Hard work will stand to goal-shy Waterford against Kilkenny, says Noel Connors

Work-rate more than goals will keep Waterford on the straight and narrow in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Kilkenny, according to Noel Connors.

Sunday was the third championship game in a row that the Déise haven’t hit the net, their only goal of the summer coming when Maurice Shanahan fired a ground stroke past Patrick Kelly in their Munster semi-final win over Clare.

Connors isn’t worried by the drought.

“We didn’t get a goal opportunity and we came pretty close (to winning).

“The goals thing is something (that can be argued) but I think if you work extremely hard which, in fairness, we’ve done, is more of a factor in terms of winning games.

“Kilkenny have probably been the benchmark of that as well given the incredible amount of tackles they put in, their physicality and commitment.

“That’s probably something that’s always been the cornerstone of their team and we try to do that as well. Hopefully that was evident (in the drawn game on Sunday) with the amount of tackles, hooks, and blocks. It was a great game to watch.

“It was a fantastic spectacle and I think hurling is alive and well, thank God.”

Connors argues Waterford didn’t lift the performance levels any higher on Sunday than they have done in previous championship and league victories since the start of last year.

But because it is being judged against their 21-point hammering to Tipperary in July, he intimates it looked better than it was.

“I wouldn’t say we haven’t seen it before. It was something that you just have to get up to that level, that standard when you’re in quarter-finals, semi-finals.

“Certainly, I think we’ve been a team that has been maybe tarnished for the defeat in the Munster final. It’s a game that we look back on with dread and everything else. It was probably our worst performance in maybe two, even three years.

“People are still looking at the Munster final defeat to Tipperary as what Waterford are about. But they forget about our great games against the likes of Wexford, Limerick in the league semi-final and Clare. Those are three great games we’ve played already this year.

“Maybe it’s a wrong representation of what we are as a group of players but certainly it (this performance) is the level that Derek has got us to in the last three years since he’s got involved. If you want to be contesting against the likes of Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Galway, you have to be up at this level.”

As well as reminding themselves of what they did wrong against Kilkenny, Connors said Waterford must now focus on what they did right.

The last thing they can afford to do, he maintains, is show the Cats too much respect after their fightback from the dead.

“I don’t know is it tradition or is it just the mentality of Kilkenny. But it’s a mentality that champions have. In fairness to them, they’ve been a phenomenal side and still are, probably the best team ever to grace a hurling field. You have to respect that but also go out with the best of intentions to try to win the game.

“Obviously, you can’t respect it too much where your own game is burdened and you’re looking too much at what they have. I think a lot of the game we played (last Sunday) was kind of our terms where we wanted to go out and play hurling to our strengths. I think that was where the game was kind of ebbing and flowing, which was great to see.”

Meanwhile Brian Gavin is the favourite to referee his fourth All-Ireland senior hurling final on September 4. If appointed to the showpiece decider again, it will be the fourth time in six seasons that the Offaly whistler has been given the nod.

Gavin was the man in the middle for the Kilkenny-Tipperary clash in 2011, the drawn Clare-Cork game in 2013 and the Kilkenny-Tipperary replay two years ago.

Informed refereeing sources have indicated that Gavin has been told to get himself ready for another September outing, having already taken charge of three massive matches already this summer. 

Gavin was the referee for the Dublin-Kilkenny clash in Leinster, the Munster final between Waterford and Tipperary, and Galway’s victory over Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.


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