Cyril Farrell: Cracking contest gives us exactly what the hurling doctor ordered
That was just what the hurling doctor ordered, a throwback to 50 years ago with scintillating score-taking, ferocious tackling and high balls being plucked out of the sky in an absolute thriller.
It's exactly what people wanted to see and what the game needed, easily the game of the year as Waterford went toe to toe with Kilkenny for 70-plus minutes and looked like causing a huge upset before being stung at the death.
I was at a Tipp/Kilkenny wedding last week and all the Cats supporters wouldn't hear of the Déise's chances, they didn't rate them. And while the players wouldn't have thought the same, they still got the rudest of awakenings yesterday.
While you can't say Kilkenny aren't fit, Waterford had a relentless physicality. They never let up, tackling in packs and forcing mistakes and turnovers that we're not accustomed to.
Kilkenny hung on through their craft alone as Waterford went into overdrive. Looking at the Waterford lads after, they were painted in disappointment, whereas Kilkenny looked relieved to have played their 'get out of jail free' card just in the nick of time.
Pauric Mahony picked off some great points, weaving from one wing to the other, and was one of the main differences from last year's semi-final, while the rest of the forward line rotated to good effect, with Kieran Joyce, in particular, left chasing shadows for the day.
Their half-forwards came out very deep for puck-outs and worked their socks off, with Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran getting though some Trojan work, while Conor Gleeson came in at the back and looked like an old hand.
Derek McGrath had his homework done and his players nearly carried his masterplan to perfection. Tadhg de Búrca did exactly what's expected of him, mopping up ball after ball, while Noel Connors completely tied up Jonjo Farrell. Their goal never looked in any great danger until Walter Walsh put the finishing touches to the game's defining moment.
The Cats don't even need a sniff to make something from nothing: while that was only a half-chance, they're the kings of taking the half-chance.
Waterford were on a different level but typical Kilkenny, they hung in there, never threw in the towel and refused to die. There's something bred into their mentality: no matter how much is going against them they just keep eking it out.
TJ Reid was unerring from frees and Richie Hogan got some fantastic scores in the first half and you always felt if they could cut the gap to two or three points anything could happen.
Waterford were better than their one-point half-time lead and did all the hurling again in the second half but they made one or two small mistakes and all mistakes are magnified against Kilkenny because they punish you where other teams might not.
If Paul Murphy's effort had flown over it would've been one of the greatest robberies in the history of the game but Waterford probably sat back too much. Their system served them to perfection for so long but they exaggerated it too much with the finish line in sight and that caught them.
They were nearly there and just couldn't grasp it. Even looking at Brian Cody on the line you'd know he was feeling the heat but the Cats got that one shot and took it.
At the other end Kevin Moran's earlier scrambled goal chance could have made the difference.
Austin Gleeson was a joy to watch and epitomised everything good about the game with his raw talent - he's the Ken McGrath of the current Waterford crop - and the scores he got were unreal. You would have imagined with him playing like that, and Mahony firing everything over that it was going to be their day.
Eoin Murphy was off target from two long-range frees which will not be allowed happen again, while Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh took some rash shots. It looked like one of those days when everything was going against Kilkenny, and yet they still managed to pull it off.
Five wides in a row when 0-23 to 0-20 up could've killed the game off for Waterford and Hawk-Eye came back to save Kilkenny's bacon again with Moran's late effort. It's great that the GAA has this mechanism in place to ensure equality in these massive games.
People will talk about Cody not using the bench, but his substitutions were necessary, whereas the lads who stayed on were all playing some part. Walsh and Colin Fennelly were tipping away and eventually came good.
Many supporters were roaring to take them off because they weren't in it but he trusts them to come up trumps and they did. That's part of Cody's genius.
Déise can pull off replay upset
Nine out of ten people will say that Kilkenny have learned their lessons from yesterday’s scare and will assert dominance in next Saturday’s replay, but I’m not totally convinced.
It could take a lot more out of them than most expect and the big question is, how much is left in the locker? While always dangerous to say, this could be a bridge too far for them.
It’s probably a game they’ll improve immensely from but what’s to say it won’t do likewise for Waterford and drive them over the line the next day? And if they can win that replay the All-Ireland is there for the taking.
Kilkenny have a serious record in replays under Brian Cody and everyone is expecting them to prevail but Waterford will take huge heart from their display. No-one thought they could compete with the Cats down the home stretch and their confidence will be sky-high.
If they can push further ahead and lead by five or six at the break in Thurles then they could have enough to hold on. The game yesterday was played on their terms but you can bet Cody will be trying to make sure it’s played on Kilkenny’s terms the next day.
Waterford had nothing to lose yesterday whereas they’ll have something to lose the next day and everyone will be expecting it to go the other way. The Cats were shaken and rocked but they’ll be forewarned now and ready now.
Will Waterford be able to cover the same ground as they did yesterday? Will they be allowed to play the game on their terms again? Most will say no but I just have a feeling that the Déise will come again with the same enthusiasm, and they might finish the job next time around.