Saturday 21 October 2017

Déise pride and law of averages represent a twin threat to Cats

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If the theory that the longer any sequence runs, the more likely it is to end holds any basis in fact, Kilkenny have reason to be worried about next Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final.

Their sole championship defeat by Waterford came 57 years ago in the 1959 All-Ireland final replay and they have won all eight games since then. It leaves the law of averages on Waterford's side at a time when their stock may well be undervalued after the Munster final crash against Tipperary.

There was no discernible change for the quarter-final against Wexford and it’s most unlikely McGrath will opt for any major adjustment on Sunday either. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
There was no discernible change for the quarter-final against Wexford and it’s most unlikely McGrath will opt for any major adjustment on Sunday either. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Kilkenny won't be caught in any over-confidence traps but with public opinion swinging overwhelmingly behind Brian Cody's men, the climate is right for a big Waterford performance. The 21-point defeat by Tipperary left Waterford shattered but, in reality, it was probably no more than a one-off glitch that won't be repeated any time soon.

Overhaul

It did, however, intensify the spotlight on their style of play, prompting calls within Waterford for Derek McGrath to overhaul his tactics.

There was no discernible change for the quarter-final against Wexford and it's most unlikely McGrath (below) will opt for any major adjustment on Sunday either.

Instead, he will try to have his squad inject as much energy as possible into their game in an attempt to disrupt Kilkenny, who will arrive in Croke Park without having conceded a goal in two Leinster Championship games.

Their second-half demolition of Dublin and Galway (they won those two periods by a combined total of 2-29 to 0-16) has reinforced the view that Kilkenny are operating at efficiency levels others won't reach.

Yet, before the championship, questions were being asked about their defence after being hit for 4-22 by Clare in the League semi-final. In the best traditions of over-reaction, too much was read into that, just as Kilkenny's Leinster wins have to be kept in context too.

Their championships defeats - nine in 81 games - under Cody have usually come when least expected. There was never a time when they weren't fancied, extending back to the 1999 All-Ireland final loss to Cork, but on several occasions they were regarded not just as favourites but as close to certainties as team sports permit.

In 2001, they were reigning All-Ireland champions and easy winners in Leinster when they lost to Galway in the semi-final, well-beaten on a day when their rivals were a man down for the entire second half.

"My fault," wrote Cody in his autobiography. "I am responsible for having the spirit right on any given day and when it's not I have to take the blame."

There have been only seven occasions since then that Kilkenny lost championship games, with a mere four in the last decade. In all cases, they were completely unexpected and, in two instances, the margins were sizeable.

Tipperary won the 2010 All-Ireland final by eight points while Galway won the 2012 Leinster final by ten points.

The background to that game gave absolutely no hint of what lay ahead as Kilkenny had trimmed Dublin while Galway conceded heavily in their wins over Westmeath and Offaly.

Kilkenny later avenged the Leinster final defeat in the All-Ireland final replay but hit another problem in 2013 when drawing and losing to Dublin in Leinster before later being eliminated from the All-Ireland race by Cork in the quarter-final.

That was their last championship defeat, yet another remarkable achievement in an era when they have created several records that are unlikely to be even matched, let alone beaten.

Now, they are regarded as near-certainties to book in for another All-Ireland final appearance against a Waterford team that's being seen in far less favourable light since the Munster final collapse.

However, that ignores the reality of Waterford's results over the past 18 months, during which they have lost only five of 24 league and championship games.

Waterford will see this as a huge opportunity to dip under the radar and inflict some serious damage on Kilkenny.

The traumatic experience against Tipperary was damaging but Waterford have recovered quite quickly from big defeats in the past. Wexford offered no real test in the quarter-final but the game was still of immense value for Waterford as it allowed them to get back into their rhythm.

Cody knows that if Waterford get it working at full efficiency, this will be a much more dangerous assignment than many seem to think. And that's without a possible intervention by the law of averages.

Irish Independent

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