All teams in all sports are looking for an edge, and the Waterford hurlers are no different.
The nagging regrets from two replay defeats last year, in the Allianz Hurling League final to Clare and particularly the All-Ireland semi-final to Kilkenny, should frame a lot of what they do in 2017.
Whatever targets they’ve set themselves inside the confines of Derek McGrath’s dressing room, hunger alone won’t get it done. But the experience should shape them, says Waterford’s Philip Mahony.
“Maybe it does give you an edge but then you look at Kilkenny and the way they lost the final (to Tipperary) and that is going to give them massive hunger.
“There were a few other teams who did not have a great championship — the likes of Cork, Clare and Dublin and they will have huge hunger as well.
“I suppose the one thing that we can draw from the experience is being there.
“In 2015, that was a first senior championship game for a lot of us and to get back up there and perform relatively well in the drawn game last year, and then the next day where we were not obliterated by any means.
“Going to toe-to-toe with Kilkenny again you can take a certain degree of confidence and belief from that.”
It was close but no cigar for the Déise in that frantic All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. Leading by three points in the 70th minute, they retreated into a defensive shell and paid the ultimate price.
Mahony, speaking at the Allianz Hurling League launch in Belfast, says it happened sub-consciously with no direction coming from the sideline to hold on to what they had.
Even in losing the replay, they proved they’d come a long way but standing back this year and admiring their progress is not an option according to Mahony.
“Last year was very tough, particularly after going toe-to-toe with Kilkenny in the replay and not getting over the line again made it even worse.
“We probably went a little bit defensive, we possibly sat back and that’s something we must try and improve.
“When you are playing a team like Kilkenny you have to take your chance when it’s there and we did not do that last year.”
Sunday’s Allianz NHL first round sees 2015 champions Waterford, chasing a third Allianz League final appearance in a row, take on Kilkenny at Nowlan Park.
February is not the time to be laying down markers but a win would be a huge confidence-booster, an indication that Waterford have the belief to beat Brian Cody’s side.
“If you don’t believe that you are going to beat Kilkenny I can guarantee that you are not going to beat them.
“I don’t think any of us would be here if we did not believe that.
“There are a couple of teams out there who have gone on to win the All-Ireland in the last few years, and what we have to done is obviously not good enough so we have to keep getting better.
“The bottom line is that if we do what we did last year we are not going to win.
“People were saying that we improved last year.
“But we’re conscious that if we don’t continue that upward trend, we’ll be landed back where we were three or four weeks previous to that Kilkenny game where we were hammered by Tipperary in the Munster final by 20 plus points.”
Meanwhile, Antrim hurler Neil McManus says a year away from the saffrons made him realise how much he missed it.
The county’s best hurler for the last decade spent 2016 travelling, but has returned more appreciative and more enthusiastic than ever.
They begin their Division 2A campaign against London on Sunday and McManus admitted: “I never really realised how much hurling meant to me until I wasn’t playing it”.
“It was almost heartbreaking, it was tough because things were not going well for Antrim and it was hard to be away from that.”
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