OF the four teams remaining in the chase for the Liam McCarthy Cup, Waterford are probably the least fancied.
But should that be the case?
It’s a matter of opinion really, but there can be no denying their right to be in the mix for the big prize
They are certainly there on merit and Cork must certainly be looking on enviously at them and wondering why they are not where Waterford are now.
When the draw was made for the Munster SHC, both teams would have been fully aware that just the one victory would catapult them into an All-Ireland quarter-final.
By squaring up to each other they had avoided the provincial favourites in Tipperary and Limerick so the incentive for both was massive.
It’s history now how things transpired and while Cork’s year is well and truly over, Waterford will believe that they can extend theirs beyond next weekend after drawing Kilkenny in the semi-final.
Every pundit in the country will probably be in Kilkenny’s corner and a lot of that is based on history.
The near neighbours from Leinster have held the upper hand in any recent championship outings and all the tradition and success is very much on their side.
But this Waterford team, coming from the base that they were at, without a championship win in recent years, seem to have found an impetus that past Deise teams might have lacked.
When Waterford teams in the past, and more recently, were successful at provincial level they had an outsider in charge, Davy Fitzgerald, Justin McCarthy, and before him, Gerald McCarthy, who laid down a lot of solid foundations.
Now they have another outsider, Tipperary’s Liam Cahill, a proven winner with the Premier County at minor, U21 and U20 levels and surely destined to be senior supremo in the future.
From the moment he stepped into the job in Waterford, he put his own stamp on it by releasing a few high-profile players in Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan. That was seen as an unwise move in many quarters, but he has since been proven that it wasn’t.
Subsequently, he lost Philip Mahony, who decided to opt-out, and then he lost star forward Pauric Mahony to injury. So that was four very experienced campaigners gone from the equation.
But the task was got on with and a mentality of freshness was brought into the squad.
They did fall that bit short against Limerick in the Munster final but were a reinvented team a week later when doing a job on Clare which has put them in against the Cats next Saturday, just 70 minutes from an All-Ireland final.
Waterford are a better all-round team now; Cahill has made them a more intense unit alongside a fierce work-rate.
The balance throughout the field seems stronger too and their scoring potential is much greater than it was.
They had a dozen scorers against Clare last Saturday, newcomer Dessie Hutchinson has been a huge addition up front while the likes of Kieran Bennett and Jack Fagan are exhibiting greater scoring potential. Stephen O’Keeffe continues to be one of the best keepers around while Tadgh de Búrca, Shane McNulty and Calum Lyons are a formidable half-back sector.
They did concede 3-18 to Clare and that was a negative because the concession of a similar tally to Kilkenny could spell trouble. Concede three goals to Kilkenny and you will probably lose.
But so far, the positives have outweighed the negatives and the return from injury of Conor Gleeson was seen to strong effect on Saturday when he posted two fine points after his introduction.
Will Croke Park and its vast expanses be a different story against a Kilkenny team that is playing in a home from home for them? Kilkenny are Kilkenny, but are they the force they once were?
They let a 16-point lead slip against Dublin before coming through by just one and Galway had them in trouble until Ritchie Hogan’s wonder goal.
Psychologically, Kilkenny would have the edge on big match days, but the mindset in Waterford seems to be a whole lot different now.
Of course, it all goes back to the game with Cork, there was a clear pathway that day for both teams and Waterford grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Cork will still be saying to themselves that we could be preparing this week for an All-Ireland semi-final if they had performed that day. This Waterford team is on an upward trajectory and there is belief within the ranks that they can live in any company.
Kilkenny in Croke Park will be an altogether different test, but in this season like no other, they have shown there is no fear of any opposition.
In tennis parlance, they are the fourth seed next weekend, but they are ideally placed to make the most of the opportunity that has been given to them.