It’s been a while since I’ve been so nervous about a Waterford hurling weekend. In the last few years games have either lacked that killer edge, a sense that something glorious waited beyond the game, or that a win in the game itself was a possibility rather than a fantasy. In particular our two most recent outings against Kilkenny have felt like exercises in keeping it respectable rather than a serious tilt at winning through to the All-Ireland final.
And it’s still unlikely that we are going to win tomorrow. Last year we were beaten by Cork’s ability to empty the bench, and when you saw how Kilkenny could bring on players of the stature of Henry Shefflin, looking every inch the King when he came on against Tipperary despite his injury woes and the passage of time, you have to worry about our relatively lightweight panel, especially in a Thurles that is going to feel like a literal furnace rather than the metaphorical one of which so much is routinely said.
But for all of that, they are vulnerable. Dublin have chipped away at their aura – remember how you can never give the Cats a second chance? – and their underage teams are showing signs that the production line is not as Japanese in its efficiency as it once was. It has already been a sensational Championship year, and all eyes are going to be on us to see if we can send it into supernova.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, we have the Minors on Sunday. Obviously this game is not as gut-wrenchingly tense, both in terms of the level of the game and the outcome – still a backdoor to avail of here. But the possibilities! If the Seniors win they’re still going to be a long way from Croke Park in September. The Minors, should they win on Sunday, would potentially be looking at a semi-final against Antrim, Down or Laois. In case that comes across as disrespectful to those counties, defeat would give us a 50:50 chance of playing Galway in the quarter-finals and a semi-final against Kilkenny. Chipped aura or not, the good folk of Antrim, Down and Laois would understand if that’s a road we’d rather not head down.
It’s going to be tough for the Minors. Limerick beat Tipperary who looked pretty slick in beating us in the Munster first round and Waterford supporters are likely to outnumbered by a factor of 20 by Limerick supporters also there for the Senior match against Cork. With only four previous wins in the Munster Minor final, it would be a tremendous achievement. But the possibilities all round . . . I’m nervous. And I can’t wait.