This Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final will be a unique occasion for a number of reasons. Not only will it be played in front of an empty Croke Park, but it will also see the clash of two teams who have never played each other on the sport's biggest stage before.
This will be the first ever All-Ireland final meeting between Limerick and Waterford, two counties who have experienced long Liam McCarthy droughts. While Limerick would end their in 2018, The Deise are still on the hunt for a first All-Ireland since 1959.
At the start of 2020, few thought they had any chance of reaching the promised land this year. They have gone on to defy expectations, playing some brilliant hurling en-route to Sunday's game.
They certainly seem like a different team to the one who was on the wrong end of a few drubbings in the Munster last year. They would lose all four of their round robin games in the province.
It is no coincidence that their turnaround has coincided with the appointment of Liam Cahill as manager. The Tipp native has worked wonders during his time in charge, installing the type of belief and hunger that had seemingly been lacking from this Waterford team.
Speaking at the launch of Sunday's All-Ireland final official mathcday programme, which will be available in Centra stores throughout the country this week, former Limerick star Shane Dowling said the work Cahill had done with Waterford this year has been phenomenal.
If you go back like to last year when with Limerick played Waterford down in Walsh Park, I played a bit the same day myself, Limerick beat Waterford by 20 points.
Now, none of the Limerick lads walked away that day saying ‘we’re 20 points better than Waterford’, you’re walking away saying ‘what is going on down in Waterford?’, because you know that you're not 20 points better than any inter-county team really.
When Liam Cahill went in there this year, like I didn't really know what to…. what I didn't know is that Waterford have the players capable of winning an All-Ireland, there's no two questions about that...
It's not that some teams don't work hard, it’s they don’t work as hard as are probably capable of – they don't go within themselves and find that extra bit. In fairness to Liam and their coach, they've done that this year, and you can see that.
Before, Stephen Bennett was a good inter-county hurler – now, he’s in contention for Hurler of the Year. Austin Gleeson is back to his best, Tadgh de Búrca, is back to his best after his injury, and he’s found some new players as well. So, from a Waterford perspective, it’s very exciting for Waterford people.
While most people make Limerick heavy favourites for Sunday's final, Waterford have pulled off a shock on more than one occasion this year.
The Munster final game between the pair was a close run affair, with Waterford fancying their chances of upsetting the odds this weekend. Dowling agrees with John Mullane's assessment of the game, with the Waterford legend believing his county need to grasp this opportunity with both hands.
The one thing I will say, is John Mullane, I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago after they beat Kilkenny and it was said to him, ‘listen John, one way or another it’s been a great year for Waterford, first year under Liam Cahill, they can build on this next year’, I thought John hit the nail on the head, he turned around and said ‘don’t mind that talk, why cant it be this year? Why can’t we win it this year? Why do we have to wait to next year?’.
I think that’s the perspective Waterford are going to take. Liam seems to be a steely man, and he’s driving steel into these boys. I’ve liked Waterford all year, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a 50-50 game on Sunday.