Cats still have plenty to work on for decider
AFTER another defeat at the hands of Kilkenny in Croke Park, the road home to Waterford might have been particularly long last night.
When they went 1-2 to no score down after a few minutes, they would have been forgiven for thinking the worst. But Davy Fitzgerald's side dug the heels in and clawed themselves back into the game which was no small feat when you consider how much this team have been through the wringer -- and that's just this season.
The collapse of the Munster final is long since forgotten. Pride was restored in Waterford yesterday. Theirs was a manful, dogged display.
They had another chance to throw in the towel just before the interval when David Herity saved John Mullane's shot and, around a minute later, Richie Hogan had the ball in the Waterford net, but once again they reset and refocused and produced periods of hurling where they made life difficult for Kilkenny.
That's not to say that Waterford would have beaten Kilkenny had those breaks gone their way. In truth, they are still a little short of the standard of Tipperary and Kilkenny. John Mullane was excellent yesterday, but he needs a little more help up there.
It will take time to find and develop someone like that, but the majority of this Waterford team are relatively young, so they'll be a little bit stronger next season. One man we might have seen the last of is Tony Browne. Second guessing his intentions is a dangerous past-time, but if he does hang up his hurl, he'll do so with the respect of everyone involved in hurling across the country.
Kilkenny find themselves in a sixth successive final and the 11th in the 13 years of Brian Cody's reign. And he probably couldn't have asked for better preparation. Kilkenny looked to be playing within themselves for large parts, but they've plenty to work on.
There were uncharacteristic examples of poor shot selection and shooting. Mullane caused no end of headaches, while Seamus Prendergast gave JJ Delaney plenty to think about, though by the time the final whistle went the Fenians man had won that battle.
And there's a few players coming back into the mix that will push hard for places over the next few weeks. Paddy Hogan might not be that well known outside Kilkenny, but he's been in the panel for a few years and grabbed a point when he was brought on.
Eddie Brennan, who was the only forward to play every league game, was also sprung from the bench. Aidan Fogarty is another on his way back.
They'll have some work to do though. Colin Fennelly has fitted into the attack seamlessly, while another relative newcomer, Paul Murphy, looks assured in the full-back line.
Michael Fennelly has emerged as one of the leaders of the team and has done well to fill the void left by the likes of Derek Lyng.
Tipperary are hot favourites to come through their semi-final clash against Dublin, but, regardless of whom it is, Kilkenny will have to improve for the decider.
All the league and Walsh Cup matches have been focused towards this and Brian Cody is back where he wants to be -- within 70 minutes of yet another All-Ireland title.
The minor game provided a shot in the arm for Galway hurling. Clare, who were fancied in many quarters to go one better than last year when they were beaten in the All-Ireland final, were on top for the early part of the game as Galway were trying to settle into their first competitive match.
The Munster men will feel they could and probably should have won in normal time, but in extra-time Mattie Murphy's side got stronger as the game wore on as they started to find their feet.
Galway probably aren't sure of their best team yet, but I saw them in training recently and they have some serious players in their side and that win yesterday means that things aren't as bad in Galway as some people might think.