Sport Hurling

Saturday 23 September 2017

John Mullane: This was the one game I'd really like to have played

John Mullane pictured with Dublin hurling manager and Waterford player Humphrey Kelleher after the clash between Kilkenny and Waterford
John Mullane pictured with Dublin hurling manager and Waterford player Humphrey Kelleher after the clash between Kilkenny and Waterford

John Mullane

I'LL admit it. I missed being out there on Saturday night. During the course of the week, this was the one game I'd really like to have played a part in. It was Thurles, my favourite ground, and against our neighbours Kilkenny. Last week, I stressed that we would have a better chance of beating Kilkenny than Tipp.

That was based on the fact that Kilkenny are after playing four weekends in a row. They looked a tired team. Entering the ground, it was difficult and as the game wore on, the old saying rang true that it's nearly easier playing than watching.

I got fierce uptight and when we got to the last five minutes and we came so close to beating Kilkenny, I was really engrossed in the game. It was nearly like I was playing in the match and when Kevin Moran drove over that equalising point, my emotions got the best of me.

What an epic encounter it was. Huge excitement and two teams giving their absolute best. Waterford seemed to have learned their lessons from previous collapses against Kilkenny, and the game plan centred on working the ball out of defence and playing the ball short to deep-lying half-forwards, who ran at the Kilkenny defence or worked the ball into space.

Waterford's touch, hurling and decision-making in the first 15 minutes were top class but this wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.

And all of the hard work was undone when Richie Power's penalty left Kilkenny three points up at half-time.

Darragh Fives was hurling brilliantly for Waterford and the six backs were steady in front of goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe, who was outstanding.

O'Keeffe had a major bearing on the game and was one of the main reasons why Waterford pushed on and came so close to beating the champions.

Kilkenny played all of their cards, bringing on Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly but Waterford never gave up and Moran rose to the challenge of Shefflin, knocking over two unbelievable points.

The game ended in controversy and it was a fair result, but that late decision by James Owens to disallow the Matthew Ruth point could have had major consequences if Kilkenny had lost because it was a massive call.

Moran's relocation to midfield was a massive factor for Waterford and he was top-class when he moved there.

Ray Barry had a big impact when he came on and Tony Browne's introduction lifted the crowd too. Eddie Barrett looked very comfortable at this level but, similarly, there were some shrewd moves from Brian Cody at the beginning of extra-time.

Michael Fennelly to centre-forward, Colin Fennelly to left-half-forward and Richie Hogan to the right were good switches.

Given the year that it's in it, it's somewhat premature to write off Henry, who's clearly unfit. I'd be slow to write his obituary just yet. Sport has an unbelievable way to come back and haunt you.

Hats off to both teams and management for an unbelievable night. Kilkenny are some men and that's the best word to describe them – men. But Waterford are in a good place too, with some outstanding minors to come on board.

Kingpins

Fair play to manager Michael Ryan for this performance against the All-Ireland kingpins.

There were some massive performances from Waterford players – Liam Lawlor, Moran, Darragh Fives and O'Keeffe in goals. To a man, I was never so proud coming out of Thurles, and I thought that 54-year hoodoo was about to end.

But credit to Kilkenny – they came out with five unanswered points at the start of extra-time. Words can't describe this team. In Limerick yesterday, I also happened to spend an eventful afternoon with Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald, our former boss in Waterford of course. I offered him some of my opinions on where I think they might be weak but they have reasons to be positive going forward after beating Wexford on Saturday.

The one thing in Clare's favour is that when Tony Kelly is man-marked, that automatically frees up an awful lot of space in the full-forward line. And that's going to be a big advantage to Clare going forward in this championship. But I think still they are more clinical when they go direct.

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