'After last year we set our stall - we weren't going to be run over' - Austin Gleeson
Gleeson proud of way Déise stood up to Cats physicality
Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30
In the aftermath of last year's hurling championship, Austin Gleeson recalled a collision with Michael Fennelly in the All-Ireland semi-final that left him reeling for a few minutes.
It was Gleeson's way of illustrating the physical gulf he, and by extension many of his contemporaries, felt existed with the All-Ireland champions and where they needed to improve.
A year on, the sight of Gleeson careering through John Power to set up Jamie Barron to engineer a free for Pauric Mahony to restore a one-point lead before Conor Fogarty's nerveless equaliser was evidence that, in some ways, that gap has closed, maybe not completely but enough to point Waterford on the right path.
"Last year has been emphasised by the players, it was men against boys," recalled Gleeson.
"But this time we set our stall out that we weren't going to be run over. We matched them for what we thought might win us the game and we were very close."
That desire to bring a stronger physical element to their game had been earlier reflected when TJ Reid was driven over the sideline in the build-up to a Mahony point from play for a 0-18 to 0-16 lead.
"We played well, but Kilkenny being Kilkenny, they never gave up. When they got the goal, a (Waterford) team of old might have ducked away and left it go but we just kept going and going and going.
"We were given absolutely no hope coming up here and to put in a performance like that and be five points up with 15 minutes to go. . . the goal was a sucker punch but we kept going and going and going.
"We believed that we could win. If you don't believe in that there's no point in turning up, and we just believed that from the off, when the draw was made and that if we beat Wexford we were going to be playing Kilkenny.
"We played them last year and they won by six points in the end so we just knew we had to bring it all this time.
"At least we didn't lose the game. That's another consolation and we have another go on Saturday night. Keep going now and see what happens."
A return to Thurles, where the Déise have lost just one of their last five games played there, doesn't inconvenience them but Gleeson acknowledged that if you played Kilkenny "in the middle of the road" it would make no difference.
"It's like a second home for us at this stage I'd say," he said. "Kilkenny are Kilkenny and even if we play them in the middle of the road, it's going to be the same kind of thing."
Gleeson admitted that their retreat in the last 10 minutes to protect a lead was born out of caution that a Kilkenny goal was coming.
"In a way we probably came down the field too far. That's down to the players, it's not down to anyone else," he said.
Failure to score a goal for the third successive championship match was touched upon afterwards by Derek McGrath and it brings to nine the number of league and championship games from a total of 13 that they have drawn 'blanks' in.
Tie in last year's league and championship and that figure extends to 14 from 25 games without a goal, including fixtures against Laois, Antrim and Offaly in Division 1B, when they ran in a total of nine goals.
They have now failed to score a goal in their last four league/championship games against Kilkenny, going back to the 2013 qualifier in Thurles.
McGrath admitted after Sunday's game that another championship game without a goal, for all of its many other good points, did rankle with him.
"Waterford scored six goals against Ollie Walsh in 1963 and they still lost the game," he said. "Does it gnaw at me? I'd love to see us getting a few goals, of course I would.
"Did we look more threatening for the goal? I think we did. Kevin (Moran) got forward an awful lot and Shane looked threatening early on inside.
"It probably gnaws at me personally alright that we are not getting the goals and we are trying hard to get them. But we are trying hard to the point that it doesn't become an absolute... something hanging over your head."