Waterford roll into Cork tomorrow for the NHL 1A relegation play-off but it’s not the Déise’s first trip across Youghal Bridge this year.
Selector Dan Shanahan points out the positives in Waterford’s most recent outing on Leeside but says repeating that result will be difficult.
“We beat Cork a couple of weeks ago in Cork, and to come up and do that all over again is going to be very tough. It’s another competitive game, though.
“We may try a few different things but we’ll decide that nearer the game.
“We were delighted to get a good win the last day out against Clare and we’ll be looking for the same against Cork, but they have six or seven forwards that can hurt any team. The likes of Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan, and Conor Lehane would make any team in the country.
“It’s not going to be at all easy, but we’re not thinking in terms of a relegation battle, we’re looking for a performance from our own lads.”
They’re also looking for possibilities for the championship. Shanahan says Waterford are no different to any other side in that regard: “Look at the teams a lot of managers have picked — they’ve all been picking different teams with the exception maybe of Wexford.
“Davy (Fitzgerald, Wexford manager) has stayed with much the same team but we’re like most other management teams, making changes to our teams as we go along looking for a nugget who might feature in the championship.
“We have to give lads their opportunity in the league and some of them have put their hands up for selection in the championship. Every team is doing the same thing.
“A lot of people in Waterford may think that just because we got to the All-Ireland final last year, we’re entitled to win every game this year as we like. That’s not how it happens.
“There’s nothing between the top teams in 1A — and 1B — and on any day you wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them turn over any other side.”
The Lismore clubman is sanguine about facing the relegation play-off.
“It’s no excuse but we were just that bit later getting back to training after the lads had a well-deserved holiday. We’d be hoping now that we’re timing it just right in terms of training and preparation.
“We’d like to be in a quarter-final but we’ve lost one game more than the teams in the quarters. It hasn’t been a bad league for us, and next Sunday is another chance for us.
“We’d like to get three wins in a row, but if 1B is what faces us, then that’s what faces us. The All-Ireland champions are in 1B, after all.
“We’d like to stay in 1A because the games are more competitive but 1B didn’t do us any harm when we were down there — we won the league and got promoted out of it, remember.
“It’s not the be all and end-all. It’d just be nice to send the lads off for the club championships there with a third win in a row under our belts.”
Ah yes, the club break. Managing that is going to be a challenge for every team, says Shanahan: “Sunday’s our last game but we’re down to train next Tuesday, for instance, but after that they go back to their clubs.
“We’ll see them during the break — on Wednesdays, say, we’ll get together to do video analysis or whatever, we’ll definitely get together, but it’s also good to have that break, to freshen things up. Everyone’s seeing a lot of each other for a few months, so a break isn’t any harm.”
In that regard the work of strength and conditioning coach Gary Walsh and nutritionist Stephen Barrett is crucial.
“What they’ve with the lads has been fantastic, they’ve done so much, but then it’s up to the players as well to carry it on — and they will.
“Just because they’re going back to their clubs it doesn’t mean they’ll go away from the programmes Gary and Stephen give them and they’ll drive on with them.
“It won’t be long coming around, the championship. After this weekend’s games you’re nearly out of March and they’re off with the clubs for the four weeks.
“Then you’re back in for those championship games and you’ve got to be sure your training’s right for that.
“We have a bye the first week and then we’re out four weeks in a row.
“Factor in as well that we have no home games — all our games will be on the road — and the championship is going to be very tricky for Waterford.
“That’s not making excuses, it’s just the truth of it.”
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