Can Waterford recover?
2014 has been a bad year for Waterford hurling. The relegation in the league, against Dublin in the play-off, has knocked the Déise off hurling’s top table. Despite this, they seemed to rally against Cork, and were unlucky not to win the first game. However, the replay was a whitewash. The Déise are going through a transitional period. The golden generation is all but gone, having failed to capture Liam McCarthy. However, there is light on the horizon, as underage success is bringing a renewed sense of optimism. So what stage are Waterford at? Perhaps the Clare team of 2010 is a good example. A host of retirements of former greats arrived just before the fruits of their underage success came to blossom. It was a tough period, and hollowed out in a qualifier with a heavy defeat to Dublin. Perhaps there may be a low for Waterford before they hit the highs once more.
Can Laois finally take the big step?
Laois are a rapidly growing force on the hurling landscape. At minor and u21 level, they have developed into a constant threat to the likes of Dublin and Kilkenny. If last year’s loss to Galway was not enough of an indication, they narrowly missed out to the Tribesmen this year on a scoreline 1-22 to 0-23. One puck of the ball from causing one of the great hurling upsets. But would it really be an upset now if they were to take a scalp from one of the traditional powerhouses? Séamus Plunkett will have his team believing that they can do it. The Waterford backs have wilted to some challenges so far this year, and if Willie Hyland and Co. get it right up front, Laois could cause trouble. Laois are a side on the up, but they have to take a big step and beat a big hurling county to be take it to the next level.
Is Brick past his best?
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh has been everything good about Waterford hurling in the last five years. During the first half of his inter-county career, he was surrounded by hurling legends. Times have changed, and during this decade, he has been found carrying the team on his own on occasions. However, the 31 year-old Stradbally man may no longer be up to the challenge of being the focal point of Déise defence. He looked considerably slower this year against Cork in the drawn game, as the Rebel half-forward line of Séamus Harnedy, Bill Cooper, and Conor Lehane, ran riot, notching up 10 points between them. If Waterford are to overcome this Laois test, they will need Brick at his brilliant best.
Verdict: Waterford are in decline, while Laois are on the rise. But it is hard to tell how far both have travelled in the pecking order. We will find out on Saturday.
It is time to stick the neck out here. Laois by 1.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.