Cats have lift-off as Déise's two-year wait for a Walsh Park league win goes on
Kilkenny 1-20 Waterford 1-12
Deeply frustrated after harvesting no points from their first two outings, Kilkenny headed for Walsh Park yesterday with an even sharper edge to their appetite.
They had brought lots of energy to the games against Cork and Clare but found it wasn't quite enough, so they supplemented it with craft and guile. It all came together in an impressive package, which added to Waterford's lengthening list of woes.
By the end of the action on a damp afternoon, Kilkenny had their League ambitions back on track while Waterford were facing up to the harsh fact that relegation is now a real threat.
"We're not giving up - we're prouder than that," said manager Derek McGrath, but he also accepted that they were "in deep trouble" in their quest to remain in 1A.
The difficulties are rooted in the simple fact that their scoring rate remains stubbornly low. They have averaged around 16 points in their opening three games, nowhere near enough to win against the quality of opposition in this group.
"Everything is down and everything is suffering at the moment but look, maybe we didn't work hard enough over the past two weeks," said McGrath.
"We'll try and work harder before the Cork game and work harder again for the match after that.
"That's the most important thing: just keep working hard and see what becomes of it."
Kilkenny provide the ultimate template for relentless graft, as they demonstrated from start to finish yesterday.
It took them 0-11 to 0-5 clear at half-time and stood to them again after Waterford whipped up renewed energy in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
They outscored Kilkenny by 0-4 to 0-1 in that period, finally displaying some glimpses of the force that took them all the way to last year's All-Ireland final.
However, all changed in the space of a minute. First, TJ Reid fired in Kilkenny's goal before Stephen Bennett's poorly-hit penalty was blocked by Eoin Murphy.
Waterford supporters in the crowd of 5,859 sensed the worst after that exchange and their pessimism was well-founded as Kilkenny controlled the final quarter.
Waterford's goal, scored by Tommy Ryan, didn't arrive until the 72nd minute, by which time they were ten points behind.
If Murphy's penalty save was significant, his intervention in the run-up to half-time was equally important.
Despite losing battles in various sectors, Waterford were only four points behind in the 32nd minute, at which stage Tom Devine had a clear opportunity to make a big impact after bursting in on the Kilkenny goal.
However, Murphy made a superb save and, from the ensuing clearance, Reid fired over a point to complete what was effectively a four-point turnaround.
Reid finished the day on 1-11 (0-10 from placed balls) while Martin Keoghan scored 0-5 from play. After impressing as a sub in recent games, the Tullaroan man played the full game yesterday, turning in an excellent performance which will have encouraged Kilkenny fans.
They will also be pleased by the contributions from Conor Delaney, Pat Lyng and John Donnelly, other newcomers who are gradually working their way into the system.
Several of the established names played well too in a performance which will greatly boost Kilkenny, who had won only three of their previous 12 League and Championship games.
"It lifts the team when you get a good win like today. If we were facing into it (next Sunday's clash with Tipperary) down three games, maybe the heads might be down a small bit," said Brian Cody.
The Cats manager made it clear that any player involved in next Saturday's DCU v UL Fitzgibbon Cup final would not play next Sunday, which is far from an ideal situation at a time when the League remains so delicately balanced.
"It's a shame that the (Fitzgibbon final) weekend is clashing with a serious League weekend," he said. "The college has to be respected and we've been looking after these lads and minding them, like everybody else as well.
"They are just disappointed they can't play with their county as well as the college next weekend."
Waterford have a big test too when they take on Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, a game they must win to have any chance of avoiding a relegation play-off.
These really are frustrating times for a camp that, for whatever reason, hasn't warmed to the new season yet. Kilkenny were far more energetic and industrious for long periods, making it all the more important for Waterford to take their chances.
Once again, they came up short on that requirement, which was always going to spell trouble against such highly-driven opposition.
Waterford's lethargic periods perplexed McGrath, who was expecting a big performance.
"We thought we'd be at a far greater intensity in the first half - we got up to it a bit in the second half, but only sporadically overall," he lamented.
"I've been saying we're following a process, but we targeted a big performance today, there's no way around that or dressing it up.
"You're trying to strike a balance between confidence-sapping defeats and ensuring you follow the process."
Yesterday's defeat left Waterford without a League win in Walsh Park since February 2016 when they beat Kilkenny. Truly testing times in Déise land.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-11 (0-9fs, 0-1 '65'), M Keoghan 0-5, J Donnelly 0-2, J Maher, L Scanlon 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-7 (6fs, 1 '65'), T Ryan 1-0, T De Burca, A Gleeson (f), T Devine, P Curran, C Dunford 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy 9; J Holden 7, P Walsh 7, P Deegan 7; C Delaney 8, C Buckley 8, E Morrissey 7; L Ryan 7, C O'Shea 6; M Keoghan 9, TJ Reid 8 (1-11, 9f, 1'65'), P Lyng 7; B Ryan 5, W Walsh 7, J Donnelly 7. Subs: L Blanchfeld 6 for Ryan (33), J Maher 7 for O'Shea (42), L Scanlon 7 for Ryan (54).
Waterford - I O'Regan 6; S Fives 7, B Coughlan 7, N Connors 7; C Gleeson 6, T De Burca 7, Philip Mahony 6; J Barron 6, K Moran 6; A Gleeson 6, Pauric Mahony 6, T Devine 7; J Dillon 5, M Shanahan 5, M Kearney 6. Subs: P Curran 7 for A Gleeson (ht); C Dunford 7 for Kearney (ht), S Bennett 7 for Dillon (45), DJ Foran 6 for Shanahan (58), T Ryan 7 for Pauric Mahony (62).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary)