NOT for the first time, Richie Hogan stepped up to the plate for Kilkenny to shoot four extra-time points to steer his side into the All-Ireland quarter-final after a titanic battle with Waterford at Thurles last night. This game had it all; controversy, saves and ultimate drama. It was a pity one team had to lose.
Michael Ryan's side, underdogs in most people's eyes, had their chances but they took so many wrong options and found it hard to make the ball stick up in attack, but inspired by Kevin Moran in the last 20 minutes of normal time they took Kilkenny to the wire. With three minutes of extra time left the sides were level again only for the Cats to pull three clear.
They could have won it at the end of normal time only for referee James Owens to blow up just as the sliotar left Matthew Ruth's hurler and sailed over the bar in the 72nd minute.
Kilkenny ran out of puff as the game edged towards a finish and how Waterford must have rued their earlier play – most of their scores came from distance or darts through the centre. Like Tipp last week, they were beaten to the majority of 50/50s.
Still, it didn't deter them.
They burst back into contention at the end, courtesy of Kevin Moran's surging runs and three points from Ray Barry. Before that, they had depended way too much on Seamus Prendergast, and with Maurice Shanahan having an off-day, it was left to substitute Barry and those further out the field to lead the challenge.
Kilkenny looked like the tank was empty at the end. They just about soaked up lots of pressure. But their defence was magnificent, once again Hogan and Richie Power stepped up when needed.
Still, there was always the sense that they were there for the taking. Waterford felt so; with three minutes left they brought on Tony Browne one more time for what could be his last game for the county. It had a huge effect – Waterford hit two late points. It sent the game to a pulsating finish.
CHAMPIONSHIP SPECIAL pages 2-6
In fairness, it had been an intriguing game from the start, played in front of 17,235. The Decies opened with some crisp and sharp hurling, their handling immaculate, and in Liam Lawlor, Darragh and Shane Fives and Kevin Moran, they commanded the midfield and half back line exchanges.
Kilkenny roared back with points from Colin Fennelly, Richie Power and Richie Hogan. With time just up the sides were locked at 0-6 apiece when Eoin Larkin was awarded a free. It dropped in the square; Aidan Fogarty clasped it and was pulled to the ground by Noel Connors.
Richie Power blasted the sliotar against the stanchion; the play moved on, but the Kilkenny players swarmed referee, James Owens. After consultation with his umpires, the green flag was raised. It was the correct decision.
Waterford continued to squander chance after chance in the second half. Kilkenny moved Shefflin to the edge of the square and Richie Power and Larkin fired them 1-11 0-9 after 56 minutes, before Waterford forced a draw.
Through Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan, the Cats surged five points ahead. It looked like they were home and dry a second time. Then Jake Dillon struck for a goal to leave just two points in it, 1-15 to 1-17 with 10 minutes left.
Just as we wrote them off, though, Ray Barry goaled to put the sides level yet again. Colin Fennelly hit back with a point immediately. Matthew Ruth did the same seconds after. They've survived again. Great champions die hard.
Scorers – Kilkenny: R Power 1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-2f), R Hogan 0-5, E Larkin (0-4f), C Fennelly 0-4, A Fogarty 0-2, M Fennelly 0-1, M Ruth 0-1
Waterford: R Barry 1-3, J Dillon 1-2 (1f), D Fives 0-3, K Moran 0-3, R Foley, B O'Sullivan, J Barron, S Prendergast and J Nagle (f) 0-1 each
Kilkenny: E Murphy, P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell, T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce, E Larkin, M Rice, C Fennelly, R Power, M Ruth, R Hogan, W Walsh, A Fogarty. Subs: H Shefflin for W Walsh (40), M Fennelly for M Rice (47), W Walsh for H Shefflin (73), L Ryan for A Fogarty (70) A Fogarty for W Walsh (83), C Fogarty for JJ Delaney (87)
Waterford: S O'Keeffe; S Fives: L Lawlor: N Connors: J Nagle: M Walsh; K Moran; D Fives; R Foley; J Dillon; S Prendergast; S O'Sullivan; B O'Sullivan; M Shanahan; J Barron. Subs: R Barry for B O'Sullivan (48), M O'Neill for M Shanahan (55), S Walsh for M O'Neill (57), P Prendergast for Foley (60), T Browne for D Fives (68), E Barrett for J Barron (78), D Fives for P Prendergast (82), M Shanahan for K Moran (86)
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)