Waterford selector Dan Shanahan is expecting a “savage battle” on Sunday in the Munster SHC semi-final against Cork, writes Michael Moynihan.
The Leesiders upset the odds by beating All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the opening game of the provincial series, but Shanahan says that Waterford weren’t focused on the Premier County before that game, presuming they’d come through to the semi-final.
“I think everyone is too long on the road to be making that kind of assumption,” said Shanahan.
“Fair enough, the bookies had Tipperary as favourites, and they were entitled to be after the season they had last year, but this is the Munster championship we’re talking about. Upsets are the name of the game.
“We worked away ourselves and prepared as best we could before we knew who we’d be playing, but nobody at all was saying ‘ah, it’ll be Tipperary, we’ll plan for them’. We’ve all been in the situation where you expect one result and the opposite happens, and what do you do then?
“As soon as we knew it was Cork we started planning for them, but only when we knew who we were playing, not before.” Waterford manager Derek McGrath has been consistent in his praise for Cork’s attack in particular, a view echoed by his selector.
“Because Derek spent so long coaching colleges he knows that scene very well, so he knows what’s coming through in all the counties, not just Waterford,” said Shanahan.
“He’s been saying it for months, that Cork have six attackers who are as dangerous as any team in Ireland. He said it long before Cork beat us at home in the league, and he said it after that game again - I know some people might have thought it was an excuse for losing, but I’m sure those people were thinking differently when they saw what that Cork attack did to the Tipperary defence.” The 2007 Hurler of the Year doesn’t see the absence of a championship game as a major factor for Waterford: “Obviously Cork will benefit from playing Tipperary, particularly as they’re such a young team. To have the experience of lining out in Thurles in front of a big game and to win a tight enough match is a huge boost for new players, it gives them great confidence.
“But the majority of our lads have been through the mill themselves plenty of times. Even the younger lads have been in Munster finals and League finals, so they have experience of the big occasion.
“You’d like a game under your belt, obviously, but it’s funny that when you play a lot of games people say you can go stale, and when you haven’t played a lot of games people say you’re going in cold, it’s like you can’t win either way.” Comparing the relatively open Cork-Tipperary game with the intensity on show Saturday night in the Wexford-Kilkenny clash, Shanahan said he expects a ferocious competition on Sunday in Semple Stadium.
“People were saying after Cork-Tipp that it was traditional hurling, players in their positions, no sweepers, all of that. I’m not sure if it was that traditional - Luke Meade and Shane Kingston were dropping deep to help their midfield and half-back lines a lot in that game.
“In the same way people have been saying what a battle it was in Wexford - but there was a lot of space created in that match too, you only had to see the room that Colin Fennelly was operating in a lot of the time, the way Kilkenny created one-on-ones for him up front.
“It doesn’t have to be ‘either/or’ - you can have room at either end of the field and yet the intensity of the challenges can be there as well. I’m expecting a savage battle on Sunday between ourselves and Cork - on one hand I hope it’s as enjoyable as Cork-Tipp was, but I’m also hoping we’ll come out as winners, no matter how entertaining it is.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.