Kilkenny continued their impressive early-season form with a nine-point win in sunny Walsh Park yesterday but not before getting a stern early examination from the injury-hit home side.
Already without the vastly experienced John Mullane and Eoin Kelly from the forward division, Waterford lost All Star corner-back Noel Connors and star full-forward Shane Walsh before a ball was struck, but after a very solid first half were within a point of the All-Ireland champions at the break (1-10 to 1-9).
Doing most of the damage for the Déise in that opening period was a precocious full-forward line with an average age of 20 but Martin O’Neill, Gavin O’Brien and Maurice Shanahan were all to the fore. Waterford came back from two points down to take a two-point lead by the 26th minute (1-7 to 0-8), the towering Shanahan with a superb goal set up by Pauric Mahony, O’Neill and captain Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh.
Wing-back Tony Browne also had a brace of points for Waterford, both from around his own 65. It was Tony’s first game of 2012 but it was the start of his 22nd season and he’s looking as fit and as fresh as ever.
Kilkenny were struggling in that first half, Brick Walsh doing very well on the 40 for Waterford, the defence also doing well. The Kilkenny goal though was eminently preventable, Richie Power charging though the middle, Matthew taking brave possession in heavy traffic of Richie’s lobbed pass, beating Ian O’Regan with a low angled shot. Unfortunately for the strong local support in the large crowd of around 6,000 that was a sign of things to come.
Within three minutes of the restart Kilkenny increased their lead by three points. Their second goal, again by Ruth but set up by a fantastic handball-type pass by Richie Hogan, TJ Reid twice involved, put daylight between the teams (2-14 to 1-10, 44th minute) and from there to the finish it was Kilkenny in control.
Eoin Larkin had a goal that wasn’t allowed, a bullet that rebounded from the back stanchion with such pace it was missed by everyone in the ground, including the umpires.
Overall then another very impressive early-season show from Kilkenny, Paul Murphy brilliant at the back, TJ Reid with a fielding exhibition, Richie Power deadly from placed balls. A happy Brian Cody afterwards then, understandably.
With the Walsh Cup and the Railway Cup (Leinster were mostly Kilkenny) already in the bag they have now taken two giant steps towards qualification for the semi-final of this year’s league, are looking as sharp as they’ve even been at this time of year.
“It’s beautiful weather, really mild,” is Brian Cody’s explanation.
“Really hurling weather and that contributes to it. Very often at this time of the year it’s freezing cold, but this weather — it’s like playing in the summer.”
His Waterford counterpart Michael Ryan was looking at the positives.
“I’m very happy with the first half. In the second half the physical strength and experience of Kilkenny came to the fore and as our lads tired they were able to take the right options up front.
“We’ve got a lot of good young lads, we’re determined that if some fella is doing well we’re not worried about his age or his birth cert — if he’s good enough he’s going to get on the team. We had 12 fellas injured for the Cork game, eight still missing today — hopefully by the end of the league we’ll have everyone back.”
By then it may well be too late for Waterford, now in relegation territory, but yesterday in Walsh Park there were green shoots.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R Power 0-10 (8fs), M Ruth 2-1, E Larkin 0-3, R Hogan, C Fennelly, TJ Reid (1 s/l) 0-2 each, M Fennelly 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: M Shanahan 1-3, M O’Neill 0-6 (4fs), G O’Brien, T Browne (1f) 0-2 each; S Prendergast, Paudie Mahony (f) 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, P Hogan, C Fogarty; M Fennelly, R Doyle; TJ Reid, R Power, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, M Ruth.
Subs: K Joyce (P Hogan 43), J Mulhall (C Fennelly 56), W Phelan (Delaney 67), C Buckley (M Fennelly 67).
WATERFORD: I O’Regan; D Fives, L Lawlor, Phillip Mahony; T Browne, K Moran, D Prendergast; P O’Brien, S Molumphy; Pauric Mahony, M Walsh, S Prendergast; M Shanahan, M O’Neill, G O’Brien.
Subs: J Nagle for D Prendergast (46), S O’Sullivan for S Prendergast (51).
Referee: J Sexton (Cork).
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