It’s been an impressive start to life as Waterford manager for Páraic Fanning who many felt faced an uphill task heading into the job such was the popularity of his predecessor, Derek McGrath.
McGrath was in charge of Waterford for five seasons and lead them to the Allianz Hurling League title in 2015 as well as the All-Ireland final in 2017 before stepping down following an early exit in 2018.
Fanning has taken on the reins since then and has guided the Déise to a league final at his first attempt. Midfielder and team stalwart, Jamie Barron, admitted that life in the Waterford camp is good under Fanning and in truth hasn’t changed much from last season.
“Life is good. It’s similar enough to under Derek. The transition has been smooth enough from Derek to Páraic. Stevie Barrett has been our physical coach and dietitian from under Derek, and he’s still there under Páraic.
“So that way it was made a lot easier. I think Páraic has gelled really nicely with the team, we’ve got on and communicated well with him. Things are going in the right direction. Please, God, they will continue to do so.”
A lot has been said about Waterford’s change in tactics under Fanning and how that has allowed star player, Austin Gleeson, to shine so far this season, however, Barron plays down the role of systems, putting their success down to old-fashioned hard-work and Gleeson’s form down to the clearing up of injuries.
“The system can be looked into a lot. But at the end of the day, as we always say, if you’re not working hard, no system is going to work for you. We base our whole game plan around working hard for the team, for the players beside us.
“Austin has come into form again which is great for us. He’s fit. Last year he was plagued with injuries as well. Getting him and the likes of Tadhg de Búrca back is a massive advantage to us. It would be a massive advantage to any team, let alone us. We’re happy with that.”
It was injuries to key players like Gleeson and de Búrca last season that really hampered Waterford as they found themselves facing an early exit and Barron admits that while you can never legislate for injuries, you can build strength in depth to minimise the effect which is exactly what Waterford are doing this year.
“I suppose the injuries were more misfortune because you can’t really account for them. If you get injured, you get injured, there’s nothing you can do.
We got five in one game which was a bit of a freak, and it probably was a setback, but ultimately you don’t want to make excuses, and this year we are looking to build on our panel and have more than 15 to 20 players who are well able to come on and do a job when needed throughout the four week championship.”
Heading into this weekend’s final with Limerick, Barron admits that the target was winning each game is at comes as opposed to winning the league outright, but now that they’ve made it this far the only option now is to go out and claim the Allianz Hurling League crown.
“We didn’t target winning the league or things like that.
“We targeted winning every game as it comes and I suppose week-on-week we’ve been building and building and training throughout the weeks, trying to keep a balance between freshening up for the weekend and working hard enough to be able to improve your fitness levels coming up to Championship.
“I think it worked game-on-game and it’s got us this far, and when you’re here you hadn’t to win it, so we’ll be going gung-ho for the weekend.”
The All-Ireland champions have undoubtedly been the form team int he competition this year winning all their games bar one and Barron kept his cards close to his chest when asked how this Waterford side plan on stopping them in their tracks.
“I didn’t see much of the game [Dublin v Limerick] but I think teams have tried a lot of ways to disrupt Limerick this year and not many of them worked.
“You’re going to be looking at other ways that haven’t been done to counteract their play, their puckout strategies, their strategies throughout the game and their game plan.
“I think for any manager, the focus on Limerick is going to be hard but we’ll be trying our very best at the weekend to come up with something different that will disrupt them.”