Friday 24 March 2017

All-Ireland SHC semi-final preview

Damian Lawlor

Kilkenny v Waterford: Croke Park, 3.30, IF there were any cracks in Waterford hurling after their Munster final thrashing they were well plastered over by their hammering of Galway. The question now is: will some of those gaps reappear today.



The last day, Waterford went about their business in that swashbuckling way; they played off the cuff and for the first time in the Davy Fitzgerald era tactics went out the window. They created 43 scoring chances and took 25 of them.

Supporters might feel it would be lunacy to go like that against Kilkenny but it's the best system for Waterford. While they might need to pack their defence at times, they need to be let off the hook and dictate their own tempo.

The midfield pairing of Shane O'Sullivan and Kevin Moran drove Waterford on against Galway. Another plus was the return to form of Stephen Molumphy while their most consistent forward John Mullane played with great freedom. And although there's an injury doubt surrounding David O'Sullivan, the same 15 should continue their recovery against the Cats.

History weighs against the prospects of Tipp and Kilkenny getting to the final for the third year in a row so that could offer Waterford hope.

It's also worth bearing in mind that Waterford have nothing to lose this afternoon. After their collapse in the provincial final the fact that they even recovered to beat Galway was remarkable.

So, they come into today with no pressure, and a better-looking shape to the team. Kilkenny, in contrast, have been out of action since their Leinster final win on July 3 but that won't upset them in the slightest. Word from Nowlan Park says they are hungrier than ever for this one.

They'll try to kill this game off quickly and you could even see Henry Shefflin moving in on Liam Lawlor from an early stage, even though Eoin Larkin is fast adjusting to full-forward. Mentally, they'll always have the upper hand against Waterford and will attempt to bury them with goals like they did in the 2008 All-Ireland final.

The duel between Michael Fennelly and Kevin Moran is the one to watch; these two are in smashing form and their stand-off could dictate today's result.

David Herity has proven himself between the posts; Brian Hogan looks imperious at centre-back and will be flanked by a fit Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney. Michael Rice's availability after injury is another bonus; he has developed into a polished scorer, demonstrating that he's not just a midfield grafter. James Fitzpatrick and Eddie Brennan are both champing at the bit again and with the attack that Brian Cody boasts it's hard to see how Kilkenny will lose today.

Richie Power is now a primary leader; Richie Hogan is not as consistent but is slowly becoming a key performer, while Shefflin's presence is so reassuring for the side.

Kilkenny may not be as defiant at the back as they once were, but it remains to be seen whether Waterford have the poise and assurance to win this battle over 73 minutes.

We have a sense that the underdogs could fight until the end today but the smart money would always have to be on Brian Cody's team.

Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; M Fennelly, M Rice; TJ Reid, R Power, E Larkin; C Fennelly, H Shefflin, R Hogan

Waterford: C Hennessy; D Fives, L Lawlor, N Connors; T Browne, M Walsh, D O'Sullivan; K Moran, S O'Sullivan; S Prendergast, S Molumphy, P Mahony; J Mullane, S Walsh, E Kelly

Verdict: Kilkenny

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