The hurling season finally explodes into life as Kilkenny outlast Waterford in Thurles cracker
Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 2-17
THERE have been more talented Kilkenny teams in Brian Cody’s outlandishly successful tenure but there can scarcely have been a more ballsy one.
Another All-Ireland final. Another replay win. Another ending that looked written long before it breathlessly played out.
Waterford chased and they chased in Thurles tonight but their finger tips only just brushed greatness.
They never led in a second-half jammed with drama and entertainment and lots of extraordinary hurling.
Kilkenny – a team besmirched as being ‘functional’ by Ger Loughnane earlier this year - are favourites to win a third All-Ireland title in-a-row.
Waterford threw everything they had at the Cats here; timber, heart – the works.
And by the end, we had one of those frantic, chaotic passages the great hurling matches always finish with, a Richie Hogan point deeper into injury-time than we imagined they game would go, after one more repelled Waterford equaliser attempt.
And a Kilkenny win.
Fears that the teams had used up all their perfectly-matched excitement in Croke Park six days ago were immediately and emphatically exterminated.
Liam Blanchfield, who wasn’t even considered good enough to make a substitute’s appearance off the bench in the drawn match, was one of three changes to the Kilkenny starting line-up and in keeping with these sort of replay-forced selection stunts by Cody, he scored the first point of the match.
The atmosphere changed though when Aussie Gleeson rounded Joey Holden and slammed a goal for Waterford after five minutes.
It was noted and repeated all week that the one thing Waterford had failed to do in trying to tame the beast was score a goal and here, in their first attack of the match, they had it.
Problem was, Kilkenny scored two within five minutes not long after.
Walter Walsh – the original Liam Blanchfield – steered a ball from his wing into the path of Colin Fennelly.
Fennelly got more room and thus joy, from Barry Coughlan in the opening 15 minutes here than he did in almost 80 last Sunday and his finishing from that distance is among the most reliable in the country.
Three minutes later, the same pair combined again.
Walsh went through and, in a complete departure from the drawn match, he had an option on either flank, each of whom had a clear sight of the whites of Stephen O’Keeffe’s eyes.
He chose the less obvious pass – albeit the one with the higher degree of disguise – and Fennelly slammed home again.
That, normally, would be enough to break almost every other hurling team we’ve seen having a crack at Kilkenny in the past decade but Waterford are a hardy bunch.
They replied with the next 1-3 – Jake Dillon taking a pass from Stephen Bennett to score Waterford’s second goal.
Kilkenny tried to generate TJ Reid as their spare man but it only served to leave him in position too deep to influence play.
Gleeson, meanwhile, came down from the clouds with a couple of balls that sort of made you wish Tommy Walsh was still around so we could have a fair fight.
Kilkenny hit the last three points of the half though, and it seemed as though they indicating a more permanent superiority to come.
Brian Cody’s team couldn’t quite apply the clamp, though.
They darted ahead in little spurts of scores.
Pádraig Walsh scored two crackers.
Colin Fennelly made Coughlan’s day at full-back extremely tough and perhaps, gave the most advisory illustration yet as to why Waterford need a sweeper.
Waterford kept on keeping on but by the last 10 minutes, all semblance of their plan had disappeared.
Michael Fennelly went off with an injury which could have ramifications for his career.
With 90 seconds to go and Kilkenny a point up, Pádraig Walsh won a free off Gleeson which bizarrely, Reid missed.
Barron equalised from distance after a sumptuous dummy but Blanchfield won another from closer range that Reid pointed for Kilkenny’s first score in 18 minutes.
Richie Hogan won another before Maurice Shanahan pulled one back but Shane Fives was fouled and Mahony had a free to send us to extra-time.
Eoin Murphy pulled the ball down from over his crossbar and Kilkenny lived on.
The centre held. The beast couldn’t be tamed.
SCORERS – Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (6f), C Fennelly 2-0, R Hogan 0-4, L Blanchfield 0-3, P Walsh 0-2, M Fennelly, W Walsh, E Larkin 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-9 (7f), A Gleeson 1-2, J Dillon 1-0, J Barron, Shane Bennett, M Shanahan 0-2 each.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, C Fogarty, C Buckley; R Hogan, M Fennelly; W Walsh, TJ Reid, E Larkin; M Bergin, C Fennelly, L Blanchfield. Subs: L Ryan for M Fennelly (60), J Farrell for Bergin (60), K Kelly for Blanchfield (72).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; N Connors, B Coughlan, S Fives; Philip Mahony, T De Búrca, C Gleeson; J Barron, K Moran; M Walsh, A Gleeson, Pauric Mahony; Stephen Bennett, Shane Bennett, J Dillon. Subs: M Shanahan for Stephen Bennett (47), P Curran for Shane Bennett (55), T Devine for Dillon (62)
REF: J McGrath (Westmeath)