Tipperary legend Nicky English has identified Richie Hogan and TJ Reid as the players powering Kilkenny towards another All-Ireland hurling final.
The MacCarthy Cup-winning player and manager gives Waterford an outside chance of a semi-final upset next weekend, praising the impressive evolution of their defensive model into a ‘flowing’ system.
But he tipped holders Kilkenny to ultimately return to the decider and said their excellent Leinster final win over Galway had to be revised upwards again in light of Galway’s big win over Cork.
It’s a particularly strong position for Kilkenny to be in given the haemorrhage of All-Ireland winning icons since last September’s triumph, with six players retiring.
English believes the reason for the smooth transition is that several players have stood up to claim leadership roles, most notably Hurler of the Year Hogan and All-Star Reid.
“Kilkenny, for me, have the two best players in the country in Reid and Hogan,” said English. “I don’t know which of them is the best for me. But when you have those two players, they’re just amazing. They are doing most of the damage for Kilkenny. If Waterford can find a way of stopping Reid and Hogan from scoring that much on Sunday, well then that would give them a great chance but that’s not easy. No-one has been able to do it.
“They have grown into that leadership role. Michael Fennelly has been very important to them too, particularly against Wexford. But he’s been fragile and Richie Power is fragile.
“Kilkenny were outstanding in the Leinster final and you actually have to re-rate that Leinster final now on the basis of Galway hammering Cork.
“I thought Galway were good in the Leinster final but Kilkenny were just excellent and they beat them well for a finish. A lot of it was down to Reid and Hogan again, they were brilliant on the day. They’ve always had someone to step up. ”
Pundit English reserved plenty of credit for Waterford. The Allianz League champions have lost just a single competitive game all year, the Munster final, and are evolving their system all the time, according to English. Their tactics have been compared to the crude, blanket defence approach employed by various football teams, though English suggests that is doing them a vast disservice.
“I don’t necessarily think they are overly defensive,” he said. “I don’t agree with that. I think they are doing what most other teams are doing but a little bit more exaggerated.
“Really what Waterford are doing is their half-forwards are very mobile and they come back into midfield and then try and support the two up front .But it is not necessarily playing two sweepers or three sweepers as you’d hear. I think most county teams are playing similarly at the moment, it’s there already.
“A lot of that is coming out of the third-level college teams. A lot of them play like that. Waterford IT and UCC, the more successful ones, have been playing like that and creating a bit of space in the full-forward line. Kilkenny are doing the same.
“It’s not as easy to recognise because it’s not as exaggerated as what Waterford are doing, but it is similar enough.”
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