The camera work may have been shaky but what it captured was a thing of beauty. The footage showed Waterford scoring their first goal against London in Ruislip on Saturday off the back of 11 hand-passes and a few solo runs which covered the length of the pitch.
But for Central Council opposing the restriction on hand-passes, Conor Murray’s score would not have stood yet the composure of the Déise’s play was something to savour. After three opening defeats, promotion from Division 4 was beyond them from mid-February but a hat-trick of victories since then equates to their most successful spell since securing promotion to Division 3 in 2010. And that goal was a crystallisation of what new manager Benji Whelan, who posted the video of the score on Twitter, is trying to instil in his team.
He explained: “It did take a while to get to where we are. We’re not where we want to be at all yet but we’re taking a few steps in the right direction. The analogy I keep using is the jigsaw — initially, we had a few pieces but now we’ve found other pieces in different areas and are joining it up. Part of what we’re trying to do is to work on possession and being comfortable on the ball and becoming aware of where our strengths are and perhaps more importantly where our weaknesses are and ensuring those areas aren’t exposed. It’s about having confidence in our own abilities and the confidence to help out others on the team when they need assistance during the game.
“Part of the process in creating chances like that is to back each other up and that’s all stuff we’re trying to advocate and some of it is coming to pass. I could have put up 10 different instances of when it went wrong but we have the wherewithal to try and do the right stuff and that’s what we want to keep on doing.”
In January, Whelan spoke of Division 4 being the team’s priority this year and a third-place finish, where they currently lie, would be more than respectable.
“From where we were with three losses on the board, to get to third and perhaps a win in Leitrim this weekend would be the ideal scenario going into Championship,” he says. “If we hadn’t taken on board the lessons from those opening games we wouldn’t be where we are now and that’s a credit to the lads. They’re very eager to learn and their know-how will only develop with games. That’s a long-term strategy and what we’re working on now is what we can change immediately, avoiding unforced errors and promoting good decision-making.”
A stronger mindset is fundamental to Waterford and in that regard the renowned Gerry Fitzpatrick has made a considerable difference as he has done in preparing their players’ bodies, according to Kilmacthomas man Whelan who is a physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach by profession. “He’s invaluable to this setback.
There are much higher, prestigious set-ups that would have Gerry in the morning and we’re very mindful of how lucky we are to have him.
“Not only is he on board, he is all in with this programme and we can’t thank him enough for that. He’s pushing the boundaries, asking questions all the time when it would be easier for him not to. Not only with the players but the management too. He’s keeping our minds open and that’s hugely valuable. Together with our coach Joe Hagan, who’s fantastic, they bring enthusiasm.”
At the outset of the campaign, Whelan said that Waterford senior football was underachieving and he aimed to correct that.
Elaborating on that point, he speaks of trying to impress upon those who didn’t commit this year that the group is going places.
“I need this project to be in a place that when we regroup for our league campaign in 2020 it’s a more attractive place for maybe the players that opted out this year. The guys we have involved at the moment can go to higher places but they need to be driven within the group by a higher level of player. There are some of them out there and we want them involved.”