AS OPENING PHASES to a championship season go, the 2019 version has not unfolded in a pleasing manner for anyone invested in Waterford hurling.

Edged out by a point last Sunday week against Clare, the homecoming to Walsh Park culminated on a low note with defeat in their first tie in Munster. 

Three days ago they were swept away by Tipperary’s scoring power as they slumped to an 18-point loss in Thurles after having had to operate with 14 men after Conor Gleeson was dismissed before half-time.

And then today came the confirmation that they will be robbed of Philip Mahony for the rest of their provincial campaign, John Fogarty in the Irish Examiner reporting that the injury that forced him off in the second half at Semple Stadium has been diagnosed as a broken tibia.

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That’s a layoff period of 8-10 weeks that Mahony is facing into. It’ll definitely sideline him for their home tie with Limerick in Walsh Park on Sunday 2 June and the trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to meet Cork on Saturday 8 June.

28-year-old Mahony, a half-back who has stored up plenty experience, started both of Waterford’s games to date but must now resign himself to an observation role.  It’s not a novel experience for him. In May 2014 he suffered a double leg fracture and a dislocated ankle in a club game with Ballygunner against Ardmore.

He required surgery and missed that campaign, one that had been pencilled in for a return after he was absent in 2013 when he went travelling. That luckless theme surfaced again in his family twelve months further on when younger brother Pauric suffered a horrific shin break in a club game and missed the rest of the season.

Philip Mahony before Waterford’s 2014 Munster quarter-final tie against Cork.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The elder Mahony recovered from his 2014 injury and since then he’s become an established regular in the side, a vital component as Derek McGrath oversaw major strides in the time frame spanning 2015 to 2017. Standout moments included a pair of Munster final appearances, a league medal in 2015 , contesting the All-Ireland final two years ago and a trio of All-Star nominations.

He could potentially feature again in the 2019 championship if Waterford were to progress as far as late July but that will be a difficult ambition for them to realise. Bottom of the Munster round-robin table after two games with no points to their name and a scoring difference of -19, Waterford require two victories from those early June clashes and a favourable set of results elsewhere. 

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The problem for them is trying to tap into a winning run. If you include the league final, Waterford have lost their last three competitive encounters. The current mood is in stark contrast to the ebullient mood in their dressing-room in Nowlan Park after their admirable recovery with 14 men to overtake Galway in a semi-final in March. That game looked a statement success in Paraic Fanning’s maiden season but their form has unravelled since then.

In championship the picture is bleaker. Waterford’s last summer success was the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final victory over Cork. Their record since then stands at seven games played with the Gaelic Grounds draw with Tipperary last June the solitary tie where they avoided defeat. Focusing just on Munster, Waterford’s last triumph was in the 2016 semi-final against Clare with eight fruitless encounters played in the interim. 

This year Mahony’s role with Waterford was trimmed back due to Ballygunner’s extended involvement in the club championship, excelling in a run that ended with February’s loss to Ballyhale. ‘If we never won Munster it would have stuck with me until the day I die,’ declared Mahony after last November’s final win over Na Piarsaigh.

That reaction captured the personal meaning of that victory and he was one of six Ballygunner figures to claim an All-Ireland club hurling award in April. 

The hope would have been to kick on at county level this summer but results have not been kind and the fortune to avoid injury has eluded him as well. 

For Paraic Fanning the core task now is to resurrect Waterford’s season and have them primed for a critical encounter with Limerick in 11 days that they simply must succeed in.

Mahony was the type of figurehead he’d have hoped to utilise to conjure up a winning display. But the defender’s unavailability now adds to the list of headaches facing the Waterford manager. 

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