Derek McGrath’s Waterford face Galway in Sunday’s All-Ireland final as they look to become the first Déise side since 1959 to walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Ahead of what is sure to be the biggest day in Waterford hurling in over half a century, one of Waterford’s favourite sons has looked back to the last time that Waterford took part in an All-Ireland final nine years ago.
Writing for the Independent, John Mullane – regarded by many as one of the finest players to not have won an All-Ireland medal- looked back on the heartbreak of 2008. On that day, Waterford succumbed to a hammering from an invincible Kilkenny side who won their third All-Ireland in a row.
The De La Salle man recalled the build-up and anticipation to the championship decider, noting how crucial it is for players to get in the right mind-set before a game of such magnitude.
Mullane wrote about all the well wishes from the Déise faithful and how players were in a sense protected from the media circus surrounding the game. But he reckons that such protection is now impossible given the growing influence of social media on players and supporters alike.
“It’s still hard to get away from it completely but what’s uncontrollable now, and what wasn’t a major player back then, is social media.”
“This is an element that a manager just can’t control, with so many hi-tech devices and access to Twitter and the like just a touch of a finger away.”
The influence of such has grown substantially in recent years but Mullane feels that the one thing that can be a major factor for a big final is the tension experienced the night beforehand.
Player comfort can be crucial when it comes to the right preparations and the former All-Star noted that at times this wasn’t possible when it comes to a trip up the country for a major encounter.
“The night before a match can be horrible as every minute can feel like an hour. The chances are that you’ll be tossing and turning if you’re in unfamiliar surroundings.”
However, what Mullane remembered as the most striking thing on that disastrous day for Waterford in 2008 was the bus journey toward Croke Park and the warm-up before the game. It was unfamiliar territory for the Déise given that it was their first All-Ireland final since 1963.
Support from the county was unprecedented – given that some of the county’s all-time greats had finally earned their shot at glory.
“Approaching Croke Park was incredible, looking out at a sea of white.”
“Running onto the pitch, everything seemed good, but the warm-up felt long. I looked up the field and caught a glimpse of the Kilkenny lads pucking balls to each other. I felt nervous tension, with balls being fumbled and missed at our end.”
Every minute can feel like an eternity when nerves take over, and this is something that Derek McGrath’s men will have to stifle on Sunday, if they are to overcome Galway and end the ongoing famine in Waterford.
Staying in the game and keeping up with the opposition is crucial in any game – let alone the biggest game of all – and Mullane touched upon how at half-time in 2008, Waterford all but knew that their dreams of achieving glory were over after an onslaught from the Cats.
“We knew our dream had died and we were now living a nightmare.”
Waterford will be hoping that similar circumstances do not take place this weekend given that the Déise trailed by 17 points when entering the dressing room in 2008.
A lot of the current Déise panel have achieved success at minor and u-21 level in recent years and many in the county will be hoping that their Croke Park experiences stand to them on September 3 as they look to add a senior medal to their collections.
Many will encourage the current crop of Waterford stars to go out and enjoy the occasion on Sunday but Mullane has issued a warning to the panel ahead of the tie – remembering watching Kilkenny lift the cup the last time out.
“Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is no place for losers.”
This final is sure to be a cracker – as Waterford look to end their famine with a win on Sunday.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena
Check out this week’s episode of The 16th Man where previewed the All-Ireland hurling final between Waterford and Galway.