It’s been a long week in the southeast. Talking to Shane Ahearne underlines that sense of a place grappling with its own sense of itself. Ahearne has done duty as a coach, selector and player with Waterford over the years at all levels, but he shakes his head when last Sunday is mentioned.
Limerick came to Walsh Park and hammered the home side, who must still line out against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this evening to complete their championship commitments. It’s a curious way to approach the game, and an odd mix of emotions must be swirling in Waterford: resignation or disappointment, anger or hope for a last hurrah?
“There’s a bit of everything you mention,” says Ahearne, who was unaware of last night’s shock team selection when making his comments, with six All-Stars dropped.
“Anger, frustration, disappointment - I’m definitely going to the game, because it’s now they need the support. But there is huge disappointment in Waterford, absolutely. You can see it anywhere you go, with every
person you meet. Now we need leadership to be shown by the experienced players in the dressing-room.
“Up to now Conor Prunty, Callum Lyons and Jack Prendergast have been our best three players and I can’t understand that, because they’re our newest players. Our experienced players haven’t put ten, 15, 20 good minutes together in three consecutive championship matches - that’s what I’m looking for tonight.
“Some bit of energy shown by the senior men in the dressing-room. They’re suffering a crisis of confidence but all you can do in that situation is to play yourself out of it. To do the simple things, first and foremost, not complicated things, and to keep doing those.
Ahearne sees one of the big differences between the current situation and previous Waterford droughts is the presence of quality in white and blue. All-Stars, NHL medallists, men who’ve played in All-Ireland finals at all levels.
“The experience is there to do better, and pride in yourself should be another factor. That would be a big disappointment for me with the Limerick game in particular. In the second half we seemed in general to give up all over the pitch.
“An individual’s pride in himself should drive him on. I’d be looking for that. If you can’t get a good 70 minutes then get a good 20 minutes. In my time we played a championship game and if you lost, you were gone - you didn’t have a chance to redeem yourself until the following year.
“Our fellas are getting a chance to redeem themselves week on week, and they’re not taking that chance. I thought going into the Clare game everything was on course - the sun was shining, the pitch looked great, I was thinking, ‘this is perfect’. In fairness they got David
Howell in to do the pitch in Walsh Park and it looked fantastic compared to years ago, when it got wicked criticism.
“Everything was perfect, the build-up was great, the occasion ran off with no traffic jams, no issues - and then one early goal and everything’s gone.”
Talk of a review of Waterford’s hurling health finds a backer in the Mount Sion clubman.
“I agree,” says Ahearne. “When this is over this needs to be looked at. There are three groups - management, players and administration - that are involved and which need to address this. But we still have tonight, and Waterford supporters will want to see an effort.”
“To a certain extent, yes. There’s what, 30-odd players on the panel, but I don’t know if there are five or six players out there in Waterford who are much better than what’s there.
“Derek (McGrath, previous manager) more or less stuck with nearly the same group for a long time, and Paraic has stuck with a lot of those guys too, with the exception of the three newcomers I mentioned.
“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that these are the three best players this year, but I don’t think there are many more who could be brought in. We have what we have and you might bring in one or two next year, maybe, but where would you get those new players, anyway?
“We had the minor win in 2013 and the U21 win three years after that with more or less the same squad of players. We haven’t been doing an awful lot at underage level either but again, that’s for the review of the season.
“There’s an important match on tonight first.”