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Hurling: MY BOYS WILL MAKE PREMIER JUMP IN CLASS; HURLING FINAL COUNTDOWN: WATERFORD v TIPPERARY Waterford v Tipperary McCarthy backs Decies to cause Munster upset.

Byline: Jackie CAHILL

THE man with hurling's Midas touch is aiming to weave his own particular brand of magic once again on Sunday.

Justin McCarthy leads Waterford into a Guinness Munster hurling final with expectation levels sky-high following the dramatic semi final win against Cork.

The Decies haven't tasted provincial glory since 1963 and they face a Tipperary side high on confidence.

But if anybody can pull this one off it's McCarthy. An astute reader of the game, stories of his coaching and motivational skills are legendary.

Case in point - in the build up to the game against Cork, McCarthy worked with the hurleys of the Waterford players until he was entirely happy they were perfect.

He then plotted a famous victory against his native county at Semple Stadium to book a place in the showpiece decider. He managed to get 70 minutes out of Paul Flynn and unleashing Ken McGrath from the bench was a masterstroke.

McGrath is arguably Waterford's key player but he was unable to start against the Rebels because of a shoulder problem. But fittingly the Mount Sion star fired the winning point in injury time.

McCarthy finds himself in familiar territory at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday. But standing in the way are Tipperary - reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions and a side that has visibly improved on last year.

McCarthy concedes: "Basically I'd feel Tipp are ahead in terms of progress. It's their fourth year together but we're hoping to come up to their level and take over.

"I'll be telling each and every one of my players that they've got to pull their own weight and fight their own corner.

"They've trained very, very hard and now we need them all to perform on this given day. I think there's a good spirit and camaraderie in the camp and I think the players are capable of doing the job," he proclaims confidently.

"Psychologically Waterford jumped a barrier by beating Cork. If you're asking me for my gut feeling I think there is a gap between ourselves and Tipp and they're a few points ahead of us, but in that instance we can make up the ground."

Waterford are back in the provincial final for the first time since 1998 and McCarthy says: "This is going to be a special day for us. There will be 45-50,000 people in Cork, it's traditionally a great occasion and I'm glad Waterford are going to experience it. We'll see how we can do."

McCarthy took over the reins from Gerald McCarthy in the wake of the calamitous collapse against Limerick last year. The Decies found themselves 2-6 to 0-1 ahead after 15 minutes but still contrived to lose the game.

Against Cork they displayed an inner resolve we've never seen before and McCarthy explains: "When I took over first I had to change a few positions - I had to make backs out of forwards and vice versa.

"I didn't see it as a big deal because you've got to play the ball no matter where you are. The fellas rode in together, the team has gelled and we have a good bunch of players.

"There's a good blend of youth and experience and the young lads are mad to play for their county. Seamie Hannon, Colm Bonnar and myself are delighted to look after them.

"We're right in the middle with them at training in the heat of everything and that suits everybody."

CAPTION(S):

MR MOTIVATOR: Justin McCarthy, ready to drive Waterford to win; MASTER McGRATH: Waterford will look to key man
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 26, 2002
Words:596
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