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McManus believes a shock may be in store at Croker

By John Campbell

Published 08/08/2015

Antrim captain Neil McManus
Antrim captain Neil McManus

There is more than a touch of irony in the fact that the stage is set for a compelling All-Ireland semi-final at the end of a week which has yet again highlighted disenchantment, frustration and indeed anger in what is considered to be Ulster's premier hurling county.

While beleaguered Antrim officials come to terms with the impending departure of manager Kevin Ryan and begin the search for a new boss, Kilkenny and Waterford are set to captivate the masses with what is expected to be a feast of skill and drama at Croke Park tomorrow.

Waterford's emergence this year has been hailed by many and it would indeed be a heartless person who would not wish to see the county crowned All-Ireland champions while at the same time nursing the hope that Mayo could bring decades of heartache to an end by lifting 'Sam'.

This might be construed as a flight of fancy but we must live in hope. No wonder, then, that Antrim skipper Neil McManus, no stranger to disappointment this year given his team's relegation in the league and fruitless voyage through the preliminary stages of the Leinster Championship, sees Waterford as a team that can shine a light for others.

"I honestly think that Waterford have the capacity to stretch Kilkenny but they may not quite have their experience," pointed out McManus. "Yet Kilkenny might be without a couple of key players and maybe could be a little bit more vulnerable. Waterford have looked good this year but Kilkenny are the benchmark for those with hopes to reach the top."

With Jackie Tyrell and Richie Power ruled out and lingering doubts over the fitness of Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has endured his share of anxiety in the build-up.

McManus added: "Kilkenny have strength in depth and they also have a very competitive streak. They know how to close out games, they are physically strong and very fit."

Waterford manager Derek McGrath has overseen his team's progress with some satisfaction this term but is aware that tomorrow's game represents the ultimate test of character and skill.

Shane Bennett, Patrick Curran, Tom Devine and Stephen Bennett may not be household names yet but they help to underpin a side laden with hunger and ambition.

Kilkenny have undergone the formality of retaining their Leinster title and even if some familiar faces have ridden off into the sunset, they still have a corps of battle-hardened campaigners to lead their fight for even more glory.

Belfast Telegraph

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