When we won Munster with Clare in 1995, the county went bananas.
Biddy Early had been slain. Every curse and piseóg that had been heaped on top of us for decades was exorcised and banished from the Banner. There was a full-time fiesta around the county. You’d think that we had won the World Cup and Champions League combined and that there was nothing ever to be won again.
We had been so starved of Munster success, we’d been devastated by so many harrowing big day defeats that it would have been easy for us to settle for what we had, which was still huge in our eyes. But we didn’t. We knew there was still a huge prize there for us if we really went after it. And we did.
There was no big Kilkenny juggernaut around like now. This Waterford team haven’t won a Munster championship yet. They know there are big days ahead. They have had a great year to date, the national league title is in the bag, but this is the big test now; are Waterford going to subconsciously settle for what they have? If there is any part of their minds, down in those deep recesses, in the deepest caverns, where those thoughts are lurking.... ‘we won’t beat Kilkenny’.
In 1995, the message Ger Loughnane and his management hammered home to us was that this opportunity might never come again, that it was the chance of a lifetime, to get our heads around that concept was a massive feat. I don’t doubt for a second that Waterford will have huge belief tomorrow in Croke Park but I’m talking about real, real ambition where they are clinical and composed and they just go for this with everything they have inside them. Because there is a massive difference between both.
If they really want this, if Waterford really go for it, they have a chance. I saw an interview with Jamie Barron during the week where he said he can’t wait for the game to come. That’s the attitude and desire you want to hear but you have got to bring more to the table against Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final. You gotta bring that something different, that attitude of, ‘Hi, we’re dictating here today, we’re setting the tone, not ye’.
I’d love to see Kevin Moran dinking a 25-yard pass early on to Colin Dunford, for Dunford to take on Paul Murphy and go for goal. Waterford are unlikely to stray too far from their game-plan and system now but they got a massive lesson in the Munster final about how far that can take them against the quality of Tipperary and Kilkenny.
Yeah, they kept Tipp to 0-21 but you’ll win nothing with 0-16. Waterford will need a goal if not two but Kilkenny won’t leave two-on-two at the back like Cork and Dublin did. Waterford are not going to gun down Kilkenny with just two or three forwards up front against a crowd who specialise in strangling the best attacking units.
It will be fascinating to see what Waterford are going to do, how ambitious they’re going to be. It will be equally intriguing to see how Kilkenny react to whatever Waterford do throw at them but you can see Brian Cody’s main mantra here; no goals, force Waterford to shoot under pressure and from distance and bringsavage intensity to the combat zone in the middle. Cody knows his team have enough firepower to win any day on those terms.
The other big advantage Kilkenny have is that they know this terrain so well. They have perfected getting it right for All-Ireland semi-finals. I remember when Kilkenny were beaten by Wexford in the 2004 Leinster semi-final and Noel Skehan, a selector at the time, was interviewed afterwards. “We know nathin’ about that auld back door,” he said.
Kilkenny still came through to reach an All-Ireland final but this is the route they have always wanted to go because it has always suited them. Even when Limerick arrived and unleashed hell in their direction last year, and Kilkenny were coming off a five-week lay-off, they were still able to repel that fire in horrendous conditions and get over the line.
Taking that lead from Limerick has to be Waterford’s first starting point because they’re going to have to have an unmerciful cut. I did see that little tweak in their game against Dublin, which they’ll need tomorrow, by pushing Dunford closer to goal and giving Austin Gleeson more licence to push forward. The only caveat though, was that Dublin did play into their hands by leaving two-on-two at the back - which, to be fair, worked for the whole first half - but I just can’t see the Cats setting up like that.
The way Waterford set up, the way they dug it out when Dublin asked them awkward questions showed a new maturity to a side which has shown so many different shades to its personality all season. They will have to show something a little bit fresh to win here, yet they should embrace the day, enjoy the bus journey up Clonliffe Road and let each man say ‘this is what I was born for, now I’m gonna cut loose and hurl like I never did before’.
Kilkenny are still vulnerable. Jackie Tyrrell is a loss. So is Richie Power because he has always done well in All-Ireland semi-finals – he turned the game against Limerick last year. It’s hard to know what physical shape Michael Fennelly is in. Kilkenny certainly don’t have the depth in their bench which they could call on so often in big contests. I wouldn’t be having my shirt on them at 1/3 but you can’t get away from Kilkenny’s firepower - TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Walter Walsh, even the way Ger Aylward has stepped up this year.
And you don’t back against Kilkenny in All-Ireland semi-finals.
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