Galway manager Tony Ward has described Saturday’s opponents as one of the best U21 hurling teams of all time.
Ward believes it will take an “unmerciful effort” to thwart Seán Power’s Waterford and says the Tribesmen are travelling to Thurles “more in hope than anything”.
The Waterford team contains eight players who lined out under Derek McGrath in either league or championship this year, with Austin Gleeson, Conor Gleeson, Patrick Curran and the Bennett brothers, Shane and Stephen, holding down starting berths during the senior championship.
The Munster champions have averaged 0-32 per game — 0-26 from play — while the defence, led by the two Gleesons at full and centre-back, respectively, has leaked a fairly mean 0-13 per outing. By way of stark contrast, the westerners enter the contest with just one game under their belt and the sole member of Ward’s panel to feature at senior level, Conor Whelan, is in a race against time to be fit owing to a shoulder injury sustained in the semi-final win over Dublin.
“They are probably the best U21 team that I have seen on paper for a long, long time,” Ward insisted.
“It is going to be very hard to beat them. Rightly so that they are odds on with the bookmakers given the households names they have. It is going to take an unmerciful effort to get close to them.”
While acknowledging the threat carried by the Déise’s marquee players, the Galway manager says there is a danger of spending too much time focusing on how best to curtail Gleeson, the Bennetts and Patrick Curran given there are so many potential match-winners in the Waterford squad — Peter Hogan delivered the game-changing goal off the bench in the Munster final.
“It could be Tom Devine or someone else that would step up on the day which then lays waste to all plans you might have for dealing with their household guys. Hopefully, we’ll break even in nine or 10 positions and get on top in one or two which would make it close and then we’ll see how Waterford will manage in a close game.
“We are hoping to ask questions early on but the reason they have been out of sight in all their games is because they are class. They have class all over the field. It is one of those games where we are going in hope more than anything. You have to use the fact that we are being so widely written off as a source of motivation. We are hoping that Waterford are buying into that and not Galway. We are hoping to catch them a bit unawares.”
Further motivation will be drawn from the last meeting between these two teams — the 2013 All-Ireland minor final. Four points separated the teams with 13 minutes to go when Galway’s Darragh O’Donoghue dallied too long on a Cathal Tuohy short puck-out. Patrick Curran’s alacrity in spotting the defender’s tardiness saw the full-back dispossessed and the ball in the back of the Galway net. Three years on, Tuohy and O’Donoghue continue to hold down the number one and three shirts.
“A few guys made mistakes in that game and they want to right those wrongs. Galway’s heads went down after one or two mistakes in that minor final. This is three years later and a lot of these guys have a lot more experience got. We hope that experience will stand to them.
“They are a fierce united bunch. They are together 16, 17 weeks. They would nearly remind you of a club team, they are so close. They would die for each other. They showed that against Dublin when our backs were to the wall. You’d swear they were years playing together to look at them that evening.”
Ward, who stepped down as Galway camogie manager at the end of last year, is making something of a habit of All- Ireland final appearances on the second weekend of September. He guided the county to its first camogie All-Ireland back in 1996 and returned to the helm to steer the county to a second O’Duffy Cup success in 2013, capturing the intermediate crown on the same afternoon.
“It would be some game to win. We are really not even being considered, not even within our own county. Nobody is giving us a chance. These are the ones to win. It reminds me of the ’96 camogie final where Cork beat us by eight points in the league final and we turned the tables on them in the All-Ireland final. It is a bit like that.
“We know Waterford fans are going to be there in their thousands as they see this team as being their road to the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They are going to want to be there to say that they were there the day it all started. I hope Galway people travel and get behind this team. They got to see what we were made of the last day against Dublin and I hope it has awoken the belief in this team.”
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