Cork hurling fans look on at Waterford's progress with envy

Cork hurling fans look on at Waterford's progress with envy

Cork's Seamus Harnedy and Darragh Lyons of Waterford in action at the start of the season. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IT seems only like yesterday that we sat in the Kinahan Stand in Thurles and looked on as Waterford took care of business against Cork in the semi-final of the Munster hurling championship.

From a Cork perspective, it was a hugely disappointing outcome, one that put them on the back foot immediately as far as the rest of the season was concerned. For Waterford, it was the complete opposite, a fully deserved victory and a place in the Munster final.

However, as far as being one of the two participants on All-Ireland final day, it must have still been far from the mind.

But you could sense that there was a different mindset in Waterford this season but one still wondered how far they would go in terms of challenging for the big prize in the big house on the most important day of the year.

There’s no point in going over old ground again but it has to be said that they are fully deserving of their place in Croke Park next Sunday.

In fact, they have been the story of this All-Ireland race, rank outsiders at the outset, the team that could not buy a championship victory for the past few campaigns.

There was a widely held perception that Limerick would be at headquarters next weekend but that it would be against Tipp, Kilkenny, Galway, maybe Cork or Wexford. Even in the aftermath of the Munster final and the fine performance delivered by Waterford, there was still a doubt about their ability to surmount the hurdles that awaited them.

But here they are, back in the big mansion and with every chance of ending all those barren years in the Déise. 

Limerick have done everything that was expected of them, justifying the tag of favourites that was placed around them before the off.

In all kinds of weather, they have stood up manfully to the tasks that were put before them because when the Munster draw was made they were one of the sides that you could say pulled the short straw.

To win the provincial title they had to win three games, none very easy on paper anyway.

Clare first in a potentially very tricky encounter followed by a collision with the All-Ireland holders and then a rejuvenated Waterford in the final.

In the All-Ireland semi-final came Galway, one of the sides that were being touted as their most serious challenger as the field narrowed Both of next Sunday’s participants have produced some terrific hurling over the past few months.

Limerick have been more consistent because they have remained unbeaten but the manner of Waterford’s victory over Kilkenny, their second-half display easily the best by any side in this championship.

Kilkenny’s Eoin Cody can't halt Calum Lyons of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Kilkenny’s Eoin Cody can't halt Calum Lyons of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

That 35 minutes of hurling was mind-blowing at times, the score-taking and the ferocity of their play was incredible.

Waterford have been present on the big day in the past and flopped badly but you just cannot see this happening this time. Some might say that their final was the second half against Kilkenny and it will be impossible to replicate that brand of intensity.

On the other hand, the confidence gained from that performance will carry them all the way. This has to be Waterford’s best opportunity for a long time.

The psychological barrier of beating the Cats was broken in the semi-final. They hurled like there was no tomorrow when it really mattered.

Going back to that defeat of Cork in Thurles, they seemed to want it more and that has been the case all through. Liam Cahill has made some big calls since taking over and he has also instilled a belief among the players that might not have always been there in the past.

If anything this All-Ireland will be one of the best ever to win because of its nature.

Playing almost on a weekly basis and having to remain firmly focused in such a short time span. Recovery time has been very short and that must have been difficult too.

In Waterford’s case they had to pick themselves up very quickly after losing the Munster final. 

Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny and Austin Gleeson of Waterford contest a dropping sliotar. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny and Austin Gleeson of Waterford contest a dropping sliotar. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Getting to the level that both Limerick and Waterford have got to cannot have been easy playing in empty stadiums. That’s something that the players have never experienced before and, hopefully, will not again going forward.

Win or lose next Sunday, both counties have the platform laid for a few years to come. But this is their time, the moment will be theirs to seize.

This will be an All-Ireland final that we’ll be talking about for years to come for all the right reasons.

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