John Horgan: Munster hurling is back but can Waterford hold off Clare?

Banner have Tony Kelly to lead the line but the Déise were more impressive in 2020
John Horgan: Munster hurling is back but can Waterford hold off Clare?

Waterford's Stephen Bennett and Sean Finn of Limerick in league action last month. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

THEY hadn’t any silverware to show for their endeavours but, outside of Limerick, Waterford had a season to remember in 2020.

They came into the Munster championship on the back of a few horrible years in 2018 and 2019 and few gave them much chance against Cork in the opening round which was also the semi-final.

But when the final whistle sounded in that encounter in Thurles it was Cork who were on the wrong end of a 1-28 to 1-24 scoreline.

There was no argument about the outcome, Waterford fully deserved the win and Cork were consigned to the treacherous All-Ireland qualifying route.

Waterford eventually went on to reach the All-Ireland final and came out second best to the team that had beaten them in the Munster final, the country’s best by some distance, Limerick.

Of course, there was massive disappointment again in Déise territory but on mature reflection, the season’s positives certainly outweighed the negatives.

They participated in one of the best games for some time in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, turning an 11-point deficit into a glorious four-point victory in the end.

Their second-half recovery that day exemplified everything great about the game, a never-say-die attitude, togetherness backed up by some sublime scoring returns from a number of individuals.

Something that rarely occurred in the past, a Kilkenny team under Brian Cody were left shell-shocked at the end.

New team boss, Liam Cahill certainly made a huge impression in his first season at Waterford’s helm and the big poser now, as the championship season begins is, can they reach those heights again?

Waterford manager Liam Cahill. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Waterford manager Liam Cahill. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

On Sunday in Thurles they face the side that they defeated by nine points in last season’s All-Ireland quarter-final, Clare and that game gets the sliotar rolling for a season that is much anticipated.

The prize for the winners is a semi-final collision with Tipperary and it goes without saying how difficult that test will be. But it’s first things first.


Both counties had decent league campaigns, three victories and two losses apiece with one of those Clare losses being to lowly-ranked Antrim.

However, both ended the campaign on a very positive note, Clare defeating Kilkenny and Waterford getting past Tipperary.

That sets things up very nicely for Sunday’s Munster opener and the expectation is that it’s going to be a game with very little dividing the teams at the end.

There will be no crowd congestion in Thurles and the stadium will be near empty again but once the yellow ball is thrown in, we could be in for a cracker.

Both counties are regarded as outsiders in the province’s overall scheme of things and in Waterford’s case, many might find that surprising given their efforts last season.

But there are major injury worries for them concerning Conor Prunty and Austin Gleeson and they are without one of the country’s best hurlers in Tadhg de Búrca, alongside Pauric Mahony.

De Burca, in his very familiar sweeping role, has been the orchestrator of some of Waterford’s finest performances in recent years and his absence from their defence is a massive blow.

Clare’s loss to Antrim in the opening game of the league alongside the off-field shenanigans in the Banner County had their supporters in despair but the strong-willed character that team boss Brian Lohan is has seen a significant upturn in fortunes as the league aged.

Clare have the country’s best, or near best, hurler in Tony Kelly and he is, obviously, their main man.

However, last season, in particular, there was far too much reliance on him to put their scores on the board, something that he did with great aplomb and that cannot be the case this time again.

Waterford too relied very heavily on Stephen Bennett for a lot of their scores and in both instances, the scoring spread must be greater from the rest.

This game is rich in potential and at its conclusion, we’ll be much wiser about the overall championship prospects of both.


Leinster gets underway too this weekend and the clash of Antrim and Dublin has now become rather intriguing given how well the Ulster team fared in the league, defeating Clare and finishing level with Wexford to retain their Division One status.

Mattie Kenny, the Dublin boss, will not be looking forward to this one and there is potential here for the season’s first shock.

Antrim participated in one of the league’s best games, maybe the best against Wexford and if their attitude and desire is as great against the Dubs they could be in a Leinster semi-final on Sunday night.

In the other quarter-final in the province, the expectation is that Wexford will be far too good for Laois.

Both Kilkenny and Galway will be keeping close tabs on these two games as will Tipperary in the big Thurles encounter.

The hurling championship season is ready to rock and roll.

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