Déise boss Owens predicts a close shave with Banner

THERE are many signals that the onset of championship action is growing closer.

As Waterford’s football team trained ahead of Sunday’s Munster SFC quarter-final against Clare in Fraher Field, manager John Owens detected another: the championship haircut.

“You always know it’s championship time when you see that,” he laughs. “Jim McGrath, one of our selectors and the elder statesman of our squad, got his early in the week. It was something I used to do myself when I was playing, getting the championship haircut before a match.

“We know that championship is here now and there’s a real buzz in the air.”

The feel-good factor throughout the Waterford camp is welcome after the manner in which their league campaign ground to a halt. They provided the romance in Division Four as they clambered out of the basement level but even the boon of promotion could not mask their low spirits after losing the league decider to Limerick.

“Our dressing-room was in a bad way after that game,” says Owens. “We enjoyed the experience and to play in Croke Park was a watershed moment for our county. But we looked at it as a chance to get silverware.

“We weren’t expected to get that far but it was a pity that we didn’t win it. We had a period of dominance in the first-half when we didn’t get enough scores and that was an area we have looked at since. You have to credit Limerick. They were very well up for it and their full-forward line scored 1-11. That was the difference.”

In the aftermath of that loss, the Waterford squad returned to their clubs for two weeks and it proved a blessing. By the time they convened again, the hangover from that defeat had lifted according to Owens.

“The clubs gave them a chance to put a line under it. We just let them off and it was a break for them.”

For all the league advances that they made, it is championship that is the true barometer. It’s an unusual position that Waterford find themselves in entering a Munster match as warm favourites.

Owens is wary of a Clare backlash after the nine-point pasting the Déise inflicted on the Banner in a critical league match in April.

“They won’t be lacking any motivation. They’ve changed their team around since then and they’ve a better idea of their strongest 15. They’ve got through a fair amount of work since we last played.”

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