Waterford needed to twist but they stuck and Kilkenny moved in for the kill
Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-18
AS the clock accelerated without pity toward zero hour, Waterford found themselves groping for a lifebuoy, thrashing against a pitiless current, adrift in the unforgiving black and amber ocean where so many yearnings perish.
Searching for hope where it no longer existed.
A sense of helplessness, of grim inevitability took hold as the league champions were swept onto the rocks and capsized by the masters of slaughter.
This is the Kilkenny effect: All brutal intensity and clinical pragmatism, they euthanise hope, suffocate innocence, dig graves and inter ambition.
Derek McGrath and his shipwrecked young side were inexorably sucked into hurling’s Bermuda Triangle, a stripy vortex of despair.
And so, one more summer dream finds itself on the seabed, torpedoed by Brian Cody’s unforgiving, hard-headed armada.
Kilkenny identify weakness and that with a reptilian indifference they move in for the kill.
There are so many reasons why Waterford – until now the story of the hurling year – were reduced to groping desperately, futilely for a foothold.
There is the ill-luck of graduating to this Broadway stage just as a pair who bestride it like colossuses arrive at their hurling prime.
Increasingly TJ Reid and Richie Hogan resemble destiny’s twin children: Like a well tooled Swat team, their array of weapons are infinite, deadly.
Here they were the only Kilkenny players to score in the first half. They would finish with a combined tally of 1-14. Without ever climbing from the hammock, Hogan, a triumph of economic elegance, fired five points from play.
Reid nailed the goal that Waterford could ill-afford to concede. As a free-taker he exhibits a neurosurgeon’s touch: Exact, detached, certain.
Waterford’s system has been their bedrock all summer.
But here it was Kilkenny who landed the killer tactical haymakers: Employed in a sweeping role, Paul Murphy hoovered possession.
The battle between Walter Walsh and Darragh Fives for Eoin Murphy’s deliveries was as predictably one-sided as a line-out battle between a second-row and a scrum-half. Walsh soared all afternoon like Paul O’Connell.
Meanwhile the immense Cillian Buckley illustrated why he alone has been on the field for every minute of Kilkenny’s hurling year.
And so McGrath’s side – save for an impressive second half spurt from Colin Dunford unable to deliver more than a drip of scores from play - found themselves incarcerated in the prison of their own yearning.
When Waterford needed to twist they stuck.
In the final quarter the necessity to roll the dice, to go man-for-man, was evident; but they chose not to gamble.
In truth, so secure where Kilkenny’s fortifications that it probably would not have mattered.
Cody’s crew infect their foes with one virus after another: Doubt, insecurity, panic, resignation; until eventually their victims choke on their own despair.
This relentless hunger has enabled their unrivalled stockpile of glory to grow to Himalayan proportions.
It is not to patronise Waterford to insist they need not despair.
There were tantalising glimpses of where Austin Gleeson – a wunderkind prone to youthful impetuosity – Dunford, Tadhg De Burca and the unerringly accurate Maurice Shanahan might eventually lead the white knights.
But as one shaft of possibility after another closed, as the drone of incoming missiles – Ger Aylward joining Hogan and Reid on the shooting gallery – grew to a crescendo, there was also a fresh understanding of the cruellest truth.
That is the ill-luck of any hurling men who do not bleed black and amber to find their pursuit of glory coincides with the eternity of the Cody years.
Waterford will hardly be the last to find themselves reduced to an historic footnote in the apparently endless loop of Noreside glory.