Waterford’s bid for a first All-Ireland u21 title since 1992 is now of more significance than ever. Here’s why.
After two thrilling games between the Déise and Kilkenny in the senior championship, Derek McGrath’s young side were eventually knocked out of this year’s championship. Having given two remarkable performances, this year was labelled as significant progress for the Déise.
However, McGrath stated in a post match interview that there can be no more moral victories for the Déise. They must now deliver big wins against the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. They must also claim silverware.
The Waterford senior team are a very young side. Bar the experienced trio of Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Noel Connors and Kevin Moran, most of the side have only seen championship action since the beginning of Derek McGrath’s reign.
McGrath’s Déise revolution has captured the hearts and imaginations of many hurling people. However, there is only a league title to show for his three years in charge. They have fallen to Tipperary in two Munster finals and Kilkenny in two All-Ireland semi-finals.
Waterford have the potential within their ranks to dominate for years to come. The likes of Tadhg de Búrca, Jamie Barron, Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson in particular, are once in a generation type of players. Waterford must make full use of them.
Yes, it is still early stages in terms of Waterford’s rise to prominence but the habit of coming close and not getting over the line has been something that has haunted the Déise in the past. Waterford’s team in the noughties was littered with stars that failed to claim the Liam McCarthy cup.
The likes of Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan, Paul Flynn, Eoin Kelly and John Mullane never received the coveted Celtic cross. Waterford and Derek McGrath must make sure that this doesn’t happen with this younger generation.
Backboned by a host of senior stars, Waterford’s u21 side now have a chance to claim a big win and give the Déise that added pep in their step heading in to next year’s senior campaign.
An All-Ireland title at any grade will give these Waterford players huge confidence. It will also prove to them that they themselves are capable of claiming national glory on the bigger stage further down the line.
For Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran, Conor Gleeson, Tom Devine and the Bennett brothers Shane and Stephen, who all featured for Derek McGrath’s senior side this year, winning the u21 championship is a chance for them to deem this year as a success.
This Waterford u21 side are no strangers to success. Having won the All-Ireland minor title back in 2013, the Déise are looking to add an u21 All-Ireland three years on.
In Austin Gleeson, they have arguably the best hurler in the country. His ability to dictate and dominate games will be critical to their bid for u21 glory.
This Saturday, they face Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final, in what is expected to be an easy day at the office for Sean Power’s team. However, it’s a chance for the senior stars to get the Kilkenny replay heartbreak out of their system.
They will have a chance to hurl and express themselves at a far lower intensity. Barring a massive shock, Waterford’s big game will come against either Dublin or Galway on the 10th of September.
Although there is only six senior players who featured in this year’s championship playing for the u21 side, it is essential that youth must gain a winning habit.
Waterford cannot become a team of near misses. The general consensus is that they won’t and with McGrath at the helm, the Déise can go on to bigger and better things.
However, an All-Ireland u21 title would be huge for the county; both players and supporters alike.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena