Waterford’s ace forward John Mullane has called on his team to provide the “ultimate effort” when they meet Kilkenny in Sunday’s All Ireland hurling final at Croke Park (3.30).
Not since 1963 have Waterford been in the decider and the fiery Mullane is predicting that the team will shed every ounce of sweat in their bid to prevent Kilkenny making it three titles on the trot.
“We need a big performance, the ultimate effort. There’s no doubt that. Kilkenny are going into this game on a high. They are strongly focused and confident and they will be very keen to land the hat-trick of titles,” maintained Mullane.
Indeed, Kilkenny are in the frame for three All Ireland hurling titles.
And the Cats are 5/2 to land all three crowns.
Brian Cody’s men are the overwhelming 3/10 favourites in Sunday’s senior decider and the minor side are in search of their 19th All Ireland title when they take on Galway as part of a double header with the senior final.
The baby Cats are the 8/15 favourites for the minor title.
A week later Kilkenny can complete the treble when the U21’s take on Tipperary in the final of the Bord Gais U21 All Ireland Championship.
The last time Kilkenny completed this particular treble was back in 2003.
Kilkenny are now seeking their 6th title this decade and their 31st in all which would put them into the lead – one ahead of Cork – on the all-time honours table.
And then there’s the three-in-a-row element as Kilkenny bid to complete the All-Ireland treble for the first time since 1911-12-13. Cork were the last to win the three-in-a-row in 1976-77-78.
Indeed, it was Kilkenny who torpedoed waterford’s hopes of lifting the trophy back int hat ‘63 decider.
Waterford, indeed, last won the title in 1959 when they beat Kilkenny in a replay.
En route to Sunday’s decider, the Cats have beaten Offaly (2-24 to 0-12), Wexford (5-21 to 0-17) and Cork in the semi-final by 1-23 to 0-17.
The consistently accurate Henry Shefflin again tops the Kilkenny scoring chart although Eoin Larkin, Aidan Fogarty and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick have also been on target regularly.
Mullane, who is one of several veterans in the Waterford side, acknowledges that this may be the last opportunity for such players to get their hands on an All Ireland medal.
“This is a big, big match for us,” he insists.
Tony Browne, Ken McGrath, Paul Flynn, Dan Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast are among the players for whom the sands of time are running out and for whom the chance of All Ireland glory may not come round again.
The whole of waterford has gone en fete for the final with normal life having gone on hold this week.
Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald, the former Clare player, has already guided the side to the Munster title but an All Ireland crown would transport the county into a sporting heaven, a dream that could come true.