It’s rare you’ll find a Waterford football team wear the tag of ‘reigning champions’, and while manager Tom McGlinchey is relishing the opportunity to successfully defend their McGrath Cup crown, his hand isn’t quite what he was dealt 12 months ago.
Victories over UL, Cork IT, Cork and UCC delivered the county a first McGrath Cup in 34 years last January, but Waterford’s season was subsequently derailed by the withdrawal of over a dozen players from the squad.
“Since the McGrath Cup and National League, 14 players are unavailable through injury, withdrawal, family commitments and trips to America,” wrote McGlinchey in a letter that was read out by chairman Paddy Joe Ryan at a county board meeting five days before their sink-or-swim qualifier against Offaly in mid-June.
“This is not to be offered as an excuse but no county could sustain this type of losses, especially a county like Waterford. Seven or eight of these players would be championship starters.” The home outfit were pummelled by 13 points in Fraher Field, with McGlinchey commenting afterwards: “For some players, I don’t know are they willing to put in the effort or do they want to put in the effort.” And while the landscape has changed little in the interim six months, the Mourneabbey native is content to make do with those interested in donning the white and blue.
When pressed on how many of the departed 14 had returned for 2016, he replied: “One or two of the lads who went off to Australia are back, Ray O’Ceallaigh is back.”
The exodus has meant opportunities for others. Waterford hurling panellist Donie Breathnach, Kilrossanty’s David Power, Shaun Corcoran from St Saviours, and Ballinacourty’s Conor Prunty are amongst those drafted into the squad.
“Donie coming on board this year is a great boost. He featured for the hurlers during the league last year and while he hasn’t played senior inter-county football, he knows what is required at this level.
“The lads I have asked to come in have jumped at the chance. The guys then involved last year are delighted to be back. While we lost players through lads going away to America and Australia, I could never fault the attitude or application of the players. The teams in the lower ranks work every bit as hard as the teams at the top end because they are representing their county, are proud to do so and they want to do the best they can.
“Having Ephie Fitzgerald involved too, a man of his calibre, has given the whole thing another lift. Hopefully that will reflect in our performances.”
Encouraging too, according to McGlinchey, has been the reaction to last October’s Waterford football forum — the meeting’s primary goal to restore pride in the county football jersey.
Chairman Paddy Joe Ryan, in this paper, accused clubs of not encouraging their leading players to join the county panel. McGlinchey, for his part, says a large portion of responsibility rests with the clubs.
“The county board are very positive about what they feel the future holds for Waterford football. They have put the onus back on the clubs and the players to really put their shoulder to the wheel.
“The board realise Waterford football is number two to hurling, but they know the players are there and the potential is there to do better.
“It is up to the clubs and players to really get behind football in the county and really give it a go.
“It does take small steps. This project isn’t going to deliver success overnight. We see that with the likes of Tipperary and Cavan. People should be patient and should not expect miracles overnight.
“If they put their belief into the work that is being done, the future is good for Waterford football in the next couple of years.”
First stop is An Rinn this Sunday; the Déise opening their defence of the McGrath Cup with a home fixture against Cork.
“The McGrath Cup was fantastic for us last year. We got four great games out of it. That stood us well going into the league and it was just unfortunate the way the league went (Waterford finished 6th in Division 4).
“This year, we will be doing the best we can to retain our (McGrath Cup) title. We have two matches against high-quality opposition to look forward to.
“It is about trying out new players and introducing them to inter-county football. It is a stepping stone for the league where we really want to gain promotion from Division 4.”
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