All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Final: Kilkenny 1-21 0-24 Waterford

Have Waterford blown their chance?

Old habits die hard

When Maurice Shanahan struck a superb point from the sideline, Waterford were four points up with twenty minutes to go. Kilkenny, the perennial champions were on the ropes and the reaction from the Kilkenny bench spoke volumes; Cody stood an isolated figure on the sideline willing his charges on as his selectors and substitutes sat on the bench motionless. Waterford were dominating with their work rate, pace and hunger. Kilkenny needed something special to get back into the contest.

Instead of going for the throat, Waterford went back to their original game plan; sit deep and try to soak up the Kilkenny pressure. De Burca cleared endless ball in around the D but it only takes one ball, one chance for Kilkenny and when Colin Fennelly found space inside the Waterford twenty-two meter line, his quick hand pass to supporting runner Walter Walsh was unceremoniously hit to the net with one minute left in normal time.

This hammer blow should have being the fatal nail in the Waterford coffin but credit to the Deise, they won the next 50/50 ball from O’Keefe’s puckout and Barron was fouled by Colin Fennelly. Pauraic Mahony unerring in free taking all day slotted over and with ninety seconds left in injury time, Waterford were one point clear. Waterford continued to persist sitting deep and Conor Fogarty long range effort secured the draw and it only have much more when Paul Murphy had an opportunity to score from long range but his effort went wide. Murphy again exploiting Waterford’s reluctance to push up.

With that effort, James McGrath blew the final whistle. A replay in Thurles next Saturday night and if it is anything like today, we are all in for a treat. McGrath let everything go in the last quarter and the game flowed in breathtaking fashion. Both sides putting in the heavy hits, excellent aerial wins and superb point taking.

Derek McGrath can be justifiably proud of his charges’ efforts today. The recent U21 hurling team success where they played with flair and freedom was evident in their play for fifty minutes. Waterford went toe to toe with Kilkenny in their key strengths; aerial battle and work rate. Austin Gleeson was sensational with several scores but his ball catching ability caused Kieran Joyce endless problems so much so that the centre back was hauled off in the second half. A rare sight.

Waterford’s half-back line after a less than convincing start to the contest where Kilkenny half-forward were on top in the 50/50 aerial battle contained the likes of Reid, Hogan and Michael Fennelly in the second period. De Burca rose to the occasion with a dominant second half display; game reading well and distributing the ball with accuracy. The full back line were tight and competitive and the fact that TJ Reid lack of scoring from play spoke volumes; Farrell was anonymous and was replaced by Larkin.

Barron and Moran in midfield produce a massive display. Moran was unlucky not to score a goal straight after the interval and will perhaps rue the missed point which was initially flagged a point and then after Hawkeye review (hope the hurling setting was turned on) was reversed. Kilkenny were second best in all areas for long periods of the game.

However, you have to applaud the nature and hunger of this Kilkenny team. They were incredibly underpar. Richie Hogan had initially threatened to win the game on his own with several early scores from play as Waterford’s decision to not deploy a man marker on the talisman forward was backfiring incredibly. Once Waterford closed down Hogan’s space, Kilkenny faded from the game.

The back line admirably defended the threat from Waterford; no serious goal chances created apart from Moran’s second half chance. The half-back line had a mixed day. Joyce struggled to gain aerial supremacy but Walsh and Buckley were prominent at vital stages albeit Buckley did hit one or two wides from distance. Eoin Murphy’s long range free taking in in that opening period will have not gone unnoticed by Cody.

Kilkenny looked sluggish at times; a surprise considering that they are usually well primed for this stage of the season. Waterford’s youthful pace was causing Kilkenny middle third endless problems. The midfield was run ragged at times with Barron having a superb game. Kilkenny despite all this difficulty could have and should have won this contest, it was more down to sheer determination and stubbornness not to get beaten. Champions have this trait in abundance.

The lack of Kilkenny substitutes entering the fray spoke volumes; no confidence by management on the squad depth. It is a serious issue for Kilkenny as a potential replay victory will take a bit out of the players and with Tipp / Galway waiting, the tank may not get to the finishing line in September.

Waterford have unfortunately had their chance to upset Kilkenny. A Thurles replay should be a plus for the Deise men with the vast amount of space on the field of legends. However, when the game was there to be put away, Waterford blinked and allowed Kilkenny a way back into the contest. Look at the wides in that last ten minute spell; Moran, Gleeson, Curran all missed chances which needed to go over and once you give this Kilkenny team a sniff, inevitable sequence of events like what happened today take place.

Great game. The championship has sparked into life. Roll on next weekend for more of the same. It is shame that it took until early August to arouse the excitement in the beautiful game.

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