Business as usual for Cody's relentless troopers
Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-18
Clinical Kilkenny reach 14th final in 17 years
Ultimately, it came down to this: Waterford were never going to beat Kilkenny without scoring a goal and since they rarely threatened Eoin Murphy's goal, their prospects of recording a first championship win over their neighbours since 1959 evaporated in the balmy August air.
Waterford got much of their game right, but just couldn't find a way of constructing goal openings, forcing them to chase victory, via the points route. That was the tallest of tall orders against a Kilkenny team that has patented the art of chiselling out victories by whatever means are required.
They have done it right through the Brian Cody era so it came as second nature to them yesterday against much less experienced opposition. The difference was obvious in the opening 10 minutes of the second half when Kilkenny outscored Waterford by 0-5 to 0-2 to stretch their interval lead to five points.
Briefly, it looked as Waterford's case had been well and truly tried and that they might be headed for a big defeat but the resilience shown throughout the season kicked in to good effect.
They pared the deficit back to three points on two occasions but it was as close as they got before Kilkenny powered on again the closing 10 minutes. Just as happened in the Munster final against Tipperary, Waterford chased the game to the finish but their goal shyness left them facing a similar fate.
Kilkenny only managed one goal - a splendid effort from TJ Reid, who wheeled away from two defenders before firing past Stephen O'Keeffe in the 17th minute, but they created quite a number of other opportunities which weren't exploited.
They were also at the wrong end of a bad decision by referee Brian Gavin in the 10th minute when O'Keeffe hauled down Walter Walsh as he angled in on goal. It merited a Kilkenny free and a yellow card for O'Keeffe but, inexplicably, Gavin waved play on.
Reid's goal seven minutes later gave Kilkenny a three-point advantage but Waterford's response was positive and effective as they cut the margin to a point before a Reid free - his sixth of the half - left the All-Ireland champions leading by 1-9 to 0-10 at the interval.
Maurice Shanahan's accuracy from frees was crucial for Waterford while Austin Gleeson chipped in with two inspirational points, the first from a line ball 70 metres from the Kilkenny goal, the second after he surged out of defence before driving over from long range.
Waterford would have felt at half-time that they were in a really good position, but they needed a much better start to the second half to make it count.
Instead, it was Kilkenny who broke quickest and once they got the points that set the agenda, it was always unlikely that they would be caught.
Kilkenny were uncharacteristically wasteful in the second half and when Colin Dunford, who helped himself to 0-4 in a very impressive display, began to assert himself, Waterford supporters were in full voice.
One of Dunford's points was especially inspirational as he whizzed past Padraig Walsh while the Kilkenny wing-back waited for the ball to reach him. Dunford made up several yards, took possession and fired over a point that cut the deficit to three points (1-17 to 0-17) after 55 minutes.
Typical of Kilkenny, they retorted with four unanswered points, two each from Ger Aylward and Richie Hogan. Aylward really imposed himself on the game in the second half while Hogan was a key influencer from the start.
Croke Park buzzed with pre-match rumours that a back problem would keep him out, but he took his place as usual and delivered an excellent performance, scoring 0-5 from open play.
His ability to fetch the ball above taller opponents presented Waterford with a problem they never quite sorted out. Reid made some fine catches too on a day when he scored 1-9 (1-2 from open play) to take his three-match championship total this season to 3-25.
Michael Fennelly also played, despite reports that he too would miss the game and while he took some time to play his way into the action in the way Kilkenny supporters have come to expect of him, he finished strongly, which is an encouraging sign for the All-Ireland final.
While Reid, Hogan and Aylward contributed 1-18 between them, the man-of-the-match rating goes to Cillian Buckley, who delivered another outstanding performance. He hurled exceptionally well against Galway in the Leinster final but was even better yesterday, especially in the second half when he won lots of possession, almost all of which he used very intelligently.
But then that's a hallmark of Kilkenny's play, as is their capacity to match whatever level of intensity they encounter. Waterford weren't found wanting in the latter department either, but lacked the experience to channel it as efficiently as their rivals.
Still, it has been an exceptionally good year for Waterford, whose only defeats from 12 league and championship games were against Kilkenny and Tipperary, the clear All-Ireland favourites right through the season.
Derek McGrath and his squad should be extremely proud of their year which not only delivered a league title but showed more than enough in the championship to suggest that the graph is very much on an upward curve.
More refinement is required but the fundamentals are very much in place for the next phase of the progression.
Tweaking the attacking policy to generate more goal openings will on McGrath's 'things to do' list, but having reshaped the entire approach this year, he will no doubt come up with some new ideas for next year.
It should, of course, be borne in mind that Waterford were without ace forward Pauric Mahony for the entire championship, a loss that was acutely felt against Tipperary and again yesterday.
Maurice Shanahan was more than an adequate replacement on free-taking duties but Mahony's absence was felt in open play at various times.
So then, as Waterford prepare to take stock after a very interesting year, Kilkenny are back in the All-Ireland final for the 14th time in 17 seasons. It's an amazing record and, on yesterday's evidence, they will be mighty hard to dislodge, irrespective of whether they face Tipperary or Galway.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-9 (7f), R Hogan 0-5, G Aylward 0-4, C Buckley, E Larkin, M Fennelly 0-1 each. Waterford: M Shanahan 0-9 (6f 1'65'), C Dunford 0-4, A Gleeson 0-3 (1 line ball), K Moran, Shane Bennett 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; M Fennelly, C Fogarty; W Walsh, R Hogan, TJ Reid; G Aylward, C Fennelly, E Larkin. Subs: J Power for W Walsh (66).
Waterford - S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T de Búrca, A Gleeson, P Mahony; J Barron, D Fives; K Moran, Stephen Bennett, J Dillon; M Shanahan, M Walsh, C Dunford.
Subs: P Curran for Dillon (52), Stephen Bennett for Shane Bennett (56)
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly)