Former Waterford hurler Brian Flannery says it would be a “disaster” if the most talented Déise team of the past 20 years had their summer ended as early as the second weekend of July.
Waterford haven’t beaten Kilkenny in the championship since 1959 and Flannery agrees with the assertion that there won’t come an opportunity much better than Saturday’s second-round qualifier to bridge that 58-year gap.
Brian Cody’s current bunch, according to former defender Flannery, are not at the level of recent years and he believes this is Waterford’s chance to send out a statement as to their All-Ireland credentials.
“Now is the time for Waterford,” said Flannery. “Look at the players who were on the bench against Offaly. You had Colin Dunford, Jake Dillon, Patrick Curran, and Tommy Ryan. These are all top class forwards. If Patrick Curran was available to Brian Cody, I’d say he absolutely would be in the Kilkenny starting 15. You would have to think, on a talent basis, that Waterford are ahead [of Kilkenny].
“Going on Waterford’s best form and where Kilkenny are at, you’d think this is the opportunity for Waterford to make that big statement and get that big victory which puts them back into the queue as Liam MacCarthy contenders. Is this Kilkenny team as good as what was there two, three, four, or five years ago? Certainly, not.”
Flannery, corner-back on the 2002 Munster winning team, insists you’d have to go back several decades to locate a Waterford team that possessed the strength-in-depth Derek McGrath has at his disposal. Were they not even to make it as far as the All-Ireland quarter-finals, he adds, would be a crying shame.
“The strength-in-depth we have at present is stronger than anything we have had since 1959. This panel is sprinkled with All-Ireland minor and U21 medal winners which was never before the case. The disappointment that followed the Cork defeat stems from the appreciation there is with regard to the level of ability in the Waterford panel. They should be competing for titles.
“Cork’s rise is a timely reminder that your window of opportunity is never as wide as you think. If a team like Waterford doesn’t grab it, you will be passed out by a Cork or Clare. Waterford need to seize the day, as next year is a long way off. It would be a disaster if Waterford are finished their year by this Saturday.”
The county came close to toppling their neighbours last year, leading the drawn All-Ireland semi-final by three points with a minute remaining in normal time. McGrath opted for a largely orthodox formation that afternoon and Flannery is hoping that is again the case at Thurles. He doesn’t want any sweeper or seventh defender in front of Stephen O’Keeffe’s goal.
“You had Jake Dillon on Paul Murphy that day, he gave Paul a torrid time. It was only in the last five minutes when Waterford dropped off that they allowed Kilkenny to do short puck-outs. It cost Waterford a place in the All-Ireland final when they reverted to type.
“It was unusual to see them go with seven defenders against Offaly. I certainly hope that wasn’t a dry run for this weekend. Derek has shown in the past that he favours Tadhg de Búrca as an extra defender in front of the full-back line. That would be a mistake against Kilkenny. The template is there from the drawn semi-final. That is when Kilkenny were most uncomfortable.”
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