Depleted Cats have too much 'friendly' firepower
BRIAN Cody is never a man to give too much away but even he wasn't pretending that this final game of their league campaign was anything other than a dead rubber.
While gamely suggesting that this was a serious match in which players from both sides were trying to stake claims for their championship places, he eventually admitted that it was little more than a challenge match for both teams.
"There's nothing to be discovered after today's match or anything, except that all teams are working towards the championship," Cody said, before stating his own preference for league semi-finals.
"Today was rendered irrelevant apart from Dublin and Limerick, which was unfortunate. Having league semi-finals would definitely have made the thing more competitive," he said.
The sight of many of Kilmacud Crokes' delighted 160 visiting juveniles being allowed into the Kilkenny dressing-room afterwards for an impromptu photo and autograph session certainly demonstrated just how relaxed the atmosphere was.
The heart-warming sight of the genial welcome they were given summed up all that is good about the GAA but it's doubtful they would have got inside the Cats' inner sanctum if Kilkenny were heading into a league final.
At day's end, Cody declared himself happy with the five-point victory that wrapped up a league campaign that has left his four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions looking uncharacteristically vulnerable at times.
But you didn't need to be a genius to work out that yesterday's game at Nowlan Park was little more than a glorified friendly. Not least because this great traditional hurling rivalry attracted just 6,200 supporters on a sunny Sunday, who barely raised a muted clap at the end, despite the fact that Ken McGrath nearly nicked a third goal for Waterford in the dying minutes.
Kilkenny's intent not to lose a fourth game in a league campaign that has raised some question marks over them was certainly underlined within 12 minutes when Michael Grace, with just one hand, raised the green flag off a tasty JJ Delaney sideline cut.
That opened the early floodgates and the Cats romped into a surprisingly large 11-point half-time lead (1-10 to 0-2), even allowing for Waterford's experimental line-up in which Ken McGrath returned to make his seasonal debut. Most worrying for the visitors was the fact that all of Kilkenny's forwards except for Eddie Brennan had already scored, while only John Mullane, moved out to centre-forward to try to break up an imperious Kilkenny half-back line, had raised a flag for the visitors.
Even when Waterford's top scorer Eoin Kelly was introduced, one of his first pieces of action was to miss an absolute sitter of a short free. And, worse still, all but one of Kilkenny's first-half scores had come from play while they'd also already shot a shocking 11 wides.
Despite their recent warm-weather training camp in Spain, Waterford were looking sluggish, with only the ageless Tony Browne holding his own, against Brennan, at centre-back.
Under the circumstances, a second-half turn-around that saw them outscore their arch rivals by two goals eventually left Waterford boss Davy Fitzgerald sounding quite chipper.
"I wouldn't be happy at all with the first half and certainly we'd still need to up our game by about two gears if we're to beat Clare in the championship," Fitzgerald stressed.
"But I was very happy with the way we upped the intensity in the second half and we learned from it."
Just how much he learned Fitzgerald wasn't saying, but the Clare man insisted that he has seen enough during the league to know "99pc of my starting line-up for the championship".
Three who will surely be among them made a huge difference off the bench yesterday. Fitzgerald's introduction of Stephen Molumphy and Kevin Moran finally unsettled the unflappable Kilkenny defence which, noticeably, also rested half-backs JJ Delaney and Brian Hogan after half-time.
The arrival of regular corner-back Eoin Murphy also helped tighten up the Deise defence, which is still without Michael 'Brick' Walsh (whose return is imminent), and the only surprise was that Liam Lawlor was the one called ashore. The Fourmilewater man did well in the physical exchanges with Eoin Larkin before being replaced, at full-back, by Aidan Kearney.
Waterford's second-half comeback was signalled quickly when Ken McGrath nipped in with an early block and score and Mullane and Eoin McGrath also found their stride with more support around them, outscoring Kilkenny by 0-6 to 0-3 in the third quarter.
After 56 minutes they also got a useful break when referee Anthony Stapleton spotted Noel Hickey fouling Shane Walsh off the ball and awarded a penalty, which Kelly promptly buried to the net.
They cut the deficit back to three points with two minutes of proper time remaining when Molumphy and Moran combined for a second goal and could have actually equalised had Ken McGrath then not shot a great chance wide.
But Kilkenny, holding Tommy Walsh unused on the bench and still without Henry Shefflin, never really looked in trouble. Richie Hogan and Eoin Guinan both forced Adrian Power to make significant saves in the final quarter.
If this was a day for players to stake a claim for championship panel inclusion, then Guinan, who captained St Lachtains to an intermediate club final this season, certainly impressed on his league debut, scoring four from play in his 0-5 total.
His clubmate Michael Kavanagh didn't look quite so sharp on his seasonal return to corner-back but he was fortunate that the Kilkenny defence, in which John Tennyson was outstanding, held firm, with James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick dropping back usefully whenever required.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: M Grace 1-2, TJ Reid, E Guinan (1f), R Hogan (4f, 1 '65) 0-5 each, J Fitzpatrick, E Larkin, P Hogan 0-1 each. Waterford: E Kelly 1-5 (5f, 1 pen), J Mullane 0-4, K Moran 1-1, K McGrath, S Molumphy 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Tyrrel; J Tennyson, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; J Fitzpatrick, D Lyng; TJ Reid, E Brennan, R Hogan; M Grace, E Larkin, E Guinan. Subs: J Dalton for Hogan (h-t), P Hogan for Delaney (h-t).
Waterford -- A Power; J Maher, L Lawlor, A Kearney; D Prendergast, T Browne, S Daniels; B Phelan, J Murray; T Connors, K McGrath, E McGrath; J Mullane, S Walsh, S Casey. Subs: E Kelly for Murray (27), E Murphy for Lawlor (h-t), K Moran for Casey (h-t), S Molumphy for Connors (h-t), S Prendergast for Walsh (56).
Ref -- A Stapleton (Laois).