Déise’s new generation bring some fresh hope

Waterford face Clare with renewed ambitions following underage success

Bord Gáis Energy U-21 hurling ambassador Paul Flanagan, Clare, and Galway’s Joe Canning with pupils from Star of the Sea BNS, Sandymount from left, Aidan Duffy, Ronan Shaw, Joshua Kuh Hogan, and James Crowley after a training session yesterday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/Sportsfile

Flick onto the Waterford GAA website and he's still there. John Mullane, arms spread eagled, roaring after orchestrating yet another epic victory for the Deise.

But, like all but one from that swashbuckling era, this past winter Mullane followed the others who captured four Munster titles from 2002 to 2010 into hurling’s Valhalla.

It means the Waterford loyalists travel with trepidation to Thurles this Sunday to face a vibrant young Clare side.

“Ah no, that’s the way it is,” said Ken McGrath, the great centre back. “The group of lads that came along, our group of lads, a lot of them are in their mid 30s now, late 30s, time moved on and doesn’t stand still for anyone. The young lads came through, the likes of Paudie.”

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McGrath nods in the direction of Pauric Mahony, conducting his own interview in Croke Park yesterday at the Bord Gáis Under-21 championship launch.

“They’re after winning All-Irelands with their colleges, Munster minor championships with Waterford. These lads have confidence. I suppose they want a big win for themselves on Sunday. Who knows what can happen for the summer.”


Finished playing
At 35, McGrath is finished playing hurling at all levels. The knee decided that. The knee, the ankle, the Achilles tendon or whatever part of an ageing body that eventually gives way is the death of most sporting careers.

Except for Tony Browne of course, who turns 40 on July 1st, and will probably go on forever.

Browne isn’t starting at wing back on Sunday but may feature off the bench.

“Tony wouldn’t go back unless he had a role to play. He’ll definitely have something to offer. He had a great two games in the club championship for us (Mount Sion).”

His return is a remarkable achievement, especially in a game as rapid as hurling, but it is equally heartening for Waterford that Browne cannot command a starting role at wing back.

There are 10 changes from the side that lost to Clare at this juncture last summer so they are not All-Ireland contenders.

Now, try telling that to Mahony. “I think you would only be fooling yourself if you didn’t believe you could win a Munster and an All-Ireland,” said the 21-year-old, who starts at full forward. “That is what we set out to do.”


Underage success
Everyone dreams the dream in May but McGrath is convincing enough when saying this generation will transfer underage success to senior: "There's young lads coming through. Dungarvan Colleges won the All-Ireland this year and they won the Harty Cup for two years in a row, De La Salle three or four years ago won the All-Ireland so there are players coming through.

“We have to build something. We can’t stay idle and harp back to 10 years ago or six years ago. We have to try and move forward.

"It's really up to the likes of Pauric. I know Jake Dillon is making his debut, Jamie Barron, all very, very good hurlers. Physically wise they mightn't be as strong but if the ball is moving fast off the ground you can get away from the physical side of things as well. I suppose you still have Séamus (Prendergast) there, who is a vital player for us. It's up to one of them young lads to step up and be a leader, and if they do, win in the championship, the confidence you get from that is unbelievable.

"I know myself from struggling one or two years, and then you have one good championship game and you feel you are on top of the world then."
WATERFORD (SHC v Clare): I O'Regan; D Fives, L Lawlor, N Connors; J Nagle, M Walsh, P Prendergast; S O'Sullivan, K Moran (capt); M Shanahan, S Prendergast, B O'Halloran; J Barron, P Mahony, J Dillon.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent