Waterford’s Stephen Bennett has appealed for patience from the county’s success-starved supporters — insisting there’s no guarantee of senior glory on the back of U21 heroics.
Bennett was the Bord Gáis Energy U21 hurler of the year in 2016, as the Déise stormed to Munster and All-Ireland wins with a team regarded as one of the finest in the history of the competition.
The expectation now is a youthful senior crop will push on and achieve big things in the coming years at senior level. But Bennett said: “How many teams win U21s? Just because Waterford win one doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to win senior.
It’s a completely different level altogether. You could hear fellas saying ‘if they don’t win it (All-Ireland senior title) in a year or two, they’ll never win it’ but I don’t know.
“The teams that are winning it are after playing for a couple of years, they’re physically bigger, more mature and know how to win games. We’re still trying to learn how to close off games when we’re close. A bit of patience is needed.”
And yet Waterford came close last year, recovering from a 21-point Munster final defeat against Tipperary to run Kilkenny to an All-Ireland semi-final replay.
Bennett added: “That’s good but other teams will bring it up a level again, you have to keep improving or you’ll fall backwards. We were in the situation last year where we could have seen out games easier. We seemed to make it hard on ourselves but that comes with experience too.
“When you have the chance, you have to put teams away.”
On a personal level, Bennett is pleased with his progress in 2017. It’s the first year in four that he’s had a full pre-season under his belt, having undergone hip surgery on four occasions in the past.
He confirmed: “This year, I’m a lot better. It’s the first year in four going back training in October, the earliest was February or March before I was in training with the team.”
And while Waterford’s Allianz League results to date have been up and down — with two victories and two defeats — a win against Clare on Sunday would secure a top- four finish.
Bennett is also confident consistency will come, adding: “It just goes to show how competitive the matches are. Everybody’s beating everyone and everyone has a chance to qualify coming into the last game.
“Derek (McGrath) wants a performance out of us more so than a result. We got it for one or two of the games but our last game (Cork) wasn’t good and the Tipp game was poor as well.
“It can’t go well all year but we’re happy enough. We’d still like to start improving and get more consistent again.”
Manager McGrath is currently taking time out from teaching at De La Salle to concentrate exclusively on Waterford team affairs.
And Bennett smiled: “He never stops thinking about it — I don’t know how he does it. It’s nearly easier to be a player now than on the backroom team. It’s 24/7 with Derek and the backroom team — they have the hardest job.”
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