The Championship begins for the Waterford camogie team this weekend and it's hard not to be optimistic about their prospects as the campaign kicks off.
The group stage of the All-Ireland series makes for pleasant reading with Waterford eyes; Offaly, Limerick and Antrim are three teams that Sean Power's players have already beaten in 2023, and in the most simple of comparisons, the Déíse should have the clear upper hand in these three games.
In the three league games facing the same opposition, Waterford had 48 points to spare - scoring 7 goals in two games - as they cruised to the Division 1B final, while they had a cumulative 27-point cushion over Wexford and Down.
The Division 1B final with Wexford was a rematch of last year's semi-final - which Wexford won - and and opportunity for the Déise girls to give the Yellowbellies a taste of their own medicine.
It ended 1.22 to 1.06 at Sempe Stadium back in April, with Waterford once again set to play Division 1A camogie in 2024.
Outshooting the big guns
The Déise advanced to the Munster quarter-final, but in order to proceed to the final four, they would have to go the hard route against Cork.
The Rebels denied Waterford the chance at a first-ever All-Ireland final appearance last season. A game of two halves in Croke Park saw Waterford lead by 4 at the break, and they would extend their lead to five shortly into the second half. An injection of fresh Cork legs buoyed the favorites fightback, and Matthew Twomey's charges would manage to overturn their deficit as Waterford tired at GAA HQ.
A brave and valiant performance left Waterford five points short at the full-time whistle, with Cork showing the difference between an established top-tier county and this upcoming Waterford team.
In this year's Munster meeting, Waterford managed to finally break their duck against their Munster rivals. An impressive showing at Páirc Uí Chaoimh ended with Waterford three points to the good, maintaining their unbeaten status in 2023. It may have been their narrowest winning margin, but was likely their best result of the year.
For a team who have been setting and breaking records for the county these past 12 months, the win over Cork was a first-ever at senior level; since Waterford were promoted eight years ago.
Everything was moving in the right direction at that stage and the sense of optimism around the team was tangible. Their hurling had been fast and sharp, they were winning games by wide margins and gaining confidence with each outing. When speaking to the media the players raved about the camp and how enjoyable training has been; their performances on the pitch backed up those sentiments.
The win over Cork sent them through to the Munster semi-final and a date with Tipperary. Just last year Waterford had taken their first-ever scalp off the Premier at senior level and this clash at Semple Stadium was teed up as a chance to nail down their status as one of the top sides in the country; a county who had arrived.
The result makes for unpleasant reading with Tipperary going goal-mad and ultimately giving Waterford a wake-up call prior to the All-Ireland series.
4.11 to 1.09 is how it ended on Leeside. Cait Devane knocked in two goals with Eimearr Heffernan and Roisin Howard also finding the back of the net. Devane nailed five points too, with Eimear McGrath bagging four.
On the other side, Beth Carton provided 1.07 of the Déíse's 1.09 - with her goal coming from the penalty spot in injury time. Niamh Rockett and Lorraine Bray sent over the other two points on the day.
The semi-final was comfortably Waterford's poorest performance of the year, but likely came at the right time with bigger fish to fry down the road. Waterford beat Tipp last year - much like Cork - for the first time at senior level, and another win over the Premier would have been huge for the squad, but the defeat serves as a reminder that the top counties in camogie can always pull something out of the bag.
The business end
Since then, Waterford have had an extended break from competitive games. Those few weeks will have been welcomed by a team who had put down a hectic league schedule.
The work that has been done in the interim should come to fruition this weekend, but the side will need to perform on the road in a hostile Banagher. Getting the first win on the board will be crucial, but providing they come through the clash with Offaly with a positive result, we could be getting ready for an exciting summer with this team who are hard to look past as live contenders for an All-Ireland final.