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Cahill: Now it's time to embrace ultimate test

Waterford boss's battle-cry ahead of bid to end 61-year famine


Liam Cahill has given Waterford hope of finally getting their hands on Liam McCarthy pic

Liam Cahill has given Waterford hope of finally getting their hands on Liam McCarthy pic

�INPHO/Ken Sutton

Liam Cahill has given Waterford hope of finally getting their hands on Liam McCarthy pic

The word 'unprecedented' has tended to dominate conversations up and down the country for months now, and for obvious reasons.

Yet it forms a significant label which can be confidently appended to tomorrow's All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final between Limerick and Waterford at Croke Park (3.30pm).

Never before have these two counties, both strongholds of the sport, gone head to head in the annual showpiece.

And for this reason alone as much as any other the match has captivated sports lovers - not only hurling aficionados - just about everywhere.

The fact that Limerick had to wait until 2018 to become reacquainted with the Liam McCarthy Cup for the first time since 1973 is a cold, stark statistic that hints at the termination of what had threatened to become an intolerable famine.

Yet Waterford's plight borders on the unthinkable given that they have to go back to 1959 for their last brush with the ultimate glory. If 'unprecedented' is applicable to the pairing, then two different words explain best why Waterford are finally knocking on the glory door - Liam Cahill.

Since taking over the managerial reins when Waterford were in a rather familiar position - on their knees - Cahill's tactical prowess, man-management skills, courage and solid belief in his players' ability to deliver on his mantra have proven unshakeable.

A side that laboured in the shadows for much too long suddenly burst onto the unforgiving Championship stage armed with a savage hunger, remorseless drive and freshly-mined skills.

Tomorrow, skipper Conor Prunty will be the glue that binds the defence together behind the resolute Tadgh de Burca at centre-half-back while up front Dessie Hutchinson, Austin Gleeson and Jack Prendergast are likely to unveil the subtlety of touch and exquisite scoring technique that has taken their side this far.

Cahill's achievement in blending together a team that is a unit in every sense has not merely triggered hope but a renewed degree of confidence that the Déise county flag can be planted on the biggest summit of all.

But to attain that, Waterford will have to shatter the aspirations of a Limerick side that will be seeking a second All-Ireland title in three years.

Like his counterpart Cahill, Limerick boss John Kiely is a pragmatic, committed and vociferous individual who wears his heart on his sleeve.

He has watched his side undergo the transformation from journeyman outfit to a well-oiled machine that has met the challenge of attaining new self-imposed standards.

The form that lethal strike force Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey and Aaron Gillane currently bring to the table is nothing short of frightening; Diarmuid Byrnes and Declan Bannon are virtually unstoppable half-backs when going forward and Darragh O'Donovan and William O'Donoghue invariably leave their own imprint at midfield.

In beating Galway at the semi-final stage Limerick underlined their ability to stay the pace while in carving out a stunning victory over Kilkenny - yes, Kilkenny - Waterford did not so much scale a new peak as venture into totally unimagined territory.

Yet it is worth bearing in mind that this Limerick team carries a special aura. They have taken things to another level this year by not losing a game in the Munster League, the Allianz League, Munster Championship and All-Ireland series.

But there is not the slightest hint of complacency in their psyche as Kiely confirms.

"In the league we saw an awful lot of positives from the Waterford team in terms of their work-rate, their energy, a lot of fresh faces on the team. They're very secure at the back. There is a lot for us to go after. That's the challenge really, to ensure our attitude is right," insists Kiely.

Cahill is equally forthright in his assessment of his team's challenge.

"We saw an All-Ireland final appearance as the ultimate test. It's something we have thought about and spoken about a lot. Now we're here we have to embrace it," insists Cahill.

Irrespective of who claims the trophy, hurling could prove to be the real winner.

Waterford v Limerick

Croke Park, Sunday, 3.30pm

Belfast Telegraph

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