What is the Waterford psyche? Talk to Derek McGrath and he would say it tends towards the pessimistic. Tipperary’s? Listen to most outside the county and they would argue it borders on, if not embraces, the arrogant.
Brian Flannery and Andy Moloney would dispute such claims. They should know given they wore the jerseys of both counties. They agree those generalisations may have been true at one time but not now.
“When I transferred to Waterford, there was definitely a different expectation level even among players,” says Flannery. “I vividly remember back in ’98 Gerald McCarthy asking the players in a huddle how many of them believed we were going to win a Munster championship that year and only one hand was raised.
“So that would indicate the situation then but at that stage Waterford hadn’t won a Munster championship in over quarter of a century so maybe it wasn’t that surprising. You didn’t have the same level of belief.
“Since 2002, there is a different level of belief. A lot of the young fellas have won an All-Ireland minor title and All-Ireland colleges. They are used to winning and that breeds confidence. They have the exuberance of youth as well so maybe they don’t have the same fear as previous teams.
“It took us a few years of competing in Munster finals and league finals to get that bit of experience before we made the breakthrough in 2002. I know the venue thing for this final was a bit funny but I genuinely don’t think they have fear or anything like that. They have more belief than any Waterford team going into a Munster final in recent years.”
Not that there was much of that going around on February 14 in the Gaelic Grounds last year when 2,500 watched Derek McGrath’s side snatch a vital draw against Limerick, setting them on their way to an unbeaten run that extended to July. The night that was in it was a mitigating factor in the small crowd but the Waterford numbers barely scratched into the hundreds.
“People wondered what Waterford team would turn up,” explains Moloney. “A lot of players of the same age had to be replaced and it took time. There was also the recession and people were looking at the whole economics side of it and going up to Limerick and paying the €15.
“Derek has done a great job and people can say what they like about the system. It doesn’t appeal to the traditionalists but it works. They should have had a second league title this year. I watched all three of their games against Clare and they were the better team on the three occasions. Their need to win a Munster title is now is different to Tipperary’s. They need to win this to show they are making progression; Tipperary need it more to keep the confidence levels up.”
Moloney’s long-standing friendship with Henry Shefflin gave him insight into the Kilkenny psyche long before he took the reins of Ballyhale Shamrocks with Colm Bonnar and guided them to an All-Ireland title last year. It gave him just as much knowledge about what Tipperary have been lacking.
“The arrogance thing with Tipperary is historical. Sure, they were waiting 16 years for Cork to go away in Munster! The arrogance came from older generations when winning Munster usually meant winning an All-Ireland and the days of John Doyle and Jimmy Doyle.
“If Tipperary supporters have been guilty of anything in recent times it’s not keeping their players’ feet on the ground when they have won things. When Kilkenny have won, their feet have been planted on the ground and their supporters have helped a lot to do that.
“You look at Michael Ryan now, a tough cookie as a player, and he’s not going to let anybody get carried away with themselves.”
If Tipperary had any designs about themselves, that’s been knocked out of them by Kilkenny, claims Flannery.
“If you look back on 2010 they won it with a young team, a lot of whom were on the All-Ireland U21 winning team a week later. Since then, Tipperary have won zero and Kilkenny have won four. That’s the yardstick Tipperary people judge this team against.
“The stick to beat Tipp with is that. Brendan Maher and all those players were there in 2010 and haven’t built on it since. You talk to Tipp supporters and to watch Kilkenny walk off with four All-Irelands since is a hard one to swallow. You talk about belief — that’s where Tipp have failed. They’ve lost close games, Galway last year and Kilkenny the year before.”
Still, Flannery knows Tipperary will be spoken of higher than Waterford because their leaders have gone all the way. “Until Waterford win an All-Ireland, no punter or expert will predict they are going to win an All-Ireland. They have to go and actually do it. They’ve been extremely competitive and should be in the conversation but people are reluctant to consider them contenders because they haven’t done it.
“Even when you look at the team man-for-man, they’re a stronger panel than any of the previous teams, certainly the ones I was involved in. You now have 22 players who any of them could play on a given Sunday and you wouldn’t be worried about their abilities.
“You look down through the names on this team and it’s almost inconceivable that they won’t go on to win an All-Ireland. But it’s like putting the hands in the wounds of Christ — there are a lot of doubting Thomases and that’s understandable in a county that hasn’t won an All-Ireland in so long.”
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