Just three teams remain in this year’s championship, none of which have won an All-Ireland in the last ten years.
One of the three sides hoping to emerge victorious are Waterford, a county who haven’t done so since 1959. This year is a huge one for the Déise.
Derek McGrath is now on his fourth attempt at capturing the Liam MacCarthy Cup and bringing back to the south-east for the first time in a generation.
Over the past two summers, the Waterford public have been living in expectation rather than hope.
Headlines have been made and opinions divided due to the controversial style of play employed by McGrath.
Lambasted as boring and detrimental to the sport, the sweeper system installed by the Déise isn’t the most popular.
But this is way down the list of worries for Derek McGrath. His sole concern is to see his players climb the steps of the Hogan Stand in September.
One of the excuses wheeled out for Waterford prior to 2017 was the ‘young side’ logic. Does this still stand to reason?
In 2015, as Kilkenny defeated their neighbours in Waterford, McGrath’s side featured six u-21s. Last season’s replayed semi-final defeat featured the same amount of players eligible for the grade.
This Sunday’s clash will likely see just Shane Bennett and Conor Gleeson start, while Patrick Curran may also see action. This sees the number of u-21s halved from the previous year.
Also worth noting is the fact that this will be the trio’s third season of inter-county hurling. They will all be over-age for the u-21 championship in 2018 also.
Opponents Cork, meanwhile, will see at least four u-21s start.
It’s quite easy to argue that Waterford are actually the more experienced side heading into this game.
Is time running out for this Déise side? Absolutely not: Only Kevin Moran and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh are over the age of 30.
However, it’s unlikely that Derek McGrath’s side will be presented with such a glorious opportunity at an All-Ireland title ever again.
Neither Galway nor Cork have been dominating the game over the past decade in the manner of the likes of Tipperary or Kilkenny.
Another factor worth noting here is where the strength of this Waterford team developed from. Between 2009 and 2014, under-age hurling was booming in the south-east.
In the above period, Waterford featured in each minor Munster hurling final bar 2012, of course they also captured a minor All-Ireland title in 2013.
Dungarvan Colleges also managed to capture two Harty Cups and a Croke Cup in the same period. There was also an u-21 Munster hurling final appearance in 2009.
Of the starting 15 against Wexford, eleven featured in at least one of the underage successes mentioned above. All five subs introduced also played a part in one of those teams.
In the period since then, Waterford have no representation on either a Harty Cup or Munster minor final and appear to have fallen behind on the under-age scene.
This would suggest that the conveyor belt of underage talent has begun to jerk slightly and the senior side may not be receiving the constant top-up it has over the past decade.
What all of this means is that now may be the best chance the Déise have to win an All-Ireland and Sunday is a must-win game.
Tadhg de Búrca is a huge loss, Cork are currently riding the crest of a wave, but if Waterford are truly All-Ireland contenders, they must overcome Cork this Sunday.
Can it be done? Or will Sunday be yet another fall at the final hurdle for a county sadly steeped in this tradition? We should know by Sunday evening.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we look ahead to this Sunday’s clash between Cork and Waterford.
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