Kilkenny are, for the second time in the space of six days, expected to reach the All-Ireland SHC final by swatting aside Waterford, writes Peter McNamara.
Traditionally, the underdogs get one opportunity to slay their more celebrated adversaries and if they fail to avail of said opportunity they tend to regret it in replays.
The Déise, however, will venture to Thurles next Saturday and line-out at Tom Semple’s field emboldened by their brazen and uplifting display at headquarters last Sunday.
Nevertheless, the status quo is foreseen as still being an unbreakable element within the hurling world.
This Kilkenny team is not the most aesthetically pleasing collectively, in contrast to a number of the sides of the recent past.
However, they possess collective balls of steel. The general consensus was that Brian Cody’s outfit were not at their most exhilarating at Croke Park.
Yet, the Cats survived the street-fight. Has there ever been a more courageous unit playing the sport in the modern era?
Courage alone though may not suffice on this forthcoming occasion.
That, of course, sounds contradictory to write as prior to the drawn encounter I felt there was only ever going to be one winner and that certainly wasn’t Waterford.
Still, Kilkenny will need to find that 15% they were seemingly shy of initially.
Interestingly, DJ Carey stated it would be “doing a disservice to Waterford” to suggest Kilkenny were operating below their very best.
However, he did agree on Monday “there should be more in their tank, for sure”.
Correctly, though, Carey stressed: “That’s not to say Waterford won’t improve again as well.
“They could easily play even better having gained such confidence from Sunday’s game.”
Regardless, Kilkenny are strong odds-on favourites to make use of this second attempt to book their customary September berth.
Replays, as will be exhaustively mentioned this week, go the way of Goliath, especially where Kilkenny are concerned.
Or at least that is what we’re led to believe.
The Gowran native disagrees with such a theory, however.
“I thought Waterford were outstanding on Sunday, from one to 15,” Carey said. “Almost all of the big battles, with the exception of Richie Hogan’s area of the field, were won by Waterford.
“As a Kilkenny person I had a smile on my face leaving Croke Park and not because we had a replay and Kilkenny are supposedly great at replays. I had that smile because we were still in the championship, really.
“I played in many occasions with Kilkenny including a few replays. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into one of those replays thinking ‘we have this one now’ because it was a replay.
“That just doesn’t happen. That’s a myth, probably from people that haven’t played as much as they comment on the game.
“And I honestly don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to commentators or the media but it is just a myth.
“Okay, Kilkenny have won replays and Waterford may have come off the field thinking ‘what more could we possibly have done to win that game?’.
“Whereas with Kilkenny there would have been a huge sigh of relief.
“And Brian Cody will be saying this week that the team needs bigger performances from even more of their big players.
“But that may not happen. Waterford might come out the next day even better than they were on Sunday.
“Now, Kilkenny seem to have more to improve on but then that might not happen. We’ll just have to wait and see in that regard.”
Nevertheless, Carey is of the opinion Kilkenny were not as far out of sorts as people have suggested.
“I actually think Kilkenny were very good and its testament to Brian and the team that they lived with Waterford at that level and in that form.
“Maybe we are beginning to see a changing of the guard so to speak as this Waterford team could be around for a very long time,” he added.
While we watched events unfold at headquarters there was a sense that the Déise’s graph truly is rising.
We knew that, though.
What we need to see from Derek McGrath’s men now is how they deal with the increased levels of expectation within their own county this week.
A trend has begun to take shape as regards this Waterford group: Expectation inhibits their performances, as it does countless teams at the highest grades in sport.
Exhibit A? A certain provincial final decider contested in the Gaelic Grounds last month.
Obviously, that stems from the fact they are a young team still finding their feet in such exalted company. Waterford are, in relative terms, still inexperienced at this grade overall given their age profile.
However, forcing Kilkenny to claw their way out of the gutter will have allowed them to bank more of the most valuable of characteristics – mental strength.
Of the two teams, Kilkenny have the greater resolves of mental toughness and that showed in the closing minutes – as if we needed reminding at all.
And usually, that is why replays are so regularly won by the favourites.
It’s not necessarily due to them possessing greater depths of technical proficiency rather entrenched and dogmatic mental fortitude.
That is most likely why Cody’s charges will live to fight a September day.
Added to that, the Cats will ensure Austin Gleeson’s influence is not as detrimental to their chances of progressing as it was originally.
Cody may have been once bitten. But he’ll hardly be twice shy.
Therefore, McGrath will be aware that tweaking his offensive tactics is required.
Deploying the Mount Sion dynamo as an orthodox centre-forward in Thurles could backfire as Kilkenny will surely have revised provisions in place to curtail him.
Gleeson might act as a third midfielder instead and if so, maybe Cillian Buckley will be best suited to move into that area as a counterpoint.
Buckley’s athleticism should negate that of Gleeson.
It would make for a fascinating man-for-man battle in the most critical sector of the field.