And, they just about managed it, thanks in the main to their goal-scoring expertise in the first half and some heroic defending in the last 15 minutes.
That was when Waterford, kept in contention all through by the brilliance of Paul Flynn's free-taking (and Kilkenny squandermania), mounted a series of attacks in search of the goal which would have, at the very least, offered them redemption. But, sadly, the scoring threat which won them the Munster championship was severely blunted on this occasion.
While John Mullane was sorely missed by Waterford, Henry Shefflin was passed fit to play with Kilkenny and highlighted his immense value to the team with an impressive return of 2-4. Looked at from a Waterford perspective, defensive lapses which virtually gifted two of the goals (Shefflin's second and the other by Eddie Brennan) ultimately proved vital.
The fact that the game was so tight from start to finish (except when Brennan's goal, in the 32nd minute, opened up a seven points lead), meant that neither side ever had a chance to relax. Promisingly for Waterford, their six week lay-off didn't prevent them from adapting to the pace from the outset, except it was arguably the reason for a number of below-par form performances in the first half.
Flynn hit the first of what proved to be ten first-half points in the opening minute to give them a confident start, but within four minutes Shefflin had the ball in the net - showing his class by cutting in along the end-line and scoring from a difficult angle. In early attacks he looked threatening and it was significant that Waterford put James Murray over on him after just nine minutes, with some success.
With scores level for the only time when Flynn pointed his fourth free, it was notable that Kilkenny never lost their lead after midfielder Jimmy Coogan scored in the 12th minute. After that, the Munster champions were to play catch-up, very much reliant on Flynn's shooting (which also earned him four great scores from play) - and the fact that Kilkenny's finishing was quite poor at times. They ran up a lot of wides - 16 in total.
A number of factors seriously impacted on the direction the game took, not least the fact that John Hoyne never gave Ken McGrath the chance to dominate at centre-back.
And, at the other end, Dan Shanahan never made anything like the same impression he did in all three Munster games. Firstly, he never got possession in around the goalmouth and secondly, on the rare occasions he got away from J.J. Delaney (again brilliant at left half-back), he was bottled up by the combined efforts of the available defenders.
James Murray made a vital interception to deny Shefflin a possible second goal in the 19th minute, but four minutes later Kilkenny had the ball in the net again. Debutante 'keeper Ian O'Regan made an excellent save from Eddie Brennan, but couldn't prevent him from finishing.
To Waterford's credit, they came back fighting again, with Eoin Kelly pointing from play and Flynn hitting over a seventy.
Flynn's scoring rate and Kilkenny's missed chances meant that the pattern of the game didn't change much. And, that was the situation ever after Kilkenny got the third goal. Hoyne stole a ball off Declan Prendergast out on the right wing and Shefflin stepped into the square at the right time - catching Murray and the 'keeper off guard - to tap it home. That was in the 32nd minute and in remaining time Flynn hit three more points to make the half-time score 3-6 to 0-11. The second half was to be even more tightly contested. It was to see Waterford outscoring the champions by a point but failing to get the goal which would have really transformed their challenge. Substitute Jack Kennedy boosted their attack with an immediate point, another in the 50th minute and one later before being denied a possible goal by a critical Tommy Walsh intercept and overall there was to be a general improvement.
In response, Kilkenny's skill and craft enabled them to pick off points here and there (D.J. Carey, hitting one marvellous score from far out on the right touchline). The net effect was to give them breathing space on the scoreboard - which they badly needed.
Sensing a comeback was imminent, Waterford supporters roared on their team to even greater effort. Kennedy's second score narrowed the margin to a mere three points and over the next fifteen minutes only two scores were produced. Crucially, both went to Kilkenny, to the skilful Cha Fitzpatrick and Shefflin. But, two more from Flynn had Waterford piling on the pressure entering the last five minutes of normal time, with Ken McGrath moved to attack where brother Eoin did some great work before being replaced.
Desperation defending on Kilkenny's part saw Delaney nip in between Kennedy and Paul O'Brien to prevent a probable goal in the 67th minute. And then in injury time, 'keeper James McGarry came off his line to beat Flynn to a ball which broke menacingly only yards from the line. It was heart-stopping - and for Waterford, truly heart-breaking.
: Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 2-4 (0-4 frees); E. Brennan 1-1; M. Comerford 0-3; D.J. Carey 0-2 (0-1 free); K. Coogan and C. Fitzpatrick 0-1 each. Waterford: P. Flynn 0-13 (0-8 frees, 0-1 '65); J. Kennedy 0-3; E. Kelly and M. Walsh 0-1 each.
: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; T. Walsh, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; D. Lyng, K. Coogan; E. Brennan, J. Hoyne, D.J. Carey; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Comerford (capt.), H. Shefflin.
: I. O'Regan; E. Murphy, D. Prendergast, J. Murray; T. Browne, K. McGrath (capt.), B. Phelan; E. Kelly, D. Bennett; D. Shanahan, M. Walsh, P. Flynn; S. O'Sullivan, E. McGrath, S. Prendergast, E. McGrath. Subs: J. Kennedy for O'Sullivan (second half); P. O'Brien for E. McGrath (58th).
: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin). I found little fault with Aodan MacSuibhne's refereeing. Overall, he handled the game impressively.