And so the big day appears to be upon us, what with the county of Waterford not having spontaneously combusted in the last few days, as might have been feared. The Deise semi-final against Tipp was of course a red-letter, and indeed emotional day for many hurling people, not just those in the south-east. If this hurling obsessive tires of the sport being judged as interesting purely when there are novel events and pairings occurring, none one could fail to be moved by this current group of Waterford players, at least being presented with a view of the promised land. The obvious, and deserving names that are trotted out are Tony Browne and Ken McGrath. This in itself is a reflection of the fact that Dan Shanahan's current, fitness related torpor, is a return to the underachieving first half of his career. For this writer at least, another, currently buried comfortably in the bench, who would richly deserve an All-Ireland medal is Tom Feeney, whose diligent corner back play up till about 2001 made him one of the most under-rated players of his era. Despite his commanding body shape Feeney was never quite the same player when he wore the number three shirt and Declan Prendergast, in the starting xv is cut from a similar, if not quite as consummate a cloth as Feeney. One of the key factors that could bring Waterford a day to be treasured is for Prendergast to have the game of his life. And considering Brian Cody will will likely throw the impressive contents of his kitchen ( much less the sink ) at the Ardmore man to break him, and garner goals, hesitancy and mediocrity can't be a watchword. There are still questions, but the composition of the challengers defence is now at least more persuasive. Far too much focus was parlayed in the media as to whether Ken McGrath's positioning at the edge of the square was solidifying the last line of defence. What was more significant was that not only was McGrath missed at centre back, but that the defence was bereft, robbed of Tony Browne at wing-back. Of course none of this tinkering would ever have likely occurred bar Aidan Kearney's burst appendix. Last years debutant star showed up very well in the semi despite a lack of match practice, and he is the type of corner back to be wished for against Kilkenny, where a number two or four is as likely to need physical presence, against the cats rotating galaxy, as to be fleet of foot. The Deise will still hope though that a few of the best forward line since Tipp's in the early 90's have an off day. Rumours swirl that Martin Comerford's poor form may consign him to the bench. ( in any other county fingers would be crossed that cometh the hour..... ) Will will of the wisp Aidan Fogarty produce two days in a row. Can Eoin Larkin continue his player of the year form. If wishes were fishes possibly, from a Waterford standpoint.
Apart from the staunchness of the Waterford full back line, the other section of their team that might be crucial to maintaining nirvana is their corner forwards. Eoin McGrath may be in the oft mentioned form of his life, but his ability has often been underestimated. Even as a less confident player of yore he, at least, prevented top quality corner backs from bossing their patch, and when introduced as a sub four summers ago, caused Michael Kavanagh fits. If he and John Mullane maintain their positions and the Kilkenny wing-backs are prevented from giving optimum cover, they have the pace to trouble Kavanagh and Jackie Tyrell. The fulcrum of the full forward line Eoin Kelly is currently favourite for hurler of the year, and by gum he'll earn the award if it's won on the back of discommoding Noel Hickey, fast coming up on the rails on Brian Lohan as the best full back of the last twenty years. Waterford will feel they have to make hay inside, as they would at 48 hours remove bite the hand off anyone offering their half forward line parity. J.J Delaney is likely in the best form since he put a halt to a vastly more attuned Dan The Man in the 2004 semi. Stephen Molumphy, one of the best seven or eight players in the country last year, will not, despite incremental improvement deprive Eoin Larkin of the second annual All-Star reserved for service personnel.( named after Dermot Early snr perhaps ) It is in this area of the pitch that much of the 20/30% improvement more than one expert has trumpeted has to come from Waterford. All told they have to summon the best performance ever from within this panel. Better than anything seen in Thurles in 2004, or the first Cork game last summer. And even then Kilkenny have to come down from the stratospheric porch of the semi. Davy Fitzgerald's weekend started in the driving rain, and exit from the Clare County Championship for Sixmilebridge. The circle of life would indicate that it will end in salvation in the sun at Headquarters. But these are straitened disappointing times.