"They don't care about mistakes once they're honest mistakes" - Buzz back for Bennett
All-Ireland final day 2008 isn't an occasion the majority of Waterford people look back on with great fondness, but Stephen Bennett has only good memories.
A seasoned campaigner at 12, the Ballysaggart youngster made his Croke Park debut on that very day in the half-time show against Kilkenny.
"I was playing corner back for Waterford," he says 12 years on. "I don’t know how I was picked there! But a 12-year-old playing against Kilkenny, ah sure it was great, I thought I was brilliant! The match didn’t go great but sure look hopefully we can go one better on Saturday..."
Bennett can only remember beating Saturday's opponents Kilkenny once, in that famous 2017 semi-final in Thurles but under new manager Liam Cahill, the Déise have rediscovered their mojo and they have plenty of reasons to be confident.
"The Cavan and Tipperary games are the two that stick out for me," he says, "I remember Conor Sweeney saying in an interview last week that they have a chance against Cork. It might be a small chance, but they have a chance, and they can win the game. It is the same in the Waterford camp, we firmly believe we are good enough to compete against all of the teams. Just hopefully on Saturday now, because semi-finals are all about winning, to get back into an All Ireland."
"I suppose then when the boys came in this year, they made the point that they don't care about mistakes once they're honest mistakes. Which I find is great," he says.
"In fairness to Liam Cahill, Mikey Bevans, and Stephen Frampton, they are brilliant. They are tough, training is tough. Everyone expects standards off you which is great. They have brought a bit of belief and they are telling you that you are going to play good. Then when you actually are, you are thinking that everyone is buying into it. We are all in good shape in fairness so it is exciting.
"Just go for it really," says Bennett of the message the management team are instilling into their players.
"Even in the Munster final, I'm not sure did we even believe by the end of it. Liam Cahill and the boys were telling us we were going to win this match but we didn't stand up when we had the chance. So it's definitely something we can work on. We just need to get back to believing that we are as good as all these teams."
The form of inside man Dessie Hutchinson has a big part to play in Waterford's rise, according to Bennett, as does the work Austin Gleeson is putting in for the team.
"In fairness to Austin, he gets an awful lot of abuse to be honest.
"He can’t seem to do anything right and do you know, everyone was just expecting him to hit 0-7 from play every game but it’s not possible like. In fairness to him, he’s working very hard this year, he’s getting two or three a game, working so hard.
"And Dessie, in the last few years as forwards, I’m not sure if we’ve stood up as much as we should have but Dessie, coming back from the five years in Brighton, his movement is just so good. He can teach a lot of us about it, running technique and everything. I suppose in the first few games, we didn’t get enough ball in but the last day he showed - with the hard ground too - that he can be dangerous , just like the rest of them can, like Jack Prendergast. Croke Park now, it will be his first time playing there so hopefully we can just feed him a load of ball and he can go attacking again."
Two players Waterford have had to do without this year are their captain Pauric Mahony and Stephen's brother Shane. Bennett says that the advice and the time that cruciate victim Mahony has given him in terms of free-taking is something he really appreciates.
"Pauric still turns up to training, and still comes to matches. Would a lot of players be able to still give their time every night, even though they're seeing no reward?
"But even the first day against Cork, he actually was outside in the warm-up throwing sliotars to me, practicing and telling me a few things.
"I think he actually got the operation then so he wasn't able to go to the last two games. But he's still in and out, and I'd be onto him the whole time.
"He missed a couple of trainings when he got the operation, but I seen him last night speaking to the gym instructors, looking for exercises he could do straight away. In fairness to him, if anyone’s going to come back from it, it’ll be Pauric. It’s hard for a fella to be missing out - especially in his first year as captain - but the way he’s turning up for trainings all the time just sums him up and shows how committed he is."
As for his brother Shane, work and time commitments convinced him not to play this year but in his absence, Stephen's older brother Kieran is stepping up. The youngest Bennett brother Ryan meanwhile, has been impressing for the club and Stephen looks forward to playing with him too in the years to come.
"I think Shane would probably take my position if he did (commit), ah no I’m only messing. - I think he did that a few years ago when he came onto the team first, I was dropped and Shane came in. Ah he just decided that. Last year, we got to the Munster final with the club and we were back in with Waterford the Friday after it. We had been playing from October to the following November - then we were straight back in with Waterford for a whole new year. He was up in Carlingford in Louth working for a few months as well so he just decided to take the year out. Kieran is playing there beside me as well, he’s playing great stuff. He turned 26 there last Saturday and it was a great birthday, I think he got 0-3 from play. Ah it’s nice to have Kieran starting regularly and he’s performing well.
"Sure we’re used to playing alongside each other with Ballysaggart. There’s only ten months between me and Kieran and 14 between me and Shane so we played underage together. We’re used to each other. We have a younger lad again, Ryan, who played his first year with the adult team this year so there was four of us. We hadn’t a great year but it was nice to be playing together."
All told, he's just delighted to be back hurling, delighted to be back winning.
"It's brilliant. We drew one game and lost seven championship games in two years. It's bleak enough when you're going down training thinking, 'What are we going to lose by this weekend?' You get stuck in a rut, I suppose. But it's great when you get back and start believing in yourself.
"It's brilliant. People are saying it's a bad time of year to be playing but everyone is loving it. We're actually so lucky. We get to go down training, we get to meet up the friends and play at the weekends. The weeks are flying by because we've a match to focus on every week..."
He'll be hoping this isn't the last one.