When the poet told us we cannot bear too much reality, he was hardly thinking of the Waterford hurlers, but you never know.
Reality is an unforgiving lens this week in the southeast.
Every hurling county learns to accommodate a hammering because it’s a sport where a six-point deficit can leap to 10 or 12 in a minute or two.
For Waterford, Sunday’s annihilation at the hands of Limerick had a different texture to it, however.
When Aaron Gillane hit Limerick’s first goal the outcome was guaranteed and it was a long, weary afternoon for home fans.
How has it come to this for a side which could have won the All-Ireland in 2017?
Or is that a realistic image of where Waterford are?
First: If the inter-county teams are a barometer of the game within a particular county, then Waterford’s display last weekend may tell a lot about hurling in the Déise.
At senior level Waterford lost all of last year’s championship games bar one, a draw against Tipperary; this year they have won none either and look unlikely to change that this weekend against Cork.
The Waterford minors have won one Munster title since 1992, in 2009 (though that statistic is skewed by the fact they collected an All-Ireland minor title in 2013, having lost the Munster final in a replay).
In the last three years they have won two minor games and drawn one (last Sunday against Limerick).
The county’s U21s have two Munster titles in the same period, with an All-Ireland title added in 2016, but they haven’t won a game in that grade since their run to the All-Ireland.
Winning that All-Ireland title may well have created unrealistic expectations in Waterford, particularly with the progression from minor success in 2013 to U21 victory three years later.
However, their opponents last Sunday could have told them all about the leap from U21 to senior: Limerick famously won three U21 All-Irelands in a row from 2000 to 2002, yet those players only figured in one senior final, losing to Kilkenny in 2007.
Go further: A harvest of dazzling players is the exception rather than the rule with a single underage team, no matter how promising.
If Waterford supporters expected the forwards who ransacked Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final six years ago to come through en masse, consider Limerick again.
They made it to a minor All-Ireland final in 2016, yet only one of those players started as a senior last Sunday (Kyle Hayes).
Other metrics are as ominous. The domestic scene has been dominated totally by Ballygunner, who have won the last five titles in a row, won two of the previous five championships (and lost two other finals besides in that period).
While it’s to Ballygunner’s credit that they’ve built such a strong dynasty, it suggests other clubs are struggling to provide meaningful competition and the quality of the county championship has been seriously diluted.
The ease with which Ballygunner have collected titles in the finals of the last few years underlines this point.
The obvious comparison is the previous decade, when Ballygunner and Mount Sion fought out most of the county finals until De La Salle took over: The difference in quality between a championship contested by three equally matched sides and the current situation is immediately obvious.
That’s the reality for Waterford.
As for the current side, on The Sunday Game Dónal Óg Cusack said of Waterford: “Their form has been atrocious. Since the 2017 All-Ireland final they have been on a losing streak.
It’s going to be extremely hard to pick it up. I think there’s a major review needed in the Waterford set-up and as a total, not just on the field.
That review needs to happen in Waterford as a matter of urgency.
Those in white and blue exiting Walsh Park on Sunday were muttering about another county which used to stick its chest out in years past as a hurling area but is now struggling in the wilderness.
Offaly’s situation should be an incentive to Waterford to arrest their own decline.
Whether that review happens or not, it’ll have little impact on the next week or two. This is the other reality for Waterford: Finishing out the season.
Cusack’s fellow panellist, Henry Shefflin, chipped in as follows on Sunday: “We thought there would have been soul searching the last two weeks.
“We thought today they were going to come with something different. It was worse... (former manager) Derek McGrath was so systematic in the way he managed the game and his man-management of it.
“Paraic (Fanning) is not as systematic and doesn’t have the same man-management skills. There seems to have been a derailment since Derek has gone.”
There also seems to be unhappiness in some parts of Waterford that McGrath has not gone too far: The former manager has been prominent as a media pundit since stepping down and one former player was privately critical of McGrath’s analysis of Waterford in recent weeks, comparing him unfavourably to other former inter-county managers who have given their successors time to bed in before becoming commentators.
Cusack also commented on the management situation.
He said: “I think someone needs to go. I know from a player’s point of view, when you believe so much in a management, and if you think that the new management that’s come in aren’t going to advance you... That can happen and that perception can exist.
“When that happens there’s big trouble in the camp.”
On that note, the reports one expects after a defeat like last Sunday’s were circulating widely in Waterford yesterday — of some players drinking, some arguing, others booking flights abroad. The usual.
A more sober analysis of the defeat could include Waterford’s inability to deal with Limerick’s midfield, perhaps because some of the home side were dropping too far away from their men.
Whether that’s the result of players defaulting to McGrath’s tactical alignment in the heat of battle is difficult to say, though sharing the responsibility equally between management and players seems more appropriate than blaming one side totally.
A final note. Another side has shipped 14- and 13-point defeats in two of its last three competitive games.
Should we be bracketing Clare with Waterford?
Or is that being unrealistic?
Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly