Waterford hurlers stunned everyone in 2020 but can they do it again?

Déise have to start from scratch again after losing Munster and All-Ireland final
Waterford hurlers stunned everyone in 2020 but can they do it again?

Waterford’s Austin Gleeson and Barry Nash of Limerick battling in the All-Ireland final last December. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

APART from Limerick’s excellence last season, Waterford were the other shining light on the hurling landscape.

Arriving from the low base that they had occupied for the past few seasons, they were a breath of fresh air as they went all the way to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.

They gave a fine account of themselves against the country's best team by some distance and they certainly made their presence felt.

Doing so well one year should lay down a firm foundation for the next and if last season’s form is a guideline for this season, Waterford should be there or thereabouts again.

We thought at this stage that the championship draws would have been made which would have given us a clearer picture of how things might work out.

That is not the case, however, and like everything else on the sporting front, we must play a waiting game.

So will Waterford be one of the leading contenders again for the big prizes on offer and let’s be honest, the only prize that matters at the end of the day is the MacCarthy Cup.

No county would say no to a provincial title and it remains something that should be taken with the utmost seriousness.

But in the leading counties, come the end of the year you are judged on how well you performed in the All-Ireland arena.

DIFFICULT SECOND ALBUM

The expectation is that Waterford will be up there again but you cannot guarantee anything and there is such a thing as the second season syndrome.

That, of course, refers to an individual or a team that has come off the back of a great season but fails to deliver on the same scale the following one.

It happens in all codes and the most glaring example at this juncture in time is Sheffield United’s woes across the water in the Premiership.

Last season you could have made a case for them being the team of the Premiership under team boss Chris Wilder.

Recently elevated from the Championship, they were quite magnificent in becoming a team to reckon with and they had little bother in consolidating themselves as a side capable of living in the best of company.

But fast forward to this season and despite some recent good results, they look bankers for the drop.

Wolves are another team, not as precariously placed as Sheffield United, but failing to follow up on last season’s very good form.

So it does happen, one good year followed by a very troubled one and Waterford hurlers must hope that will not be the case.

Stephen Bennett of Waterford scores a goal against Kilkenny in Croke Park. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Stephen Bennett of Waterford scores a goal against Kilkenny in Croke Park. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

It shouldn’t because there is a fine unit assembled by team boss Liam Cahill although the absence of goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe and Tadhg de Burca will be keenly felt.

On the plus side, the return of Shane Bennett and Pauric Mahony should help considerably.

Winning an All-Ireland for the first time since 1959 would be a huge fillip for the game in general just like it was in the ‘90s when Clare and Wexford came in from the cold and, of course, Offaly before them in the previous decade.

And remember what a story it was in 1989 when Antrim reached the All-Ireland final.

It’s going to be very difficult for Waterford as it will be for the other counties such is the intensely competitive nature of the championship race.

One bad day, as Cork had against Waterford last season, and you are then sailing in very turbulent seas. Replacing Stephen O’Keeffe in goal will not be easy and de Burca was an outstanding defensive general in their march to the 2020 All-Ireland final.

Some believed that the absence of crowds benefitted Waterford last season and that the team performed better.

That’s a matter of opinion but Waterford fans are hugely passionate and that can apply pressure to a team when it’s preparing for a big day.

But, at the same time, no band of supporters deserve to see their team lift the big prize more than those Waterford fans.

The old saying that you have to lose one to win one applies no longer in Waterford because it hasn’t happened in the past.

But one got the feeling last season that there is a greater cutting edge to this Waterford team compared to others and that they will have learned so much from just coming up short.

Cahill did a fantastic job with the side last season, now can he get them to travel the extra mile.

It will be very interesting to see what lies ahead for them.

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