Waterford boss Derek McGrath has stressed how young his players are - the Déise had four 20-year-olds in their starting attack last Sunday. One of them, Colin Dunford, is only three years away from playing Harty Cup with Dungarvan Colleges, but he’s not overawed by the big show.
“You take it in your stride,” says the sports and exercise student at Carlow IT.
“Our attitude is not to look past whoever we’re playing next as we go, but at the same time you’d have taken the hand off someone if they said to you a couple of years ago that you’d win a league final and play in a Munster final, play Kilkenny in Croke Park and all of that. It’s great to have that experience, but we’re just trying to build on 2015 now.”
Dunford can recall Waterford’s breakthrough Munster final in 2002. Just about. “I was right up the back of the stand, I was only five or six. I remember 2010 better, I was out on the field after they beat Cork in the league final replay, looking up at Stephen Molumphy getting the cup. Of course you’d be thinking that it would be great to be out there. Playing in Munster finals or in Croke Park, that was the dream, and it was fantastic to see them do that so many times.
“It was great to play in the Munster final last year. Fantastic. But the real goal would be to win an All-Ireland, the same as it is for every player on every team. Last year, looking down at the crowd when we won the league, it was something you’d keep in your mind forever. And you’d hope for more.”
They’ve beaten Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary already this year. But feet are firmly planted.
“We’re just taking the games as they come, it’s a bit early in the year now to be talking about beating teams like that,” says Dunford.
“We’re taking the league seriously, we’re working hard and we want to retain our title, but we’re aware all the time that there’s room for improvement with every game.”
Does he see much difference between Divisions 1A and 1B, where Waterford were last year? “Not hugely, though maybe physicality comes into it a bit more in Division 1A. The last few league games seem to be a bit more physical than what we had last year.
“But having said that,it’s hard to judge around this time of year - pitches are heavy, there’s a lot of slogging through it. You can’t judge team’s speed.”
He pays tribute to the Waterford management — manager McGrath and selectors Dan Shanahan and Fintan O’Connor. “It’s a great dynamic. A lot of us would have been young lads coming up and Dan the Man would have been a huge idol to us as kids - having him go up and down the sideline is a huge boost, it’s inspiring, he’s so passionate.
“Derek and Fintan might seem quiet but they’re fantastic on the details, on the approach — they leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting us ready.”
Dunford represents Colligan Rockies in the west of the county: “Our juveniles, St Patrick’s, would be joined with Kilgobnet, and when they come to minor lads go to one or the other club, so it’s good for us to have someone on the county team.
“Jimmy Beresford was on the team back in 1996, he was the last man on the Waterford team so it’s nice to have someone from the locality on the team, it gives the place a good boost. They’re great to support us, they go to all the games. I hope there’s a few of them there Sunday, because Dublin will be coming to Walsh Park looking for another win after last weekend. It’s a tough assignment.”