Austin Gleeson knew nothing was ever going to come easy against Kilkenny even when they led by eight points on the hour mark.
Gleeson’s fifth point in the 59th minute restored that supposedly commanding advantage for Waterford before their opponents delivered a rousing return to force additional time.
He said: “It was the same as last year, they came back at us and probably deserved a draw by the end of it. We came out in the first half of extra-time and hoped we wouldn’t leave it there. Thankfully, we got the win.
“The last 11 months were tough and people were asking were we ever going to beat Kilkenny? Thankfully we have now. It’s a massive scalp but we have bigger things ahead.”
The prospect of consigning 1959 to the past seemed to dawn on the players as they retreated into their shells to protect that lead just as they did in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final last year.
“Last year in Croke Park, it popped into our heads when we went five or six points up and then they got a goal. It was almost an exact repeat of what happened then. The heads were down going in at full-time but we came out for the first half and said we were going to give it a roll and see where it takes us. Thankfully, our fitness showed and we kept going.”
Gleeson has 11 points from play to his name in his last two games.
He faded out of the tie to an extent in additional time but there’s little doubt last year’s hurler of the year has returned to form.
“In ways, it’s hard to get on the ball in a game of that intensity. I was just lucky a few of the pop shots that I’m criticised for went over.”
Gleeson’s team-mate Tadhg de Burca said there was a sense of déjà vu in the dressing room at the end of normal time.
“We let a lead slip again, we let them back into the game. Kilkenny are a hard team to beat when you give them a second chance but we’re mentally strong in the dressing room. We know if we did what we were told to do and stuck together we’d be in with a shout to get over the line.”
De Burca says the display made up “a small bit” for the Munster semi-final defeat to Cork but knows this latest win will count for little should they lose their All-Ireland quarter-final the week after next. If we lose the next game, getting hammered or whatever it’ll be back to square one. That win means nothing if we don’t put in a performance the next day.”
Meanwhile, Noel Connors admitted that he and his colleagues sensed manager Derek McGrath was absorbing most of the pressure coming into Saturday’s backdoor game and felt they owed him a display.
“Everyone is well aware the amount of pressure that Derek has come under the last number of weeks after the Cork defeat. We’ll be the first to say as players that we didn’t perform on the day. Derek has taken a lot of criticism for that. One of the motivational factors was playing for Derek. A lot of people forget about where we have come from in the last three years.”
Connors feels the demand for success in the county isn’t grounded in reality.
“There is always an expectation in Waterford to be in Munster finals every year that you are going to be winning matches, in spite of the fact that we have been in 1B and that we’ve had to regroup in the last few years.
“It’s a sporting analogy but you are only remembered for the last game you play. I think people at times can be very short-minded. I don’t mean that in an arrogant or condescending way but that is just reality.
“Derek has taken a lot of criticism. Everyone is questioning set-ups and sweeper systems.
“Derek is doing an incredible job and will continue to do an incredible job over the summer for us.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved