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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 26 November 2020
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'This is what I dreamed of happening' - Waterford's revival from losses to All-Ireland bid

Liam Cahill’s team are one win away from an All-Ireland final place.

Jack Fagan strikes home Waterford's third goal of the game.
Jack Fagan strikes home Waterford's third goal of the game.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

FOR LIAM CAHILL and the Waterford hurlers, recent experiences in Páirc Uí Chaoimh had been unpleasant.

Last summer the Waterford senior team left the stadium after shipping 2-30 to the home team, suffering a resounding defeat and seeing their 2019 campaign draw to a sorry close.

The previous year Cahill had seen his Tipperary team’s Munster U21 ambitions wither at the same venue. They were beaten by 13 points by a Cork side in a provincial final that left him with much to consider.

But rebounding positively is central to Cahill’s nature. By the end of that 2018 campaign he had turned the tables and won an All-Ireland with that Tipperary team.

When he took over the reins of Waterford last September they appeared in freefall after seven losses and a draw in the previous two championship runs.

Yet they all departed Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night as victors, a position secured in a convincing fashion as they swept past Clare by nine points.

After an energy-sapping duel for Munster honours with Limerick, they coped with the dreaded ‘six day turnaround’.

“You’d always have a little worry coming down, that this moral victory from the Munster final would play in players heads, that it was okay,” revealed Cahill afterwards.

“So to get a reaction like that and performance was very pleasing to say the least. Players want to hurl. That was a tough game in Thurles last Sunday and guys were physically sore. We’ve a good team around us in Waterford at the moment, we have good support. The players they know what they have to do to get themselves right.”

liam-cahill Waterford manager Liam Cahill. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There is another challenge to get right for. Kilkenny next Saturday. Croke Park. An All-Ireland final place on the line.

Given the depths Waterford plunged to with their results over the last couple of years, membership of the 2020 final four signals major progress. Not that their manager is surprised.

“This is what I dreamed of happening, the vision I had. That’s not to sound arrogant in any way. I feel these players are capable of playing at this level, these big days and big occasions. Maybe a little bit flattered to be doing it so soon but the opportunity is here now so we have to grab it and see where it takes us in seven days time.”

Waterford will travel with confidence off the back of this showing. Stephen Bennett was again pointing the way. The familiar figures of Gleeson, Barron, O’Keeffe and Moran were central to their cause. They got gametime into Conor Gleeson after his recent hamstring injury.

But it is the fresh faces of this season that will spark optimism. With their attacking talisman Pauric Mahony out injured, they still struck 3-27 in an All-Ireland quarter-final with 12 different scorers contributing.

A decade ago Dessie Hutchinson scored 1-1 in a Tony Forristal Cup U14 final for Waterford against Kilkenny at Walsh Park. Next Saturday he will be involved in a senior semi-final showdown between the counties.

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And he’ll enter it after a sparkling display, amassing 2-2 from play against Clare and providing a glorious assist for Waterford’s third goal.

dessie-hutchinson-celebrates-scoring-the-first-goal-of-the-game Dessie Hutchinson celebrates scoring his first goal of the game. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Dessie Hutchinson is a really good player, everyone knows that,” said Cahill.

“He’s shown that with his club Ballygunner. Until you do it on the big scene at inter-county level, question marks will always be there.

“This man tries so hard on training and he’s always trying to improve himself. Really delighted for him today, getting on the end of a couple of scores to boost his confidence.”

Stifling Tony Kelly’s influence at the other end was another key task. The Ballyea wizard’s afternoon hit an early roadblock when he damaged an ankle in the warm-up. He went off early for some repairs on the sideline before returning to the fray, and while he shot 0-8, he did not move with his customary fluency. The close attention paid by Calum Lyons, Waterford’s emerging defensive powerhouse was another factor.

“Calum Lyons is one of the best young hurlers in the country. Tremendous athlete, really backs himself when he puts on that Waterford jersey. Really delighted for him to put in a show like he did today.”

A note of caution was sounded by Cahill. Amongst all the bright aspects of their display, Waterford still leaked three goals and only for Stephen O’Keeffe’s intervention they could have conceded two late on to Aaron Cunningham.

“That’d be a major concern for me leaving here today,” admitted the Waterford boss.

“It looked like a big lapse in concentration especially for the two goals in the first half when we looked to be in control of the game early on. Then to allow that to happen and to go in at half-time really in a dogfight. We really have to shore it up at the back if we’re to have any chance of progressing.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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