Derek McGrath’s Waterford senior hurling team will be hoping to keep their unbeaten start to this year’s Allianz National Hurling League in tact on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Tullamore to take on Brian Whelehan’s Offaly side.
This game was originally due to take place on Sunday afternoon but was brought forward twenty-four hours as a result of some in-house squabble in Offaly who were due to have a double header involving the footballers at O’Connor Park on Sunday, with the footballers playing the curtain raiser. However the game was brought forward as it was reported those involved with the hurling panel felt the ground would cut up with a football game played before the game.
Offaly head into this game with one win from two games, beating Laois 1-24 to 0-23 in the opening round of games, but they lost out to Wexford on a 2-15 to 0-12 score line at O’Connor Park.
Waterford head into this game with a better record, drawing away to Limerick in the first round and last time out accounting for Laois at Fraher Field.
Offaly are without Cillian Kiely for this game, but they could well welcome back Cathal Parlon and Brian Carroll back for this game, which will add strength and debt to the squad.
Waterford selectors could well have been caught between a rock and a hard place in selecting their starting fifteen for this game.
Jake Dillon, Austin Gleeson, Pauric Mahony, Gavin O’Brien, Martin O’Neill and Stephen Bennett were involved in Fitzgibbon Cup action since Waterford’s last league game.
Dillon, Gleeson, Mahony, O’Brien and O’Neill were involved with WIT who were involved in a delayed quarter final game last week, and last weekend were at the finals weekend, where the semi final and final went to extra time, and will be in action again on Wednesday evening next when they replay at Pairc Ui Rinn.
With the amount of action the players have had in the last two weeks, Derek McGrath could be forgiven for leaving the players out for this game citing player welfare, but he has opted to include Dillon, Gleeson and Mahony in the starting team.
The De La Salle Club man and his selectors have opted to keep changes in the team to a minimum as they have replaced Shane Bennett who started against Laois with Jake Dillon, with the rest of the team remaining unchanged.
The Waterford selectors however depending on how the game is going, may opt to take some of the players involved in the Fitzgibbon Cup Replay on Wednesday evening off and with the squad strengthen in the past week with the return of Colin Dunford, Maurice Shanahan and Stephen Daniels after injury lay-offs the management may opt to give them some game time to build some bigger games in the weeks ahead with both club and county.
Waterford’s last visit to O’Connor Park (in hurling) was in the All-Ireland qualifiers two years ago.
On that occasion Waterford had it all to do to beat the home side, and with a number of the players involved in that win no longer involved with Waterford another close game is expected to be fought out this time around.
Offaly may no longer have the big name players they had in the past, however in addition to the likes of the already mentioned Cathal Parlon and Brian Carroll they will be looking to the likes of James Dempsey between the posts, as well as Joe Bergin, Dan Currams and Shane Dooley in attack, they have the players to cause Waterford problems.
However, while Waterford are a different looking side to that which lined out two years back, the players that have come in to replace them have up to now shown up well and if they can help the side to another brace of points in this game, it should secure Waterford’s place in the quarter finals of the league where they would face a Division 1A team in a few weeks time.