The Waterford hurlers will begin their 2018 Munster SHC campaign away to Clare in Cusack Park, Ennis. Photo: Inpho.
The draw for the Munster Championship under the new format took place last week behind closed doors and resulted in Waterford acquiring home draws against big guns Cork and Tipperary and away to Clare and Limerick. The draw throws the spotlight again on Walsh Park in a way that it would not have had the reverse been the case, and Clare and Limerick the visitors.
Because Walsh Park’s capacity is no more than 12,000 the campaign is already on to force Waterford to seek an alternative ‘Home’ venue to accommodate the thousands who travelled to the All-Ireland semi-final this year and those who secured tickets for the All-Ireland final.
In the first place may I say that the decision to change the championship format has the potential to be a disaster where hurling is concerned as it is a case of fixing what did not need to be fixed. As I have said before this has been done at the end of a year that saw the best and most unpredictable hurling championship for almost 20 years with Waterford and Galway producing a novel final that caught the imagination of the country.
One of the selling points by Croke Park for the introduction of this format was that it would give each county at least two home games. The situation regarding Walsh Park as a venue was well known and when the proposal was passed the media, printed and social, pounced to declare Walsh Park something of a no go area where expected attendances of over 20,000 could not be accommodated.
CROKE PARK TALKS
Last week’s County Board meeting was told that talks are in hand with Croke Park to secure funding to upgrade the venue to increase capacity in accordance with health and safety requirements but not by any means to the capacity that some are talking about. There are those who now believe that Waterford should opt to play Tipperary in Cork and Cork in Thurles as nominated home venues losing sight of the fact that both Cork and Tipperary would be delighted to avoid playing away to Waterford and Thurles and Cork would be the beneficiaries commercially.
With the games almost certain to be on television it would be madness for Waterford to damage their chances of getting to a Munster Final by conceding home advantage. No other county would dream of doing it in any circumstances for any financial arrangement.
Walsh Park will be upgraded though not to the extent that would lead to any concerns in the local community. People are back talking once again about selling the ground to housing developers and purchasing a greenfield side somewhere and building a stadium for 20,000 to 25,000 that only might be used to capacity twice a year and only if the three year trial period for the new format is a success.
Last Sunday in Walsh Park we had 2,700 people present for the showpiece on the Waterford club scene. At last year’s Munster U-21 final we had about 10,000 present. There is a hard core of about 10 to 12 thousand genuine hurling supporters in Waterford and they can be catered for. The County Board will be putting all of their resources into improving capacity and facilities in Walsh Park with support from Munster Council and Croke Park. It will not be done overnight but the commitment is there.
In the meantime let us bring Cork and Tipperary to Walsh Park as we did on previous occasions down the years and take full advantage of home venue with a view to getting to another Munster final. The full schedule of Allianz League and championship games for the coming year is as follows.
Sunday January 28th – Waterford (H) V Wexford
Saturday February 3rd – Tipperary V Waterford (A)
Sunday February 18th – Waterford (H) V Kilkenny
Sunday February 25th – Cork V Waterford (A)
Sunday March 4th – Waterford (H) V Clare
Games will take place on Saturday’s or Sundays as dictated by Live Television coverage
W/E May 27th – Waterford V Clare in Ennis
W/E June 3rd(Bank Holiday weekend) Waterford V Tipperary in Walsh Park
W/E 10th June – Waterford V Limerick in Limerick
W/E 17th June – Waterford V Cork in Walsh Park
Munster Final to take place on July 1st.
TIPP AGAIN IN FOOTBALL
The draws for the Munster Senior Football championship will see Waterford meeting Tipperary in Semple Stadium on May 19th with the winners to face Cork in the semi-final on June 2nd with that game, in the event of a Waterford win over Tipperary, being played in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.