Time for hurlers to end miserable Waterford record

Date Published: {J}

CIARAN TIERNEY

IT is time to put an appalling championship record to bed. The Galway hurlers face their most important fixture in six years when they bid to end a nine game losing sequence and reach the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time since 2005 against a wounded Waterford side at Semple Stadium, Thurles, on Sunday (4pm).

If it’s hard to believe that the Tribesmen have only reached the last four of the championship once in the past decade, it is even harder to countenance that they have never beaten Waterford in nine championship encounters down through the decades.

No matter what the bookies say, history is completely against Galway ahead of this quarter-final. And, since their humiliation at the hands of Tipperary in the Munster Final, quite a few former Déise stars have gone on record about their county’s lowly opinions of the Tribesmen.

“The Munster Championship is gone and the All-Ireland championship is in, so it’s a different championship,” said former Hurler of the Year Dan Shanahan. “That’s what the Waterford players have to keep saying. Waterford don’t fear Galway, believe you me.”

Nine defeats from nine meetings, it’s a record that needs to be broken. All three championship games in the modern era have gone the way of the Déise, who hammered Galway in all three clashes during Galway’s ill-fated sojourn in Munster back in the 1950s and ‘60s, including a 7-11 to 0-8 trouncing in 1959 and a nine goal blitz the following year. The stuff of nightmares from the bad old days.

More recently, they recovered from a Munster final defeat against Clare to hammer Galway at Croke Park in 1998, brought Conor Hayes’ All-Ireland finalists crashing back down to earth in a 2006 qualifier and, most painfully of all, won a quarter-final they should have lost with a late flurry in Thurles two years ago.

Galway have lost by just one point to go out of the championship at the quarter-final stage in the last two seasons. Sunday’s rivals are aiming to reach the semi-finals for the fourth successive year and the 2010 Munster champions have not suddenly become a bad team, despite their 7-19 to 0-19 defeat to Tipp last Sunday week.

Their supporters view the Tribesmen as nice but brittle hurlers, who are unable to live with fired-up physical opponents in the white heat of a championship battle. That theory received huge ammunition when Galway lost to Dublin by 0-19 to 2-7 in the Leinster semi-final, but Galway have been on the road to redemption since then.

It’s the third year of John McIntyre’s reign and, if progress has been made under his watch, it really is now or never for Galway. Reaching a semi-final with the kind of momentum they have built up in successive wins over Clare and Cork, scoring 6-48 over the two games, could turn the trauma of Tullamore into one of the most memorable campaigns in years.

A group of players whose reputations were in tatters after that Dublin defeat have responded magnificently and the five changes in personnel made before the Pearse Stadium showdown with the Banner have reaped rich rewards.

Unlike two years ago, when key defenders Shane Kavanagh and Adrian Cullinane picked up injuries over successive weekends, Galway have a settled 15 for the third consecutive game. The selectors have kept faith with the men who started against Cork and Clare, although veteran attacker Alan Kerins will face a late fitness test on a hamstring problem.

“The stakes are high, there is no getting away from that,” said McIntyre on Wednesday. “We are where we want to be and though the Dublin performance rocked us all, it’s a tribute to the players that they have recovered so well since that game. We had been plagued by injuries up to and including the Dublin match.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.