The Waterford senior hurling semi-finals are on soon, and there are some surprising participants if you’re used to the Mount Sion-Ballygunner dominance of recent years.
The Gunners made it to the last four and will take on Fourmilewater, while Ballyduff Upper-Tallow is a surprise pairing in the other semi-final.
The fixture which may grab your attention, however, is the relegation play-off which is on this weekend, in which recent All-Ireland club finalists De La Salle take on Lismore tomorrow evening in Fraher Field, (5.30pm).
How does that happen, a team so close to the biggest result in its history coming within an hour of relegation? Former Waterford selector Shane Aherne drills down for the details.
“De La Salle were a bit unlucky in a couple of the games,” says Aherne.
“The other side of their season is that they’re the only team to beat Ballygunner this year.
“Were they a bit complacent during the year? It’s very hard to say but the season hasn’t gone their way. They have five or six on the Waterford senior hurling panel, some good U21s, John Mullane – there’s a lot of talent on the panel and you’d expect them to be doing better, given they’re able to field a senior, an intermediate and a junior team.
“Talking to a few of them, they’ve been working hard all year and it’s hard for them to put their finger on it, too. They’ve had a bit of chopping and changing in the backroom, and maybe they haven’t been able to get the county players integrated back into the team after being away with Waterford most of the year. But the likes of Ballygunner have been able to handle that well for a long time.”
Aherne sees a general improvement in the standard of senior club hurling in the county.
“For years people were giving out that it was always Mount Sion and Ballygunner in the county final every year, but now it’s spread out more.
“I was still surprised that Passage and Dungarvan didn’t come through last weekend (in the quarters), though it shows how even the competition is now.
“Passage might have had one eye on the semi-finals, but they were caught on the hop.
“Looking at underage hurling in the county recently, the All-Ireland-winning minor team and the following year’s minors had a strong western presence.
“It shouldn’t be surprising, given how strong underage hurling and colleges hurling is in the west of the county.
“That shows at club level, too. Fourmilewater have been knocking on the door for years but the balance between competing in football and hurling has always been a challenge for them.
“They have strong, tough competitors and they’ve been unlucky in hurling in recent years — maybe it’s bouncing their way now.”
Aherne can see Fourmilewater being joined by another less heralded club in the county final: “In the relegation game, I think De La Salle, when the crunch comes, will have too much for Lismore, who are struggling for numbers.
“Fourmilewater could put one over on Ballygunner. Mount Sion left it after them against Ballygunner last week — they had seven wides in seven minutes after half-time and the belief was just sucked out of them. Ballygunner aren’t playing that well, and Fourmilewater could be timing their run just right.
“In the other game, Ballyduff are a tough, physical team — they could have been in the relegation game after losing three games earlier on, but again, things are coming right for them at the right time. They might have too much fight for Tallow in the other game.”
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