Stephen Bennett will be a marked man in Sunday’s All-Ireland final, after his man of the match performance propelled Waterford to a shock win over Kilkenny.
The Ballysaggart club man has scored 1-44 in the championship four championship matches thus far with 1-10 coming from play, and is even in the mix to be named Hurler of the Year following the decider.
And former Déise sharpshooter Paul Flynn has been hugely impressed with the 25-year-old.
“Stephen – there’s no secret about him – he’s been earmarked for this for the last six or seven years. OK, he had a few injuries, which he’s sorted,” said the Ballygunner club man.
“He’s a born finisher. He goes through you rather than around you, he knows exactly when to hit, how to hit. What I mean by that, you won’t see him go for a 50-yard shot under pressure. He’ll move it closer, where he knows that he can only hit the ball 30 yards under pressure, then he’ll get into that 30-yeard zone.
“I’ve watched him since he was U14 and I was lucky enough to be with him U21 as a selector, just he’s incredible. He has an instinct. Most things come off for him, he’s thriving this season and people are saying ‘he’s going to be a marked man’. I think though that the way we’re playing, when a team gets the ball to a player who wants the ball – only good things can happen.
“I think by playing him centre forward actually has brought him into the zone more and I think Declan Hannon has a decision to make on Sunday, does he come out and mark him or sit back. It’s going to be fascinating. I’m absolutely delighted for him. He’s shown that he’s on top of his game he’s as good as anyone in Munster, and please God show at the weekend that he can lead Waterford to an All-Ireland, wouldn’t that be great?”
The weight of history
Waterford are seeking their first title since 1959, but Flynn feels that the current group will not be overly pressurised by the occasion.
“These guys have won minors, U21 a lot of the lads, so they’re winners,” he said.
“Their mentality is of winning, Stephen Bennett has come on to the scene since 2017, he’s burst on to the scene to show that he should have been playing in 2017
“You have Conor Prunty, the team captain at full-back, he’s come through the U21 team to be a stalwart there, Kevin Moran is probably the last of the previous era, hanging in at wing-back. The rest of the team, they don’t have any hang-ups, you can see by the way they surge forward together, they know what they’re doing, and that’s credit to the way they’re coached – there’s no real run without a purpose.
“I think if we can tidy up on the shooting that we showed in the first half against Kilkenny, if we can tidy up on the unforced errors, that’s going to be the difference come 5 o’clock on Sunday evening – the amount of unforced errors either team gives away.”
‘Waterford can win’
And the former All-Star believes the Suir-siders can finally get over the line.
“I think they can win obviously, how they can win, I suppose it’s really staying in touch,” he said.
“[In] the Munster final we were in touch up to about seven or eight minutes to go, level, I think just be there there’s nothing new on Sunday that the lads haven’t done already, but we just need to be there, we need to be in striking distance and how we get to the 60th minute or the 65th minute, within striking distance that’s when it comes down to first touch, not giving the ball across the field with no name on it, just you see Calum Lyons bursting up the field,
“Tadhg de Búrca getting on the ball, carrying it out of defence, finding a man with a hand pass,
“I think if Waterford work as hard as Limerick between the two 45s, I think with five minutes to go, we’ll all be behind the couch screaming, shouting at the telly.”
Watch Limerick vs Waterford in the All-Ireland final live on Sky Sports Mix from 2:30pm Sunday.
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