Until now the Banner was the only county in the province the Decies hadn’t beaten in the championship since the former Cork All-Ireland star took over the managerial reins in 2002.
However, that was righted in resplendent style at Semple Stadium with one of their best all round displays in years.
More than anything else the victory was a vindication of a “tried and trusted’’ team, in the opinion of county board chairman Paddy Joe Ryan: “After the disappointment of the league final defeat by Galway, it was some test of the team’s character to come out as fired up and determined as they were on Sunday.’’
Ryan, who will be standing down after ten years next December, said it has been his objective to see Waterford contest an All-Ireland senior final.
“We’re nearer now to doing so than we were a week ago,’’ he said, “but there’s still a hell of a long road to travel before my dream can become a reality.’’
Warning that, in the flush of last Sunday’s win, it would be so easy for everyone to get carried away, he said: “We have won absolutely nothing other than a first round championship game, and the semi-final against Tipp will be another massive test for the team.’’
Ryan knows Tipp will be keen to avenge the hammering they received from Waterford in the 2002 Munster final: “Just like we were waiting in the long grass for Clare last Sunday, the role will be reversed with Tipp on June 6.’’
“We aren’t exactly noted for our consistency in Waterford,’’ said Ryan, “and putting top rate displays together back-to-back hasn’t happened all that often in the past.
He believes that they may even have to surpass last Sunday’s five-star display if they are to repeat the 2002 victory over Tipp: “If we can get over that one, then there’s Cork or Limerick in the final. There’s no more difficult way of winning a Munster title than that,’’ he added.
RTÉ Man Of The Match, Ken McGrath, said that “in a funny sort of a way’’ the league final reverse had been to their advantage last Sunday: “The weight of expectation was lifted from our shoulders,’’ the inspirational skipper said, adding that he had never known the players to be so fired up in advance of the game.
“We took a lot of stick after the league final defeat, much of it hurting deeply,’’ McGrath said. “It is to the eternal credit of the team and our management, the way we came out of traps against Clare. But deep down I know the lads were always confident we would bounce back.’’
There will be no respite for most of last Sunday’s heroes, with all but two of the starting 15 in club championship action this coming weekend.
Only full back Tom Feeney, who now plays his club hurling in Cork with Sarsfields, and corner back Eoin Murphy of the Shamrocks, will not be involved in the first round games in the county senior hurling championship.
Six games in all are down for decision, and McCarthy and his co-selectors will be keeping fingers crossed that everyone will come through them injury free.