I would rather not have gotten Offaly at this stage of the qualifiers. After the weekend’s games they look the best of the teams among those we know are in the qualifiers, and while there’s something to be said for the idea that we’re going to have to beat the likes of Offaly if we want to progress, I’d still rather build up to them than have to meet them straight out of the traps. Anyone who wants to win the French Open is going to have to beat Rafael Nadal but that doesn’t mean you want to meet him in the first round. And no, I’m not saying Offaly are the equivalent of Nadal in the All-Ireland, they look the equivalent among the other teams currently in the qualifiers, okay?
However, what is it with the rampant pessimism that seems to characterise Waterford supporters? I know we were well beaten in the end by Clare, and I know Offaly exceeded expectations against Kilkenny, but you can be certain that the same Cassandras would be out in force had we been knocked out of Munster in a one-point thriller and Offaly been handed their arse by the Cats. I’m already bracing myself for maudlin previews in the Munster Express and News & Star about how we must be wary of the Offalymen and this is a 50:50 game. Both might be true, but you’d have read identikit previews had we been playing London, Westmeath or Carlow. I don’t know how Offaly papers will react to the draw, but if the anecdotal evidence I have from their neighbours in Laois is anything to go by, where two of my siblings can testify to the brazenly cocky articles that precede every game, then we can expect rousing calls to arms rather than timid fatalism. And Offaly have had a lot more to be brazen about in my lifetime than Laois.
Talking us down doesn’t do us any good. Indeed I’d argue it does us harm. I’ve noted in the past (twice) how Larry O’Gorman/Murphy was quoted after Wexford’s win over us in 2003 that teams always feel they have a chance against Waterford. In fairness that was a better Wexford team than the current crop. They would be good enough to beat Kilkenny the following year, something of which no Waterford players of recent vintage can boast. But the essential truth that everyone thinks that they have Waterford’s number is chilling.
We are favourites for this game. Offaly may be on the way up and we may be on the way down, but one brave performance against Kilkenny does not suggest we’ve crossed paths just yet. If we lose to Offaly, so be it. Let’s not look back and regret that we were beaten before a ball was even thrown in.