Round robin format leaves Waterford panel-beaten

McGrath could be without nine All-Ireland final starters for the clash against Tipperary

Derek McGrath: the Waterford manager is faced with an unprecedented list of casualties and absentees. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Everyone agreed that hurling’s new round-robin format at the provincial stages would prove a stress test of panel strength and depth, only Derek McGrath didn’t expect it to be so severe so early. For once the word crippled is properly justified.

Waterford’s hurling manager – already declaring this to be his last season in charge – is left only with the bones of the team that contested the All-Ireland final last September for what is already a must-win game against Tipperary on Sunday. Lose it, and that season could be over by the third week in June.

McGrath will definitely be without the injured Tadhg de Búrca, Barry Coughlan, Darragh Fives, Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson – and possibly Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan too.

Kevin Moran is also out after his red card against Clare last Sunday, and McGrath confirmed the management team would not be contesting the one-match suspension.

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With Shane Bennett opting out last month, that’s McGrath possibly down nine of his All-Ireland starting 15, although there is hope that Connors and Shanahan will be fit to play some part on Sunday. No wonder McGrath described it as “carnage”.

In a statement, the Waterford management said they “are currently assessing the situation regarding Noel Connors, who had to leave the field at half-time with a back injury and Maurice Shanahan, who had to remain on the field although suffering with a groin issue, along with the serious injuries to Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony”.

Coughlan, de Burca and Fives all sustained their injuries in the nine-point loss to Clare. Coughlan sustained a nasty wrap on the knuckles early in the second half, and X-rays revealed he broke three bones in his hand, putting him out of action for several months; likewise for de Búrca, who injured his shoulder after just 15 minutes, now revealed to be a broken collarbone.

That may not require surgery but will require several weeks of recovery. Fives has a calf muscle problem which will also rule him out for Sunday and possibly beyond.

Home ground 

Waterford were already coming with a disadvantage given their home ground at Walsh Park wasn’t suitably upgraded for championship purposes, forcing them to play their home games away, including Sunday’s round two against Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. They then face two more Sundays on the trot – back at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday week to face Limerick, then finishing up away to Cork on June 17th.

The absence of Mahony, their first-choice free-taker, and Gleeson, the 2016 Hurler of the Year, already had Waterford on the back foot going into the Clare game – only now their backs are against the wall.

Part of the problem, McGrath has admitted, was perhaps players over-extending themselves at a relatively early stage of the season; Waterford also hadn’t played in 10 weeks before last Sunday.

“The injuries we were faced with, maybe we were responsible for that ourselves. We tried to simulate championship-type intensity as much as possible in the run-up to the match and maybe, in doing that, we perhaps went a step too far.”

“Darragh Fives [was] a calf issue. Like a good racehorse, he gets really primed for the event. He just went all out today and subconsciously, when we lost Tadhg [de Burca] he went even more all out. But that’s the nature of championship.”

Tipperary are also seeking their seventh successive championship win over Waterford, having last lost in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final.

Tipperary’s average winning margin over Waterford in their last five championship games is 12 points, and they beat Waterford by 1-20 to 1-11 in this year’s Allianz League clash in Semple Stadium on February 3rd. A proper stress test awaits Waterford.

Munster SHC Round-Robin Table

  P W D L F A Pts Diff Pts
Cork 2 1 1 0 4-43 2-44 5 3
Limerick 1 1 0 0 1-23 2-14 6 2
Clare 2 1 0 1 3-48 4-41 4 2
Tipperary 2 0 1 1 3-37 3-43 -6 1
Waterford 1 0 0 1 2-18 2-27 -9 0
Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics