It’s a tall order after their previous Saturday night showdown, against Tipperary seven days ago in Nowlan Park. Derek Lyng soldiered with the Cats on enough big days to know what last weekend cost his former teammates.
“When you get over a big win like last Saturday’s it can seem as if you haven’t been out several weeks in-a- row. Just look at Dublin last Sunday at the final whistle – they didn’t seem drained by all those games, five in five weeks. The benefit of last Saturday evening is that they’ll be a lot more confident going out tonight. A good win like that can ignite your whole season – you’re stuttering along, maybe, but then a good win restores the confidence and the momentum.”
Dan Shanahan wonders about the Kilkenny players’ appetite for another battle so soon after beating Tipperary. The Lismore man says Cats boss Brian Cody will have been giving out specific messages all last week.
“I think it’ll be hard for some of the Kilkenny lads to get to the same pitch again so quickly. Brian Cody will no doubt be ramming that point home all week in training, not to take Waterford lightly, but the build-up to the Tipp game, the bitterness of the rivalry, the winner-take-all stakes last weekend . . . they’ve got to go and do it all again tonight, while Waterford are building away quietly.”
Lyng agrees on the importance of the last week – and the particular requirement for players to succeed at this time of year: freshness. He also points to the benefit of a decade’s experience at the top table.
“The challenge is to maintain the freshness, always, and having a short period of time between games can help in that regard,” says Lyng.
“If you had a couple of weeks until the next day then there’d be a couple of heavy training sessions, though in fairness the lads on the management side are very experienced – Michael Dempsey’s strength would be in judging lads and he’s very good at it. Remember, the Kilkenny lads have had a busy couple of months – they were going up to the league final, they would have played three rounds of club games as well, so they’ve been going hard. But the fitness work is mostly done by this stage: you’re really working on your touch and ticking over, so I’d say appetite and freshness shouldn’t be an issue. Last Saturday was a huge game for both teams and would have taken a lot out of the players just by its nature. I heard a couple of the lads speaking a couple of days afterwards about the Waterford game, though, and that’s the benefit of experience.
“You know when you’ve been on the road that long that you can’t dwell on a win for too long.”
Waterford don’t have the same level of experience, but Shanahan points to their low-key preparations, away from the public glare accompanying Kilkenny for the last month.
He thinks Tipperary may have exposed a chink in the Cats’ armour last weekend.
“Everyone’s talking about the heat, never mind the hurling. All the focus has been on Kilkenny all the week since they beat Tipperary, which is great from the Waterford point of view. If I were (Waterford manager) Michael Ryan I’d be getting lads to do what James Woodlock did last Saturday night – he ran at the Kilkenny defence and they didn’t seem to have an answer. He opened them up more than once, but I’d be encouraging the Waterford midfielders and half-forwards to run at their opponents at every opportunity – our attack is light enough so I’d be inclined to get the lads to move and use their speed as often as they can.”
Shanahan sees the big redhead prowling on the sideline as a major ace for Cody, “It’s a great chance for some of the Waterford young lads – Kilkenny in Thurles on a warm day has got to be a kid’s dream. It’s going to be a tough game and Kilkenny could do what they did last Saturday night – introduce Henry (Shefflin) just when it’ll give them a big psychological boost with the support and so on. But Waterford don’t have any fear.”
The Kilkenny perspective on Shefflin is a realistic one.
“I don’t think it’s a case of keeping him in reserve as much as a question of his match fitness,” says Lyng.
“A lot would depend on what he does this week in training, the medical team will give their views and Henry himself, of course, will tell them how he feels.
“I’d see him getting maybe 20, 25 minutes but it’d be a big jump to give him 70 minutes – though then, he’s been defying medical logic for a long time now.”
For all the thoughts of this evening, Lyng concedes that Saturday was epochal in the life of this Kilkenny team: “The atmosphere was electric, but I also got a sense from the supporters that maybe they were going to show the team their appreciation for the last few years, and the fact that Henry (Shefflin) was warming up the line, that added to it as well.
“It was unique, a win-at-all-costs game in Nowlan Park, so I’d say it’s definitely one that’ll always be recalled.”
Shanahan has had some epochal moments himself lately, with younger brother Maurice starring for Waterford in their wins over Offaly and Westmeath.
“It’s been happening, I’ve been introduced as Maurice’s brother a few times,” says the elder Shanahan.
“I’m delighted he’s going well, hurling is what he lives for and he’d have more skill in his little finger than I’d have in my whole body, but I don’t want to put any pressure on him.”
The big man shakes his head at the prospect of tonight’s winner-take-all battle in Semple Stadium. “This is the kind of game tonight that you train for all through the winter; it’s what you train for during January and February when it’s wet and windy – a hard ground and the sun beating down on you in Thurles. If you can’t play in those conditions, when can you play?