DONAL O'GRADY: Waterford hurlers can’t fall prey to ‘hawks’ of Kilkenny again

It is said you learn something new every day. Last Sunday, after the stadium emptied, I saw a Harris hawk — parabuteo unicinctus — for the first time.

It was flying over the hallowed turf of Croke Park to the commands of its falconer. 

According to Wikipedia: “It is formerly known as the bay-winged hawk or dusky hawk. It is a medium-large bird of prey and popular in falconry but unlike other hawks it hunts in groups”.

It was fascinating to watch as the bird was put through its paces by the handler.

At one point, it swooped down swiftly, landing on the pitch as if taking some unsuspecting prey with its strong talons.

This action reminded me of the biggest play of the afternoon.

Kilkenny were down and almost out. Waterford’s Jamie Barron got caught in possession and the ball fell loose. The striped predators swooped on this small error and Walter Walsh netted the crucial goal, ensuring their survival.

Waterford were excellent in many facets of their play. Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson were outstanding and their colleagues gave everything for the cause. 

Former Cork trainer Sean McGrath was fond of a saying “we cannot work harder but we can work smarter”.

It would be difficult for the Déise to improve on their work rate but they need to play smart when they have opponents by the throat.

I wrote on Saturday that “their highest level of aggression allied to a steely discipline must underpin their performance”.

They brought the necessary level of aggression but when the playing panel reviews the video they will be disappointed with some of the scoreable frees they conceded.

As early as the second minute a needless free was given away when Kilkenny’s Cillian Buckley had taken four or five steps and was bound to be pulled up for overcarrying. 

Early points from frees don’t exercise the mind as much as frees conceded in the dying moments but if that needless free wasn’t conceded Waterford may have won the game.

Shane Fives gave a little tug to Richie Hogan’s shoulder as he careered down the left wing early in the second half. That was not the first time this season that the first rate corner-back has been penalised for an innocuous little tug. 

Hogan may have scored but it was far from certain. But there was never any doubt that TJ Reid would convert the chance from the resultant placed ball.

The Déise were four points to the good in the last quarter. Only Conor Fogarty,from long range and Eoin Larkin, pouncing on a stray pass, had scored from play and Kilkenny were reduced to hitting high balls forward hoping for a break.

With no immediate danger and with his back to goal Richie Hogan was taken down by Tadhg De Burca for a needless free.

This is an area Waterford must improve on. In general play, their defence was on top. However, they dragged Kilkenny along in their slipstream by the concession of frees. 

When they were under pressure they struck some aimless balls forward which were swept up by the Kilkenny defenders who set up counterattacks.

Goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe was top class in his role of receiver for under pressure defenders, regularly making himself available as the support player. His use of the ball was excellent.

However, he will be a little disappointed with his effort to block Kilkenny’s goal. It might be no harm for him to view the video of Dónal Óg Cusack’s fantastic save against Henry Shefflin in the 2004 All-Ireland final.

Standing tall and making himself as wide as possible should be a ‘keeper’s aim in that situation, forcing the striker to make a decision. 

By turning his body sideways, O’Keeffe increased the target area, making the decision easier for Walter Walsh.

Austin Gleeson nominally played at centre-forward but effectively it was a free central role. This was a smart move by Derek McGrath.

Having watched Brian Hogan occupy a circle of space around his 45m line for many years I was surprised to see Kilkenny centre-back Kieran Joyce operating as a man marker, following Gleeson out into midfield. This opened gaps in the defence.

Joyce was replaced in the second half with Conor Fogarty manning the centre. 

This move tightened up the defence and the Deise failed to score for 13 minutes before their final point.

Eoin Larkin’s introduction brought a different dimension to Kilkenny. He foraged well y in midfield while the man he replaced, John Jo Farrell, stuck to the corner. Last year Ger Aylward moved Noel Connors around a lot in the second half to the obvious discomfort of the corner-back. I was expecting Farrell to try much the same.

Connors was excellent on Sunday but even when Colin Fennelly went into corner forward he was inclined to stay in there.

It was almost as if the corner forwards were instructed to stay inside to feed off breaks from TJ Reid.

I wrote earlier in the year about Reid going too well too early. He doesn’t seem to have the same buzz about him in general play as he had in the spring.

Maybe it was just an off day but it will be a concern for Brian Cody.

Another area of concern for Cody was the fact Waterford garnered six points from direct possession from their own puck-outs. 

This is an area where Kilkenny normally dominate.

Cody will be delighted with the second chance as defeat was staring them in the face.

Their superb physical fitness, rarely mentioned, and collective resolve kept them in it. 

He will cast a cold reflective eye over proceedings and feel that their workrate on this occasion was slightly below the required level.

He has built the Kilkenny dynasty on the intertwined structures of collective team spirit and workrate. He will hope for a return to full output in both areas next weekend.

They were involved in big replays in 2012 and 2014. 

On those occassions they got the personnel changes worked to perfection.

However those games were three weeks apart. A six day turnaround means a very different challenge with a much different pool of talent on the bench.

Training for the replay will be very light. The focus will be on rest, recovery and learning from Sunday’s display. There is not much between the teams.

Whoever learns most this week should win it.


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