When you’re rating the games that have everything, Kilkenny v Waterford is the benchmark

Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 2-17
When the smoke cleared in Thurles on Saturday and the cars were bumper to bumper on all routes out of the town, windows were rolled down and conversation hummed with other drivers and pedestrians.

The game. The displays. The refereeing. And most of all, the ending.

At the finish Kilkenny were two ahead, which didn’t please the aesthetically minded.

They and Waterford had fought each other to a standstill in this All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay, a late surge by the Munster county ending with a difficult Pauric Mahony free to level it in injury time.

The Waterford man’s aim was true, but Kilkenny keeper Eoin Murphy reached up, pulled the ball down, and in a heartbeat Richie Hogan was pointing at the other end.

Game over. When you say in future a game has everything, this may become your benchmark. 

An All-Ireland semi-final replay was the official title, but it was also a savage battle between a team in a hurry to the summit and a team in no mood to make room at the peak.

Kilkenny rejigged their team and pulled in an unknown player who could hit three points from play in an All-Ireland semi-final. Waterford offered the king in waiting, Austin Gleeson, who sparked the game to life with a superb opening goal.

On balance Kilkenny deserved their win. When they were on top they had the nous to pick out men - Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh come to mind - and get their scores a little easier and more consistently. 

Given the blow the departure of Michael Fennelly might have been, they had the iron resolve to put that to one side when the game was there to be won. They made the right choices over and over. That’s usually enough, though on Saturday night Waterford’s brio was almost too much.

“It was absolutely crazy,” said Kilkenny’s two-goal hero, Colin Fennelly. “I thought we had it lost at the end. Waterford came back and it was a bit like us the last day.

“That last point from Richie Hogan was a wonderful feeling.”

For Waterford the dynamic was different at the final whistle. The supporters in white and blue booed referee James McGrath as he left the field and diplomatic though he is, Waterford manager Derek McGrath was clearly unhappy with some of the official’s decisions. 

At half-time McGrath the referee had had the company of the Kilkenny hierarchy as he went down the Semple Stadium tunnel, but McGrath the manager batted away suggestions the official might have been pressurised by the Cats. 

“No, I don’t buy into that, that people on the sideline can have an influence based on their experience. That was bandied about after the league final as well, that Davy (Fitzgerald) and Donal Og (Cusack) had an influence on the referee that day. The obvious question you’re asking is whether Brian (Cody), because of his standing in the game . . . I don’t think so. I’m here to give an honest answer.

“In terms of people calling out for frees, we do that as well, everyone will do everything they can to win the game, and that has to be accepted.”

As for the game itself, Gleeson’s early goal sent a shot of adrenaline through the proceedings, but Kilkenny didn’t blink, hitting back with a brace of goals by the dangerous Colin Fennelly.

The Ballyhale man was far more threatening this weekend than he was in Croke Park yesterday week, turning the Waterford defence for his first and ghosting in behind the cover to smash home his second. 

Pauric Mahony pushed Waterford closer with a free before we had the game’s fourth goal at the end of the first quarter, Jake Dillon coming onto a Shane Bennett pass: 2-4 to 2-2. 

Kilkenny dominated the second quarter, however, hitting seven points to Waterford’s two - both of those Mahony frees. A burst of scores helped the Cats to half-time three ahead, 2-10 to 2-7.

Kilkenny were brisk on the resumption, coming close to a goal only for O’Keeffe to deny them again, but three points on the bounce pushed their lead to four ten minutes into the half.

The game now resembled last week’s in reverse, with Kilkenny trying to maintain a four- or five-point lead and Waterford chipping away at it. With quarter of an hour left, Kilkenny were four up thanks to Hogan’s superb point: Gleeson answered with a better score. All of this was prelude to the heart-stopping finale, when Mahony seemed to have given us another 20 minutes of extra time, only for Eoin Murphy to make that outrageous save.

What does it mean for ? Kilkenny have the benefit of two savage encounters to sharpen them, and their final foes may be warier than they might have been, if that’s possible. 

For Saturday evening, Cats boss Brian Cody just soaked in the win: “We played what, two games, 140, 150 minutes of hurling. Two points divided us at the end of the day. The second point, the last puck of the game. That’s how close it is between the two of us. We’re just very very happy to be the ones in front.”

For Waterford it means reviving that old Brooklyn Dodgers refrain: wait ‘til next year.

Scorers for Kilkenny: C. Fennelly (2-1); TJ Reid (0-7, 6 frees); R. Hogan (0-4); L. Blanchfield (0-3); P. Walsh (0-2); W. Walsh, E. Larkin (0-1 each).

Scorers for Waterford:  P. Mahony (0-9, 8 frees); A. Gleeson (1-1); J. Barron (0-3), J. Dillon (1-0); Shane Bennett, M. Shahanan (0-2).

KILKENNY: E. Murphy, P. Murphy, J. Holden, S. Prendergast ( c), P. Walsh, M. Bergin, C. Buckley, C. Fogarty, M. Fennelly, W. Walsh, TJ Reid, L. Blanchfield, E. Larkin, C. Fennelly, R. Hogan.

Subs: L. Ryan for M. Fennelly (59); JJ Farrell for Bergin (61); J. Power for W. Walsh (blood 60-6); K. Kelly for Blanchfield (70).

WATERFORD: : S. O’Keeffe, S. Fives, B. Coughlan, N. Connors, C. Gleeson, T. de Burca, P. Mahony, J. Barron, K. Moran, P. Mahony, A. Gleeson, M. Walsh, J. Dillon, Shane Bennett, Stephen Bennett.

Subs: M. Shanahan for Stephen Bennett (46); Patrick Curran for Shane Bennett (54); T. Devine for Dillon (61).

Referee: J. McGrath (Westmeath).

The 60 second report

The Main man:  For Kilkenny Colin Fennelly’s two goals were crucial, while Richie Hogan kept doing the right thing. For Waterford Jamie Barron was omnipresent and Austin Gleeson superb. Any of the four.

Turning point:  Eoin Murphy’s save was the deciding factor, ultimately. Waterford may rue a couple of wrong decisions but the Cats’ keeper’s catch will go down in Noreside history.

Sideline superior: Brian Cody made extensive changes - TJ Reid and Richie Hogan in midfield? - and they paid off, particularly his faith in Liam Blanchfield.

Talk of the town:  The quality on show. One of the games of any season.

Man in black:  James McGrath won’t enjoy the re-run of this game on video. Made some baffling decisions during the 70 minutes which clearly agitated the both managements.

What’s next:  Kilkenny into an All-Ireland final, their 15th in 18 seasons under Cody. Waterford lick their wounds and regroup for 2017.


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