017 and his departure was widely lamented by the players.
The big challenge for his successor is to lay down their own marker and put their own stamp on the team. Derek McGrath will be a tough act to follow but the new manager must establish his presence straight away. If the players get onboard the new regime straight away, they could go far in 2019 but realistically, it will probably be another two or three years before they are challenging for the Liam MacCarthy again, especially with the emergence of even more competition.
C-. A lot of factors were outside their control but nevertheless, exiting the championship in June reflects badly on any team.