By a neat coincidence Waterford hurlers are getting ready to play their first match in Walsh Park in a year just as news emerged on Thursday that the venue had got the go-ahead for this season's Munster championship round-robin matches.
Last year, the first of the trial seasons under the experimental format, the county was badly affected by having to play notional home matches in Limerick and Thurles, the county's first-choice alternative, Kilkenny's Nowlan Park, being ruled out by Munster Council for not being in the province – a decision given some ironic context when Kilkenny and Galway replayed the Leinster final in Thurles.
The importance of home venue was clearly visible in last year’s Munster championship with only Tipperary actually losing on their home pitch, against Clare, although Waterford’s defeat by Cork, also in Thurles, was designated a home fixture.
There were also three draws – Waterford’s other ‘home’ match, against Tipp, being one of them but that proved controversial with Austin Gleeson incorrectly judged to have carried the ball over his own goal-line.
It had been expected that Walsh Park would get the all-clear from the provincial council once the most obvious defect in the ground – the subsidence of the Keane Road terrace, which had to be buttressed for the league fixtures of 2018 – had been remedied.
That done, the ground will have a capacity of 11,046 for the two home matches this summer. These fixtures will be against Clare on May 12th and Limerick on June 2nd.
Redevelopment work at Walsh Park will however, continue after the summer’s matches have been played. The intention is to have a 15,500-capacity venue in time for the 2020 championship season, with 9,000 of that seated.
The Keane’s Road end has been replaced with a covered terrace similar to the one in Kilkenny’s Nowlan Park. The stand is to be refitted with bucket seats instead of the old wooden benches with metal dividers and opposite, a side of uncovered seating.
In what will effectively be a three-sided ground, the dressing-rooms will be moved from the current location, on Keane’s Road to the city end of Walsh Park and behind the goals there will also be offices for the county board.
The opening championship fixture against Clare will reawaken memories of misfortune last year when the counties met in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Going into the match without two of their top players, free-taker Pauric Mahony and 2016 Hurler of the Year Austin Gleeson, Waterford lost four of their six defenders to injury. Tadhg de Búrca, their defensive co-ordinator had to leave with a shoulder injury after quarter of an hour. Leading at that point 1-4 to 0-3, the team's challenge stalled and they ended up well beaten and reduced to 14 after captain, Kevin Moran had been red-carded.
It will also be Waterford's first home championship match in Munster – a couple of qualifiers have been played there – since June 1996 when they lost narrowly to Tipperary in a match best remembered as the debut of a 17-year-old Ken McGrath, who had the distinction that summer of playing minor, under-21 and senior for Waterford – an achievement that these days would trigger a Congress workshop.
This Sunday the county face Galway in the final round of matches in Division 1B of the league. Waterford haven’t had a home match so far because they were punished for breaking a training camp ban last summer by forfeiting home advantage.
It will be the first meeting of the counties since the 2017 All-Ireland final.