‘We’re delighted to be in an All-Ireland final but we’re not flattered’

Cahill confident Déise squad possess the skill level to compete with any of their rivals

Liam Cahill:  “Their skill level was really good and we just needed to match that with fitness and athleticism which thankfully now is starting to come out.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Liam Cahill: “Their skill level was really good and we just needed to match that with fitness and athleticism which thankfully now is starting to come out.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Liam Cahill is understated about what exactly he thought the year might have in store after he took over the Waterford hurlers little less than 12 months ago.

For a confident coach with a decent CV, including under-age All-Ireland wins with his own county, Tipperary, he would have known that there was a fair bit of upside in the position.

After all Waterford hadn’t won in nine championship matches from the 2017 All-Ireland final onward. But going from that to another All-Ireland and beating Cork and Kilkenny along the way?

Realistically, what did he expect?

“Look, every manager at the start of the year sets goals and we thought a realistic goal was that if we took it match by match and improved the way we felt we could improve, that with a few breaks along the way we’d end up in the latter stages of the championship.

“Yes, we’re delighted to be in an All-Ireland final but we’re not flattered and it’s not something we’re surprised about.”

Coronavirus complicated the process. The recent round-robin trial would have given four shots at a win but when that became unfeasible, it was back to knock-out with one shot at the qualifiers.

There was no magic formula but among the differences noticed this year, there was the obvious change of tactics with more of an emphasis on attack and serious fitness levels. The fire and fury of the second half of the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Kilkenny was fuelled by constant movement and energy.

Is this a feature of all his teams – or was it something he felt would particularly benefit Waterford?

“There’s fitness and there’s overdoing it as well. I think fitness is a big part of improvement in players and our first objective with this group of players when we met them on day one was to make sure that if we got them fit enough, they’d start enjoying their hurling that little bit more because their skill level was really good and we just needed to match that with fitness and athleticism which thankfully now is starting to come out.

“I think my job is and it’s always been, to challenge. When you’re in a management role, be it sport or business, your job is to challenge people and challenge them in the right way.”

The strange year and the relentless Covid protocols have turned 2020 into a championship unrecognisable from normal years: the knife-edge sensibilities about avoiding infection, the repetitive routines, no crowds at matches and even if they win on Sunday, no Liam MacCarthy to bring home.

Social aspect

There are obviously no social events to develop team spirit and by and large they only see each other at training and matches. On the bright side, there are no public pressures and preparation takes place in a bubble. Cahill says that on the pitch is now the place where players can best bond with each other.

“Yeah, I think fellas are using the field more as a mechanism now for enjoyment rather than the social aspect off the field.

“I think players are so looking forward to coming to training every night because of the way things are and I think it’s helping in that respect to build morale and to build relationships, and build enjoyment because the best place to enjoy yourself is when you come and train hard and reap the rewards from the training you put in.”

Now that Waterford are back in an All-Ireland final, they have the advantage of having been in one just over three years ago – even if half of the starting 15 against Kilkenny are new to this level – and having already played their opponents Limerick in the Munster final, which they narrowly lost.

There’s a lot to work with there for a manger, who brings his own experience of All-Ireland finals as a player and manager

“Occasions like this are great,” he tells the stunned media delegation. “Once you guys are in front of me I’m happy because it’s a case that we’re preparing for something big.

“Hopefully it won’t be the last time you’ll be in front of us for this particular group of players, please God!”

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