It’s quite the opening test for new Waterford manager Derek McGrath in the opening game of the Allianz Hurling League at Semple Stadium tomorrow, taking on tails-up Tipperary in their home patch.
“I think 1998 was the last occasion we won a league match in Thurles,” he said, “the last time we were there they put 31 points on us [2012, 0-31 to 2-15]. Tipp are going very well this year, Waterford Crystal champions already with a big win over Clare last weekend.
“I know I’ll be accused of building up the opposition but the reality is that Tipperary are still one of the top teams in the country. Think back to the league final last year between Kilkenny and Tipperary, people were asking afterwards, ‘who’s going to stand in the way of these two teams again this year?’
“In their All-Ireland qualifier game, if JJ Delaney’s hand hadn’t got in the way of Eoin Kelly’s shot, we would have been talking about Tipperary as the potential All-Ireland champions. I believe they’re going to be the hungriest team around this year.”
He’s right of course. Much like Kilkenny are the reigning league champions remember Tipperary have not gone away either. Their strength isn’t just in their sheer number of players, it’s the quality of those players.
“Do the maths on it,” invites Derek, himself a maths teacher in Waterford city college De La Salle. “They won a competitive minor All-Ireland title in 2012 with a very, very good team.
“Last year in the first round of the minor championship in Walsh Park they beat Waterford [eventual All-Ireland champions]. There are lots of great hurlers there that outsiders may not be hugely aware of but the pick they have, the level of skill, the talent, it’s phenomenal.”
Going in to face such a talented side Derek would obviously need to have everyone available to him. That’s not the case though.
“Injury-wise Stephen Daniels, Martin O’Neill, Brian O’Halloran and Richie Foley — he had a hip operation — will be out for a while with long-term injury worries.
“Darragh Fives is short-term, out for a few weeks and he’s been joined now by Austin Gleeson, last year’s minor captain, who pulled a hamstring against Limerick in a challenge game.”
Nonetheless Waterford will have a strong and experienced team in Semple Stadium. They named last weekend, unusually early it must be said, but nothing significant in that.
“The only reason we announced so early was that we knew our team, we gave it to the lads themselves last Sunday morning.”
“Tipp had a game on Friday night so probably had things to consider afterwards. We had nothing more to consider. The league has been our focus since we started training and we had no significant games along the way to change our minds.
“We played Offaly and Limerick but other than that we’ve been fairly redundant, just in-house games. From those games we had the team picked. There’s no ruse, the team will line out as selected.”