There was a lot to encourage Waterford hurling fans in their side’s win over Tipperary a couple of weeks ago.
Not only did the victory earn the Déise a place in the NHL final against Cork, the way they overcame the concession of two early goals shows a new confidence in the team.
Wing-back Philip Mahony agrees it shows the belief Waterford have in their game plan.
“That was possibly one of the most pleasing things out of the game because in other years when we did concede goals like that, I wouldn’t say we crumbled but we never really reversed that opposition momentum.
“But there was an air of confidence and trust in each other if we did go behind, because it was something we did speak about beforehand that we’d stick with the game plan, stick with what we were doing and that eventually it might come good for us.”
It’s a welcome return for Mahony, who had to overcome a horrific double leg break last year to get his place back on the Waterford team.
“I was in Whitfield (Clinic) more or less around this time last year, watching the league final with my father and (Doctor) Tadhg O’Sullivan, waiting to get a cast on my leg, and here I am now, a year on, getting ready to play in one.”
Fitness and conditioning has been a strong point for Waterford all season, helping them to bounce back up out of Division 1B. When manager Derek McGrath says they’ve a lot of hard work done, Mahony can give you specifics.
“We were back (training) the week after the county final. Fitness was one of the areas last year where we felt we could have improved on for this year and we definitely have in that regard. Had we been that little bit fitter against Cork the first day, we might have been able to close out the game. A few of us went down with cramp, but every team these days is nearly as fit as each other.
“We’ve been very well looked after when it comes to fitness, with Fergal O’Brien, who’s been brilliant, and it’s not only him; we’ve had Gary Walsh doing strength and conditioning and Stephen Barrett had looked after our nutrition, so everything has gone up another level.”
Mahony has a measured view of the season spent in Division 1B: “We’ve just been working very, very hard and every week and at every session, Derek (McGrath) has just asked us to work on getting that bit better, to focus on each game as it comes to us. And our confidence has definitely increased as a result of the good run of results we’ve had. I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise to us but it’s obviously nice to be in a final now.”
Dropping to Division 1B didn’t set Waterford back years as some people thought. “It was really competitive; we had Limerick and Wexford who did well in the championship last year and right through from the Waterford Crystal, we’ve had a good run of decent fixtures and things have gone well.”
As for the accusation that Waterford have become a defensive side, Mahony isn’t buying.
“We’ve not set out purposely to be ultra defensive; we’re all working hard for each other. Sure, the lads are coming back but there’s been other teams who’ve done that for years and it probably wasn’t highlighted as much.”