Walsh strike destroys Déise’s day in sun
Steely Kilkenny battle back from five-point deficit to earn replay after Waterford push them to the limit
If Waterford lose the replay, it really will be a long, miserable winter as the stench of lost opportunity pollutes a county which has endured more than its share of disappointments down through the years.
Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-24
They came so desperately close in Croke Park yesterday to not only booking a place in the All-Ireland final for the first time in eight years but also to ending a 57-year wait to beat Kilkenny in the Championship, only to have it neutralised in the closing minutes of an enthralling contest.
Derek McGrath and his squad have more important work to occupy them than examining the minutiae of the action in the closing six minutes but it would have been on the minds of supporters last night as they reviewed a period which could have such a crucial bearing on Waterford's season.
If Waterford win the replay, yesterday's hard lesson will be regarded as vitally important to their development but if they lose, it will be seen as the stretch which ultimately wrecked their ambitions.
Hawk-Eye's intervention to decide that Kevin Moran's long-range shot was wide in the 68th minute maintained Waterford's advantage at three points, a perilous lead against opposition whose eyes were narrowing with menacing intent as they saw their All-Ireland title slipping away.
Almost instinctively, Waterford retreated to protect their goal and, in the process, invited Kilkenny on to them. And while the Déise men will be criticised for not maintaining their bolder shape, it was an understandable reaction as they would have felt that if they didn't concede a goal, victory was theirs.
And since Kilkenny had rarely threatened Stephen O'Keeffe, Waterford's prospects of holding out looked reasonably good. However, all changed in the 69th minute when Kilkenny pounced for one of their most important goals for quite some time.
It was scored by Walter Walsh, who had been relatively quiet up to then, after the chance was set up by Michael and Colin Fennelly.
Pauric Mahony restored the lead for Waterford with a pointed free in stoppage time before Conor Fogarty held his nerve and slotted over a fantastic long-range point from the right wing.
Kilkenny had a late chance to snatch victory but, luckily for Waterford, the chance fell to defender Paul Murphy rather than one of their specialist finishers.
His shot tailed wide on the right, much to the relief of Waterford supporters who were fearing the worst.
It would have been a travesty if Waterford had been denied a second chance. Their performance, right up to the closing minutes, was so full of energy and invention that they succeeded where many other teams have failed over the years by keeping Kilkenny fully occupied in all departments.
It meant that the treble-seeking champions couldn't impose their authority in the manner the hurling world has come to expect. That, in turn, added to Waterford's growing confidence as they realised that achieving one of the most memorable wins in the county's history was within reach.
The feeling that something different was unfolding cranked up in the third quarter, during which Waterford out-scored Kilkenny by 0-9 to 0-5. Having taken a one-point lead into the second-half (0-13 to 0-12), it left them five points ahead and playing with such verve and assurance that even the most trusting of Kilkenny supporters must have been wondering if this was the day the music died - for now at least.
The third quarter is usually very fertile territory for Kilkenny, a period when having assessed the situation during the half-time break, they increase pressure and plant seeds of doubt in opposition minds.
Indeed, they appeared to have done that when they drew level (0-16 each) in the 45th minute, only for Waterford to respond with their most productive period, during which they scored six points in seven minutes while conceding only one.
This wasn't the script, as generally recognised around this stage of the Championship, as Waterford powered forward with pace, poise and precision.
Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony, who between them scored 0-19, were tormenting Kilkenny, the former delivering the complete package in open play, the latter also doing well in the general exchanges while remaining deadly accurate from frees.
It was a worrying time for Kilkenny, who were relying heavily on TJ Reid's free-taking expertise at a time when the forwards, with the exception of sub Eoin Larkin and the excellent Richie Hogan, were struggling to find openings against a compact Waterford defence.
Despite their mounting difficulties, Kilkenny remained true to some of their most enduring virtues, mining deep into their reserves of courage and resilience.
The breaks and the balance were going Waterford's way but Kilkenny locked on to the guiding principle that hard work can provide an escape from most trouble spots.
Their incredible work ethic gradually took them back to within striking distance and once they pared the deficit back to three points, there was a palpable sense that they would complete the recovery, which they duly did. But then there were signs from early on that this was going to be a lot closer than the pre-match odds suggested.
The sides were level six times in the opening quarter, going point-for-point before Waterford opened up a three-point lead. Kilkenny drew level in the 22nd minute before Waterford added three more points.
Those snappy scoring bursts energised Waterford, forcing an inevitable reaction from Kilkenny, who closed out the first-half scoring with two pointed frees by Reid.
The focus now switches to Saturday's replay in Thurles, with both sides looking for positives to work off in their bid to grab the winning edge.
Waterford can be satisfied that they have left their wretched Munster final form behind them, having scored a total of 45 points against Wexford and Kilkenny. Indeed, they scored three more yesterday than they did against Wexford.
However, they failed to score a goal for a third successive game, a failing which forces them to be highly productive on the points route.
They managed it in the last two games but their goal-shyness is greatly adding to their workload.
Kilkenny's goal rate is down too but, crucially, they found the net when they had to, which is so typical of them.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-11 (10f, 1'65'), W Walsh 1-1, R Hogan 0-4, C Fogarty 0-2, C Fennelly, M Fennelly, E Larkin 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-14 (9f, 1'65), A Gleeson 0-5, J Dillon 0-2, K Moran, M Shanahan, P Curran 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; C Fogarty, M Fennelly; W Walsh, R Hogan, TJ Reid; J Farrell, J Power, C Fennelly. Subs: E Larkin for Farrell (46); L Ryan for Joyce (49).
Waterford - S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; Philip Mahony, T De Búrca, C Gleeson; K Moran, J Barron; M Walsh,A Gleeson, Pauric Mahony; C Dunford, J Dillon, Shane Bennett. Subs: M Shanahan for Dunford (h-t), P Curran for Bennett (52), B O'Halloran for Dillon (65).
REF - J Owens (Wexford).