Some of Waterford’s players were still in the shower as Brian Cody waited to enter the dressing room and pass on Kilkenny’s congratulations.
All-Ireland SHC qualifier
Derek McGrath summoned them to provide an audience as much to show the great manager respect — Cody’s team had went down fighting — as to be present for the novelty of hearing a beaten Kilkenny boss.
What’s rare is truly wonderful for Waterford. At the 11th time of asking in championship fare, they did it. The rock face above Waterford City’s Plunkett Station that skirts the counties’ border, the most hotly contested piece of granite in the country, can be painted white and blue for the coming year.
Saturday bridged that 58-year gap to their All-Ireland final replay win over their neighbours. It also ended Cody’s eight-game unbeaten record against Waterford but, boy, was it hard-earned. It didn’t seem that way when Austin Gleeson restored their eight-point lead with 11 minutes of normal time remaining, but Waterford seemed to struggle under the weight of history. Like last year’s drawn All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park, the magnifying prospect of consigning 1959 to the past dawned on Waterford and they shrivelled up.
Needless to say, Kilkenny were fortunate that TJ Reid’s 66th-minute goal in that fight-back was allowed stand given Colin Fennelly appeared to both charge and throw the ball in the build-up. But then Waterford were blessed to be awarded a free, which, had Maurice Shanahan converted, would have sealed the game in injury-time. Shanahan could be forgiven for the wide given he had just entered the fray, while regular free-taker Pauric Mahony had been retired just minutes beforehand.
At 2-15 apiece, James Owens then called an end to proceedings and the teams retreated to their dressing rooms to prepare for extra-time.
McGrath admitted Waterford initially wasted time on bemoaning the fact Reid’s second goal was given and Mahony’s injury. “Initially, we just had to gather our own thoughts as a management. Pauric (Mahony) couldn’t walk but we were toying with the idea of bringing him back in for the actual free in the last minute (of normal time). I think there was initial disappointment from management in terms of Pauric’s injury. We were kind of saying, ‘Jesus, this is going to come back to haunt us’. Then we needed to lift ourselves, body language, and the overall approach. It was a head-down approach.”
Kilkenny, who hadn’t led during regulation time, went a point up three minutes into the first extra-time period, but then Jamie Barron took over. Having scored the first extra-time point, he added a second after Patrick Curran’s effort to restore Waterford’s lead. Shanahan punished a foul on Brian O’Halloran before Barron gathered an Austin Gleeson ball and exploited space in an unpopulated Kilkenny defence to fire between Eoin Murphy’s legs. It gave Waterford a 3-19 to 2-18 cushion on the turnaround.
Glory seemed theirs when Shanahan emulated his brother and selector Dan’s goal from the 2010 Munster final, seizing Kilkenny’s failure to clear the lines and break forward. Shanahan added a further two points (frees) as did fellow replacement Tommy Ryan, underlying the options at McGrath’s disposal, as Kilkenny’s challenge eventually crumbled.
“The pleasing thing from our point of view is the likes of Maurice (Shanahan), Brian O’Halloran, Tommy Ryan (played well). We spoke about the strength of our panel and that this would be the biggest test of that. Any modicum of doubt at the end of normal time was put to bed by the performance of the subs in extra-time. We were good value for the win overall, albeit we did it the hard way.”
Waterford held a handsome 1-10 to 1-5 lead at half-time in normal time. It was a justified one too, even if Michael Walsh’s goal came moments before the break. Shane Bennett had great presence of mind to play to the whistle despite being fouled by Paul Murphy and passed the ball off to Walsh for his first inter-county goal in 11 years.
With Bennett and Jake Dillon causing serious problems for Kilkenny’s inside backs, Kevin Moran and Barron ruling midfield, and Gleeson hitting some impressive points, Kilkenny would have been delighted to find themselves just three points behind in the 33rd minute following Reid’s penalty goal. Richie Hogan was upended after Colin Fennelly had made the initial run towards Stephen O’Keeffe’s area. O’Keeffe managed to touch Reid’s pile-driver but it wasn’t enough to stop it.
Walsh and Bennett reversed roles for the latter’s goal in the 54th minute, a smashing shot into the roof of the net. It gave Waterford a seven-point platform, which became eight on two occasions via Moran and Gleeson. But then Kilkenny played Lazarus once more. Lester Ryan, impressive off the bench again, had almost goaled in the 55th minute when the ball flashed wide but he began the comeback, which ended with Colin Fennelly equalising three minutes into injury-time.
McGrath said the significance of 1959 had been mentioned in camp earlier in the week but then parked. Still, they could be forgiven for allowing themselves to believe, at eight points up, that they were going to replicate it. To come at Kilkenny again, to in the end finish seven ahead, took something else.
“This group has come on in terms of their whole approach to the game,” said McGrath.
“The siege mentality approach or we’re playing our near neighbours or ‘this fella has said this about Waterford over the years’, I don’t think we’re fuelled by that anymore.”
Scorers for Waterford:
Pauric Mahony (0-6, 5 frees, 1 65); J. Barron, M. Shanahan (0-2 frees) (1-3 each); A. Gleeson (0-5); M. Walsh, Shane Bennett (1-0 each); K. Moran, T. Ryan (0-2 each); J. Dillon, P. Curran (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny:
T.J. Reid (2-12, 1-0 pen, 0-10 frees, 0-1 65); L. Ryan (0-3); R. Leahy (0-2); R. Hogan, E. Murphy (free), K. Kelly, G. Aylward, C. Fennelly (0-1 each).
S. O’Keeffe 8; B. Coughlan 7, C. Gleeson 7; T. de Burca 9; N. Connors 7, Philip Mahony 7, S. Fives 7; J. Barron 9, K. Moran (c) 8; Pauric Mahony 7, M. Walsh 7, A. Gleeson 8; J. Dillon 7, Shane Bennett 7.
Subs for Waterford:
S. McNulty for N. Connors (blood, 44-49); P. Curran 6 for J. Dillon (48); Stephen Bennett 6 for Shane Bennett (61); M. Shanahan 7 for M. Walsh (69), B. O’Halloran 8 for Pauric Mahony (inj, 70+4); T. Ryan 7 for Stephen Bennett (79); C. Dunford 6 for P. Curran (85); S. McNulty 6 for N. Connors (inj, 86).
E. Murphy 7; P. Murphy 7, P. Walsh 6; C. Buckley 8; R. Lennon 6, J. Lyng 7, C. Fogarty 6; M. Fennelly 6, P. Deegan (c) 6, W. Walsh 6; C. Fennelly 6, T.J. Reid 7, K. Kelly 6; R. Hogan 5, J.J. Farrell 6.
Subs for Kilkenny:
L. Ryan 8 for P. Deegan, G. Aylward 6 for J.J. Farrell (both h-t); C. Bolger 6 for K. Kelly (49); R. Leahy 7 for R. Hogan (63); L. Blanchfield 6 for M. Fennelly (inj, 74); R. Hogan for G. Aylward (85).
J. Owens (Wexford).
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