Sunday will see a big test for Derek McGrath’s Waterford as they take on 2013 All-Ireland champions Clare for a place in this year’s Munster final.
Much of the talk in the build up will be about Waterford’s system – one which traditionalists don’t see as being attractive to watch.
With this comes a massive pressure. If you are going to play a defensive brand of hurling and bring men behind the ball, you must get results on the pitch. A league title in 2015 is all well and good but if that amounts to their biggest achievement, this talented group of Waterford hurlers will be deemed a failure.
If you look at the Deise in last year’s Championship they only beat Cork and Dublin. Granted, due to the structure of the competition, this was enough to see them secure an All-Ireland semi-final berth, but neither result set the world alight. In fact, if you dropped the system and went man-for-man, Derek McGrath’s side should have had enough to win those matches anyway.
Putting in a new system is supposed to make you a better match for the teams that are perceived to be better than you. However, when Waterford played the ‘big’ teams, they didn’t deliver.
Tipperary beat them by five points in the Munster final and Kilkenny had six points to spare when the final whistle blew in Croke Park last August.
McGrath’s preferred system, which many are quick to hail as a success, cannot be considered to be working until the Deise beat a side they wouldn’t normally beat without it or at least show themselves to be well above the chasing pack behind Tipp and Kilkenny.
A win over Clare on Sunday will give McGrath a win in the Munster Championship for the second year in a row and could propel the side on to better things.
However, failure to land silverware this year will leave people questioning how the side have improved during his three-year term. While collecting Liam McCarthy isn’t out of the question, the Deise’s best hope of a trophy in 2016 comes in the Munster Championship.
Defeat on Sunday ends that hope and puts them on the unpredictable path that is the qualifiers. With such an unpopular style of play, McGrath’s Waterford needs immediate results.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena