Billy Drennan finds his range as Kilkenny hold their nerve
NHL Division 1 Group B: Kilkenny 0-18, Waterford 0-16
Not a game that will live long in the memory bank when games between these counties are recalled in the future.
Kilkenny won, qualified for a league semi-final against Cork next weekend that they will enjoy home advantage for and after that? Not a lot really.
There were no goals. Only Tom Barron ever looked like scoring one and even then the Waterford midfielder lifted his shot sufficiently high on 42 minutes not to threaten Darren Brennan.
Two minutes later Pádraig Walsh’s timing saved another potential opportunity when he stepped in claim to Carthach Daly’s pass with Patrick Curran having a clear run at Brennan, had it landed in his hand.
But they were isolated in a game of containment, Tadhg De Burca’s restoration to a sweeping role – manager Davy Fitzgerald preferred to call him a ‘plus one counter attacker’ – proving effective, just as it had been in the second half of the Tipperary defeat until Jamie Barron’s sending off.
If Waterford were applying the brakes a little to avoid the league play-offs – they are off on a training camp to Portugal from Tuesday to Saturday of this week – they did a good job of disguising it.
At one stage in the second half they were three points ahead and had Barron’s shot been lower they might well have kicked on. A four-point lead at that stage in a game of its nature, played in worsening conditions, could have been defended.
And even when they fell behind by three points to a Billy Drennan free after sub Timmy Clifford had been fouled on 68 minutes, 0-17 to 0-14, they still responded with the next two points before Alan Murphy, another sub, made it safe.
Kilkenny showed just a little bit more grit to get there, winning a shade more of those tussles for possession that were more common as the game progressed because of the conditions.
They also had Drennan, metronomic again from placed balls as he landed nine from nine to contribute 0-10 overall and take his league tally to 1-52 for this campaign. Not a bad stand-in for TJ Reid.
By contrast Waterford struggled with their frees in the absence of their latest injured party Stephen Bennett, both Billy Nolan and Patrick Curran were off target before Paudie Fitzgerald stepped in to land six.
The resolve to go and win it after losing their grip in the third quarter will please Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng whose list of absentees was just as long as Waterford’s – Reid, Adrian Mullen, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler and Eoin Murphy being joined by Richie Reid, Cillian Buckley and Paddy Mullen beforehand.
Lyng admitted they struggled at times to get to grips with De Burca’s placement.
“We lost our shape a little bit up there,” he said. “It’s difficult to play against and with the conditions we had a lot of passes were going astray. It took two or three touches but it was the same for both teams.
“They were looking really strong there for about 10 minutes and it looked like we were under pressure. We won a few frees, got back into the game and the lads just ground it out then, which is really good,” he acknowledged.
Fitzgerald felt they might have won, referencing nine first-half wides, when they had the wind, as prohibitive as they trailed by 0-8 to 0-7. De Burca’s return to a familiar role that he carried out so well in Derek McGrath’s time is a clear pointer to how they’ll set up as the season evolves.
“I know the last day we conceded three (goals, in second half against Tipperary) but the thing that actually killed us was when we went down to 14. Tadhg is unreal at reading situations,” acknowledged Fitzgerald.
“Today was only his second full game since last August, and you could see he was gassing there a small bit. So we have to knock in a few 15 v 15 games,” he added, prescribing the same medicine for Bennett and Austin Gleeson who are also short of game-time.
“The one thing I’m delighted about is we might have conceded four (goals) last week, one or two of them we shouldn’t have conceded, one of them should have been a free out. Today, I don’t think we gave up many goal chances which was important. We’re on the road.
“It’s a journey, I’m only four months at the job and I’m certainly going to stay to that process, no matter what any pundits or anyone thinks outside. I don’t really care.
“We have a process. Am I going to change the whole lot of Waterford hurling in three or four months? I’m not. But have I got these guys playing with me? They’re playing for me, 100 per cent. They’re giving me everything and you could see that today.
“If you try out 31 or 32 players, it can’t be bad,” he said of the league campaign now concluded for them.
“I started 30 different ones. My whole thing out of this was to make sure I have a panel of 26 going. If we happened to get to a semi-final or a final, brilliant, we’d try to go and win it. I’m happy enough where we are. Are we a bit off the main guys? We probably are a small bit off. The likes of Cork and Limerick are absolutely flying it and they’ll surely be right up there for All-Irelands. This bunch, over the next two years, I’m telling you, won’t be far away.”
Fitzgerald got yellow-carded by ref Liam Gordon in the 17th minute, his second in successive games and one of the few moments of real fire there was.
They could never get Dessie Hutchinson into the game either which was a clear frustration throughout for the Ballygunner man as he was making constant runs.
Scorers – Kilkenny: B Drennan 0-10 (9f); M Keoghan, E Cody, S Walsh, A Murphy, J Donnelly, D Corcoran, C Fogarty, G Dunne 0-1 each. Waterford: Paudie Fitzgerald 0-6 (6f); T Barron, C Dunford, N Montgomery 0-2 each; T De Burca (f), Patrick Fitzgerald, P Curran, J Prendergast 0-1 each.
Kilkenny – D Brennan 7; T Walsh 7, C Delaney 7, P Walsh 7; D Corcoran 7, P Deegan 7, D Blanchfield 6; C Kenny 5, C Fogarty 7; E Cody 6, J Donnelly 6, B Ryan 5; B Drennan 8, M Keoghan 6, G Dunne 5. Subs: A Murphy 7 for Kenny (h-t), T Clifford 6 for Ryan (42), S Ryan 6 for Dunne (58), T Phelan for Keoghan (68), R Corcoran for Cody (70).
Waterford – B Nolan 7; I Daly 7, M Fitzgerald 6, C Ryan 7; T De Burca 7; J Fagan 7, C Lyons 6, C Daly 7; T Barron 7, N Montgomery 7; Paudie Fitzgerald 6, P Curran 5, J Prendergast 6; C Dunford 7, D Hutchinson 6. Subs: Patrick Fitzgerald 6 for Curran (49), P Leavey 6 for I Daly inj (59), K Mahony for Paudie Fitzgerald (69), DJ Foran for Dunford (71).
Ref – L Gordon (Galway).