By Daragh Ó Conchúir
PEOPLE meant well when telling the Waterford players that they had performed creditably in losing by a mere six points to Kilkenny a fortnight ago but they weren’t having it.
It was a good effort, and once the smoke cleared, they could certainly garner the numerous positives in putting on such a display against one of the giants of the game, despite having goalkeeper Brianna O’Regan sent off early in the second half and coming off a heavy defeat to Galway in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship.
But in the immediate aftermath of the Group 1 derby, all the players could see was an opportunity spurned.
“If you weren’t disappointed it would be a problem” reasons Fiona Morrissey. “Some people were saying ‘Were you delighted to only lose to Kilkenny by six points?’ but the answer was ‘No’ because there were three goal chances which if we’d taken, we could have won the game.
“We beat them on puckouts – I think we won 62 per cent of overall puckouts. In my own head, once you win the puckout scenarios, that should have a big bearing on winning the match.”
They had the excuse to fold though, playing most of the second half at a numerical disadvantage.
“We were probably naïve. When you’re in the Coliseum, on the pitch, in the Championship, you nearly forget that you’re down to 14 players. You just play the ball in front of you.”
The response was similar after their best League campaign since hitting the top tier in 2016. They lost only one game, to Kilkenny, but missed out on the Semi-Finals on score difference.
“Really gutted” is how Morrissey describes it. “The thing about the panel is we’re all so optimistic. We lost three Championship matches in-a-row last year and we went into the fourth one thinking ‘We’re gonna win.’ The optimism is always there. So we were really disappointed to lose out on scoring difference to Limerick because we knew we’d performed but we knew we could perform better.”
The an Rinn player was Waterford’s joint-captain last year. She has been a member of the squad since 2012, just missing out on the All-Ireland Premier Junior success the previous year. She also had to look on when the Intermediate title was annexed in 2015 after opting to spend the summer in America.
Her role has changed this season but the 24-year-old primary school teacher is revelling in a more demanding environment and the subsequent raising of standards. Some of the latter is down to the manager Donal O’Rourke but the influx of uninhibited teenagers is a factor too.
“There’s a really good batch of girls came in when we won the Intermediate All-Ireland, the likes of Beth Carton and Kate McMahon. Five or six have come into the team again and those girls are used to winning.
“Annie Fitzgerald from Galltír went out on the pitch against Cork in the Munster Championship. She didn’t care if she was on Gemma O’Connor or Ashling Thompson and she probably didn’t even know. That’s fantastic.
“Those four or five girls have made us a panel and we have real depth in the panel now. We have two ‘keepers who could start for any intercounty team, I’d say it’s nearly a toss of a coin between them. Brianna is out for the next three now (with suspension) but Ciara Jackman is fantastic to come in.
“I’m enjoying it. It’s really, really professional. Donal has brought in stuff I wouldn’t have experienced in college or any other intercounty set-up. He makes you think about aspects of your game that you would never even have thought about. We get plenty of individual feedback. You’re always looking at what you can do on your own and he’s always asking you how you’re going, helping you.
“I would have been a back in previous seasons. He came in and saw me as a forward and I’ve a different role now. I love playing under Donal and Shane Dunphy beside him is very tactically clever.”
Limerick travel to Walsh Park today and after the tough start via losses to Galway and Kilkenny, the equation has become simple. Beat Limerick and Clare, and Waterford will be playing in a Quarter-Final. Lose today however and…
“It’s over. We need two wins out of two and that’s it. That’s all we’re looking at. As a squad, we don’t like looking at getting wins, we prefer to try get a performance, but at the end of the day we need the points on the board.
“When you think about Championship in winter, you think about a long summer but this is our Championship and it’s in the space of seven days. So how we prepare is everything – mind, body, fluids, hydration, your mind probably being the most important thing. It’s two finals or a Semi-Final and Final, we need to get over the first game. We haven’t even discussed Clare, we can’t look past Limerick. This is a Semi-Final I suppose. It’s knockout Camogie.
“It’s down to do or die and we understand we might not be training in 12 days’ time. That reality does hit home. It probably adds a little bit of pressure but I suppose we always knew it would come down to this.”
This squad does not need to be told when another level is required. They are ready.
“The training the Tuesday after the Galway game was just ferocious. I never experienced anything like it in my life. That kind of kick up the arse was maybe the injection we needed, or an understanding of what it is to be in Senior. That’s why we performed against Kilkenny and that’s what we need to bring to Limerick and Clare again.”
FIXTURES: Saturday July 14th
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 1
Kilkenny v Clare, St. Patrick's GAA, Ballyragget @ 5pm
Waterford v Limerick, Walsh Park @ 5pm
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2
Meath v Cork, Trim GAA @ 5pm
Tipperary v Offaly, The Ragg @ 5pm
Wexford v Dublin, Bellefield GAA Complex, Enniscorthy @ 5pm
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Group 1
Down v Cork, Páirc Esler, Newry @ 5pm
Laois v Derry, Rathdowney GAA @ 5pm
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship Group 1
Kerry v Clare, Abbeydorney GAA @ 5pm
Limerick v Offaly, Bruff GAA @ 5pm
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship Group 2
Dublin v Armagh, Parnells GAA, Coolock @ 5pm