Crippled by fear, Déise miss their big chance

VICTORY for Kilkenny in front of less than 32,000 spectators in this dour All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park yesterday came with a repetitive theme.

For the Cats it was qualification for their sixth successive All-Ireland final. For Waterford it was another semi-final defeat, their eighth in nine opportunities since 1998, and a loss tamer than any of those that have gone before.

Why? Because this was a game in which Kilkenny showed very definite cracks, a game Waterford might well have won had they gone for the jugular in the final minutes when they were just five points behind.

Instead they sat back, kept extra men in defence even as several of the Kilkenny forwards pulled deeper and deeper. The Déise in damage limitation mode rather than the all-out attack the situation demanded.

A tame finish to what, in truth, was a very tame match.

The fear in many quarters was that Kilkenny could do to Waterford what Tipperary had already done to them in the Munster final. That they would repeat their blitz of Dublin in the Leinster final.

A 1-2 to 0-0 start for the Cats, after Richie Hogan stuck the sliotar in the Waterford net after three minutes, suggested that such a scenario might unfold.

Perhaps this was in Waterford’s mind at the finish, the fear what Kilkenny can do to a team in a very short period — but it shouldn’t have been there.

Waterford recovered from that early reverse and a series of points from Eoin Kelly, John Mullane, Pauric Mahony (two) and Seamus Prendergast, against points from wing-forward Michael Rice and centre-back Brian Hogan, had them back in the game by the 15th minute, 1-4 to 0-5.

Kilkenny then went on a four-point run, Henry Shefflin, midfielders Michael Fennelly and TJ Reid and full-forward Eoin Larkin the scorers, but an angled strike from the rampaging John Mullane, who finished with 1-6 from play, soon had Waterford voices in full song.

And with just a couple of minutes to go to the break they were within two of Kilkenny. Then came the pivotal moment. At one end of the field Kilkenny keeper David Herity made a super save from another angled John Mullane drive. The ball went to Tommy Walsh who sent it long and without delay to the Kilkenny full-forward line. Colin Fennelly won possession, used his searing pace to make a bit of space, drew the other corner-back then parted to Richie Hogan who, with two sublime touches, gave Clinton Hennessy no chance.

End to end, two-goal swing and to rub salt in the wound another pointed free from Henry put Kilkenny 2-10 to 1-7 ahead at the break.

With the wind strong but swirling the pressure was now on Waterford to up the ante on the restart. And though Kilkenny scored first, another Henry point, Waterford did create the opportunities for themselves.

Unfortunately, and at a time when they needed every score they could muster they didn’t capitalise. Three poor wides in a row before the king showed them how it’s done with another pointed free.

By the 55th minute the lead stretched to a comfortable 10 points, 2-16 to 1-9. Annihilation here we come.

But then Waterford really began to play. They showed a spark through, not for the first time in a stellar career, John Mullane.

Over the next eight minutes, with substitute Maurice Shanahan (two) looking sharp, Waterford outscored Kilkenny 0-6 to 0-1, halving the deficit and in the process making Kilkenny look very ordinary.

Pick-ups missed, poor handling — rarely has a Kilkenny team looked so lacking in hurling sharpness in Croke Park on a big day and with their massive support now full behind them the game was there for Waterford to attack.

But they didn’t. As Richie Hogan dropped deep, Eoin Larkin and the out-of-sorts Richie Power likewise, the Waterford defenders stayed at home and the game developed into a tennis match, a very boring tennis match with a lot of baseline rallies.

A pity. Waterford may have prevented another hammering but they also lost an opportunity, no conviction, no trust in themselves.

Kilkenny? They’ll get better, and will have to if they are to win the final.

Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-7 (4f); R Hogan 2-0; M Fennelly 0-3; C Fennelly, E Larkin 0-2 each; B Hogan, TJ Reid, M Rice, P Hogan, E Brennan, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Waterford: J Mullane 1-6;E Kelly 0-3 (2f); M Shanahan (1f), P Mahony (2f) 0-2 each; S Molumphy, S Prendergast, R Foley (1f), 0-1 each.

Subs for Kilkenny: P Hogan for Reid (35), E Brennan for Rice (61). Blood: E Brennan for R Hogan (35-37).

Subs for Waterford: J Nagle for D Prendergast (35), M Shanahan for Mahony (44), T Ryan for Kelly (52), R Foley for Walsh (52).

Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).

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