Waterford’s Stephen Bennett has credited Liam Cahill with bringing much-needed directness to their play, the Déise forward not realising how “reserved” his on-field approach had been until pointed out by the new management.
Four goals in three games, as Waterford have struck in recent weeks, might not seem like a significant amount of green flags, but this haul is double what they managed across their four Championship outings in 2019, three of those games ending without Waterford finding the opposition net.
Indeed, the three goals they registered at Páirc Uí Chaoimh during last weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final was the first time Waterford have managed three or more goals in a Championship fixture since the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final win.
That Waterford find themselves back in the penultimate round after two winless seasons has much to do with Cahill and the changed mindset he has fostered within the Déise panel, according to Bennett.
What I like about him is he just wants to go attacking. Every time we get the ball, whether it’s the corner-back, corner-forward or midfielder, they’re just told, ‘go, run straight’.
“You’d be there in training at the start of the year, you’d get the ball, turn your man and shoot over from the sideline, and you think you’ve done great. But next thing, they’re giving out to you because you didn’t go directly at the goal. It’s a new thing for us, but it’s actually brilliant,” Bennett remarked.
“Another thing is if you hit the ball to a team-mate’s feet, they’ll crack up and kill you, but if you hit it so hard that it flies past them, they actually don’t care. They talk about honest mistakes, they won’t care if you’re making honest mistakes.”
As a forward, Bennett can’t say he’s not enjoying the new management’s way of thinking. But it has also revealed to him an element of conservatism in his game he didn’t realise existed.
A welcome degree of introspection has been brought about by forwards being challenged as to why they veered out towards the sideline with possession instead of running straight through on goal. Another question regularly thrown at Waterford players is why they opted for a point instead of passing the sliotar in for a goal.
“Management is brilliant, in fairness. You wouldn’t even realise how kinda reserved you would be before they would start telling you. Even the other day, we were seeing videos of what we did against Clare. The amount of chances we left behind us, you wouldn’t think it. But when you watch it back, you are like, okay, there was more.
“We have got runners, Calum Lyons, Neil Montgomery, Jack Fagan, Jack Prendergast. They’d run all day so we kind of need to start popping the ball more and keep going for it. That is definitely an aspect we can be good at and we need to improve on.”
That Waterford’s play was devoid of this directness in recent seasons, said Bennett, was very much a confidence issue.
“If you are losing games for two years, you are not going to be a fella that thinks, I’m going to take this fella on, and then take on another fella after it. It comes back to self-belief. You have lads that are afraid to take on their men, afraid to shoot and kind of playing in their shells.
“I suppose it’s clear to see last year when we were losing by 20 points, it is kind of a tricky enough place to be on the field at the time, so when you get a good league behind you, and everyone is training well, feeling fit, it’s clicking together.”
Bennett was adamant that had they come up short against Clare, “it would have been an awful year”. But that is not to say reaching the last four means 2020 is put down as a successful campaign.
“I don’t think it will be a good year now until we get to beat Kilkenny, to be honest with you. We are playing to win.
As Liam was saying, there is one cup left. If we don’t get to the final, we’ve no chance of winning that. All in all, we didn’t win a League, we didn’t win a Munster. What are you playing for if you’re not going to win one of them?”
Despite a sizeable weight being lifted off their shoulders when ending the county’s 1,175-day wait for a championship win last month, the Ballysaggart native said belief was still an issue late on in the Munster final.
“I know it is probably pathetic enough that you are looking forward to getting one win — but once you won the first one, you were kind of like, ‘right, that’s that gone’.
“The Limerick game, we probably didn’t believe we were going to win the game by the end of it. It was level at the second water break. The next five-minute period, too many of us didn’t show up. We have a long way to go to be consistently performing and believing we are good enough to beat these teams.”