Ten months ago, Austin Gleeson admitted Waterford were humbled by Kilkenny in the physical stakes when reviewing last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“There were times in the game it was boys against men, even around the middle of the field, the hits you were taking,” he recalled.
“It was unbelievable, I remember in the first-half Michael Fennelly hit me and it took me two or three minutes to even get over that hit because he’s a big man.”
Fast forward to now and he’s glad to say that while Kilkenny weren’t beaten on Sunday at least Waterford aren’t adolescents in terms of conditioning anymore.
“Last year has been talked about by the players, it was men against boys but we set our stall out that we weren’t going to be run over.
“We matched them for what we thought might win us the game and we were very close so we have to go next week and see what happens again.”
Gleeson had mixed emotions after Sunday’s epic.
“We were given no hope coming up here and to put in a performance like that and be five points up with 15 minutes to go, the goal was a sucker punch but we kept going.
“We played well, Kilkenny being Kilkenny, they never gave up. When they got the goal a team of old might have ducked away and left it go but we just kept going and going and going.
“At least we didn’t lose the game. That’s another consolation and we have another go on Saturday night.”
Waterford’s decision to go 15-on-15 with Kilkenny surprised a few with some heralding it as the day Derek McGrath finally took the shackles off his players. But Gleeson highlighted it wasn’t a new phenomenon.
“We’ve actually played that way a couple of times this year but we just worked a lot harder and that’s the way it is.
“We have to do the same next week no matter what the lads have planned for us.”
Semple Stadium has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Waterford under McGrath having won seven of 10 league and championship matches there since the start of last year, losing only to Clare and Tipperary and drawing with the Banner in this year’s Division 1 final.
“It’s the sixth or seventh time we will have played there this year,” said Gleeson.
“It’s like a second home to us at this stage but Kilkenny are Kilkenny – we could play them in the middle of the road and it would be the same kind of thing. We just need to bring the fight to them and they’ll bring the fight to us.”
Gleeson backed up his superb Munster U21 final display with another terrific performance against Kilkenny, his five points only telling part of the tale where he caused Kilkenny so much difficulty in the air. Now firm favourite to take the young hurler of the year award, Gleeson wasn’t keen on accepting praise.
“It was nothing to do with me; it was the balls that was laid out. It was Brick (Michael Walsh), it was Paraic (Mahony), it was Philip (Mahony), it was everyone who was giving me the ball.
“I didn’t really win much ball, it was all laid off for me. We just work for each other. No matter what happens, we just keep going for each other.”
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