You can take the man out of the corner, but he never really stops being a corner-back.
Ask Waterford selector Eoin Murphy to recall the great Cork-Waterford clashes of the 2000s and it’s a defensive intervention he recalls first.
“I suppose 2004 (Munster final), we went from nearly losing the match . . . I just remember a flick from one of the defenders, maybe Declan Prendergast, it looked like a Cork goal and we went back up and got a point, I think Seamus (Prendergast) got on the end of it and got us over the line.
“It was a turning point because that could have been a loss if that flick didn’t hit the ball it was definitely a Cork goal.
“It was just the pure hurling of it as well, there was kind of excitement everywhere, not just outside the game but inside it as well.”
Since getting involved with Waterford mid-season, he’s seen how far the game has come since: “There’s a lot more analysis of it now, a lot more information is available. You see players going around now with kits on their back and they’re being tracked.
“Take strategies on puck-outs, on that little thing alone there is an amount of information available now.”
Which brings us to a man Waterford face Sunday, Cork keeper Anthony Nash.
“Fantastic keeper, number one,” says Murphy. “He’s a bit like a conductor of an orchestra, he’s kind of pulling the strings and fellas can work to his tune. He’s hugely important to that team.
“He seems to be able to change it up, he’s able to adapt and and it would seem that this Cork team can adapt to what a team can bring.
“Clare tried it and we looked at it, and Tipperary were probably caught a little bit as well in the first game, but he sets up a lot of things for them.
“Stephen (O’Keeffe), Waterford ‘keeper) to me is probably under-rated, he’s fantastic, a great keeper.
“But back to Nash, he’s a super, super keeper and he dictates a lot for their team in terms of confidence.
“We’re not going to overly focus on it, you can’t. You can overemphasise it and you don’t want to be harbouring on about it in training or when you’re walking through tactics.
“We’ll see the way it will pan out on the day but a lot of it comes down for our players just to be tuned in to where their man is, if a run is made to make sure you’re tracking it, and that we’re kind of minimising the options for Cork, letting Nash ask the question, ‘Jeez, where do I go now, is it long or short?’”
Murphy agrees that there’s been a lot going on away from the field of play for Waterford - the sweeper debate, manager Derek McGrath being linked to Dublin, the de Burca controversy.
“A small bit, but to be fair this is what happens. Things are heightened when you’re at semi-final stage.
“There will be a bit of romance brought into it, I suppose, because it’s a semi-final and we’re back playing Cork and it’s a match that we want to win.
“But we still haven’t properly performed to near our limit and I think we’ll have to go again to compete against Cork, and that’s the question mark for me.
“And that’s the challenge that we’re going to put to the team, to see if we can actually go again because Cork are definitely the form team in the country at the moment and that’s on merit after going through Munster the way they did.
“They’re hurling with great confidence and they’re young and fast, and Croke Park is going to suit them. For us, we’re going to have to raise the bar another bit to compete and to take them on.”
Murphy paid tribute to the “phenomenal” work put in by McGrath and the backroom, saying he was “blown away by what it takes to manage a team at that level”.
“I think there are 14 or 15 lads behind the scenes and the lads are all there at training, all there maybe an hour beforehand.
“I’d give him (McGrath) great credit for his persistence in getting Waterford to where they are.
“Waterford is a small county in Munster, there are 12 senior teams and even within that there’s a huge gap from the Ballygunners of this world to the bottom. Great credit is due to Derek and everyone else involved.”
The games themselves take a toll, he adds.
“I’ve been more physically drained in this role than maybe playing. I had a bad headache after the Kilkenny game. It’s physically draining, you’re watching your communication, what you’re saying, your own energy levels because people are looking to the management.
“You’re watching the words coming out of your mouth, giving the right messages to each player. They look to Derek, he’s the manager at the end of the day and Derek’s feeding off the people around him as well.
“When the game is on, it goes very quickly. You may have plans but plans go out the window sometimes because games take on a life of their own and you’re kind of saying ‘Jesus, we may need to look at something different here.’ All the planning in the world can go out the window on the day of championship. But that’s what you’re in it for – there’s a buzz there as well.”
As for the great days of the 2000s, Murphy is clinical.
“It’s being talked about a lot, that maybe because we don’t play that way anymore that we should go back to what we did before. But you have to remember that we didn’t win an All-Ireland that way, we contested only one All-Ireland and got to a lot of semi-finals.
“I’m sure Derek does question it but in fairness we’ve all bought in and the players have bought in, and we’re back in the semi-finals.”
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