Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-18: Maybe now people will stop saying the best time to face Kilkenny is in an All-Ireland semi-final.
It’s 10 years since they last fell at this hurdle. Yesterday was their 14th win in 16 last-four games. They weren’t spectacular but then they are another kind of excellent these days.
Much like the Leinster final win over Galway, the game followed a familiar script and most knew the ending long before the climax.
Waterford were good but not good enough to deal with the mammoth scale of the intensity in front, behind and to the side of them. By the end, their chasing of a goal to spook Kilkenny looked futile. Launching high balls to outnumbered inside-forwards looked desperate but so many balls had dropped into Eoin Murphy’s hand throughout the game. Kilkenny were applying so much pressure out the field, that the ball sent in lacked quality.
They had given Kilkenny their fill of it in the first half when they led on three occasions before a defensive lapse allowed TJ Reid in for a goal. In that period, they were equals with Kilkenny in chasing down opponents. Turnovers were aplenty as each team struggled to retain possession in the middle third.
With Colin Dunford leading the fightback, Waterford were just three points behind with 15 minutes remaining but they were in complete control.
Ger Aylward, like Dunford an impressive second-half performer, could have ended the game in the 56th minute, only to have his first shot saved by Stephen O’Keeffe and his second effort went wide as his momentum threw him off balance.
But four unanswered points, three within a couple of minutes, confirmed the win for Kilkenny. Aylward made amends with the first of them in the 59th minute, followed by a Richie Hogan brace and then Aylward came good again. Maurice Shanahan pointed a close-range 66th minute free when it seemed the wisest choice was to go for goal. The game then continued to its inevitable conclusion.
In Brian Cody’s time, Kilkenny have never come into an All-Ireland semi-final with so much injury speculation surrounding them. Richie Hogan was almost written off on Wednesday after a back complaint. Joey Holden, we were told, had a similar problem. Reid had a reported toe issue. Michael Fennelly wasn’t Michael Fennelly. Hadn’t trained properly for weeks.
Wounded Cats they may have been but they hardly showed any lameness. Hogan, Reid and Holden were excellent while Fennelly charged into the game in the second half after an iffy display before half-time when he conceded two converted frees and pucked some aimless ball.
Cody didn’t delve into his reserves until the 67th minute. When he did, it was not any of that quartet but Walter Walsh who was replaced by John Power. “Every player stands up in their own way,” Cody said afterwards. “Different players bring different things to it. Everyone stood up and played their part. We were tested, I think, in a very serious way by a really, really good team.”
Kilkenny led 1-9 to 0-10 at half-time with the first half showing just five scorers — Reid and Hogan for them, Shanahan, Shane Bennett and Austin Gleeson for Waterford. In such a claustrophobic environment, scores from play were slim pickings, Kilkenny managing 1-3 to Waterford’s 0-3.
There was no electric start for either team with Shane Fives’ thigh denying Eoin Larkin an early goal. However, Kilkenny never lost the lead following Reid’s 17th-minute goal when he stole behind Barry Coughlan and Tadhg de Burca after the pair went to claim the high ball in.
Admitting Waterford never imposed their game-plan as they had hoped, Derek McGrath said the goal was a blow. “I was disappointed with that, I have to say. We had planned to play the game in segments to compartmentalise, to say, first eight minutes, keep it tight. Go point for point, then slip two (players) inside, then slip three inside.
“A lot of the post-match analysis will be based on that we only had one inside but in actual fact we had two inside an awful lot of the game. We were relatively happy with how it went at half-time. I think Paul Murphy hit the ball twice in the first half and Tadhg had hit the ball 15 times. We were saying our sweeper had got on an awful lot more ball than Paul Murphy.
“We found it hard to push on with 15 minutes to go and it didn’t even look like we were trying to push on; a little bit of inexperience as much as anything else in the last 15 minutes, and I’d be disappointed with that.”
Kilkenny’s seasoned campaigners undoubtedly helped turn the tide but this wasn’t won on reputation.
Honesty of effort was once again the reigning champions’ calling card.
Scorers for Kilkenny:
TJ Reid (1-9, 0-6 frees); R Hogan (0-5); G Aylward (0-4); C Buckley, E Larkin, M Fennelly (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford:
M Shanahan (0-9, 6 frees, 1 65); C Dunford (0-4); A Gleeson (1 sideline) (0-3); Shane Bennett, K Moran (0-1 each).
E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; M Fennelly, C Fogarty; C Fennelly, R Hogan, W Walsh; G Aylward, TJ Reid, E Larkin.
Sub for Kilkenny:
J Power for W Walsh (67).
S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; P Mahony, T de Burca, A Gleeson; J Barron, K Moran; M Walsh, C Dunford, D Fives; Shane Bennett, M Shanahan, J Barron.
Subs for Waterford:
P Curran for J Dillon (53); Stephen Bennett for Shane Bennett (57).
B Gavin (Offaly)
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