If you know Fiona Morrissey you will know that she doesn’t have a grey area. She operates solely in black and white. So when you enquire as to how Waterford are shaping up for championship and she replies ‘never better’ you definitely have to sit up and notice.
“Donal (O’Rourke) has taken us completely out of our comfort zones this year. In the past sometimes coaches we have had have polarised the group, when something new was introduced half would buy in and half wouldn’t. But this is the first year where the whole panel is rowing in the same direction and we have seen the results on the field.”
Morrisey of course is speaking about their national league form which saw Waterford beaten just once, by eventual champions Kilkenny. Wins over Meath and Dublin and draws with fellow Group 1 opponents Clare and Limerick saw Waterford miss out agonisingly on scoring difference on a place in a first ever senior national semi-final. Since then they were very competitive against Cork in the Munster championship and Morrisey is positive about their chances in the championship.
“We aren’t in a position yet to be talking about winning championships. But we won’t be targeting Clare and Limerick like most people will think. In the past we have done that and just accepted that the big teams will go through leaving everyone else to play for third. But the bigger teams are at their most vulnerable early in the year so we will be looking to pick off one of them and drive on from there.”
I ask Morrisey if she can point to any particular reason for Waterfords upturn in fortunes and she points to both long and short term changes within the county which have had a real impact.
“Our underage teams have competed in ’A’ grade competitions for the last number of years and strategically this was a smart move from the county board. Winning ‘B’ competitions is fine but competing in the top grade is much more conducive to producing players who are ready made to bridge the gap to senior level.”
And what of the short term impact? Morrissey acknowledges the competition for places which exists in the Waterford squad at the moment as a key factor for driving performance. “Donal has no favourites, no player is sure of their place and performing well in training can catapult you into the starting fifteen. It’s a fiercely competitive environment.”
Morrisey pauses before adding “except for Beth. Beth is guaranteed to start, even though she is probably the only one on the squad who doesn’t think she is!”
The Beth she refers to is of course Beth Carton. Underage superstar and key player in the University of Limerick’s march to the last two Ashbourne Cup titles. Morrissey speaks glowingly of her younger colleague.
“She is a phenomenal player. Sometimes in training we are just in awe of her. Every team that has ever gone up the steps of the Hogan have had a marquee forward and Beth is certainly in that bracket in my eyes.”
So Waterford are well organised, hopping in training and have the star forward needed to win games. Don’t be one bit surprised if you see Morrissey, Carton and company on the television in August.
Columnist with GAAWrap and current Éire Óg Ennis Senior Hurling coach.