Cats in line of fire as rivals hit back
Kilkenny feel brunt as they get a taste of their own medicine in physicality stakes
The sight of Kilkenny hurlers being lifted onto stretchers and off pitches, or being treated by medics, has become a strangely familiar one.
Pat Lyng became the latest wounded in the call of duty. A relative newcomer at this level, Lyng left himself too unprotected as he sought to lift a ball and turn in the 55th minute.
With the lift going higher than Lyng would have wanted, it invited a crunching collision from Waterford substitute Stephen Daniels, who was already committed and was never going to compromise. Lyng felt the full impact to the head/neck area and played no further part.
Beside him, his manager Brian Cody scarcely flinched, turning to the business of discussing a potential replacement.
Daniels picked up just a yellow card. Had a similar challenge been made in a football match it would, in all probability, have merited red but that's another story.
The same organisation overseeing two games with similar fundamentals and no shortage of common denominators on the same pitches, yet policed in such different ways.
Minutes earlier the same Kilkenny medical team were sprinting to get to Walter Walsh after he had been felled by 'Brick' Walsh.
Again, no intent was obvious, but contact with the head was heavy after Walsh, one of the taller hurlers around, got himself into a lower position where his balance may not have been the best and was smashed.
Protection on a hurling field is a skill in itself, as Cody observed prior to the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final in one of his many appeals around that time to stop tampering with rules.
"Your skill is your protection, your skill, your positioning, your body, your instinct. That's all the protection you need. Just leave the game alone," cautioned Cody.
But what protection mechanism was there for Richie Hogan when he sought to go around Tadhg de Burca down along the sideline but was tackled rugby-style and ushered out over the sideline? For good measure De Burca pushed Hogan in the back just as he was climbing off the turf.
Bizarrely not even a free was awarded where there surely a case for a yellow card. In football such an offence would merit black.
Hogan did exact some revenge minutes later when he delivered a late challenge on Noel Connors, for which he picked up a yellow.
Waterford came to Nowlan Park with the attitude that they were not going to be pushed around. For that, Derek McGrath will be delighted as much as any two points.
And they'll be mindful that Maurice Shanahan and Connors both picked up facial injuries from their League match against Kilkenny in Walsh Park 12 months earlier.
You're more likely to hear more 'schadenfreude' than sympathy for Kilkenny and you certainly won't hear any complaints from within.
After all, Kilkenny teams have been enforcers for long enough, dictating higher terms of physical engagement over the last decade and a half. No doubt, they can give it and take it.
But they've been taking it quite a bit over the last few years, with some stark consequences for some of their players.
Last year, for instance, Conor Fogarty was forced out of a League match with Pairc Ui Rinn for the second successive year, the victim of a wild swipe.
Twelve months earlier he had limped out of the corresponding game after sustaining a broken bone in the leg that kept him out for 12 weeks.
In the 2016 League campaign a neck-high challenge on TJ Reid by Tipperary's Padraic Maher resulted in a broken hurley and just a yellow card, while a few weeks later newcomer Micheal Malone was only just on the field against Dublin when he, like Lyng last Sunday, was helped off after a heavy-handed challenge.
Four years earlier Michael Rice had his fingers badly damaged by a wild pull in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, while Reid had his knee cap shattered in the subsequent All-Ireland final replay against Galway.
Those injuries prompted former GAA president Nicky Brennan, in his Kilkenny People column, to call for much firmer officiating of such incidents.
"I accept that neither player went out intentionally to cause the Kilkenny opponent a serious injury, but in the heat of a contest unsavoury incidents sometimes occur which have no place in Gaelic games," he wrote.
"It is simply not good enough to talk about hurling being a man's game and whatever happens on the field being left there. I know that some Kilkenny players have stepped over the line on occasions and were rightly punished for their misdemeanours," he wrote.
The then National Referees chairman Pat McEnaney accepted that detection rates of red card offences were very poor and sought an improvement.
But when referees tried to police head high challenges with the hurl with red cards it failed its first test when Cork's Patrick Horgan had his punishment rescinded after being sent off in the 2013 Munster final.
For his troubles in trying to clean up the game McEnaney was advised by Ger Loughnane to stick to directing football referees only - the same Loughnane who was first to highlight what he called Kilkenny's "flicking, belting across wrists" in 2007.
The physical stakes have been raised considerably for Kilkenny. Maybe they are now victims of their own past superiority in that particular context.
Opponents are entitled to take that kind of force to them. But just because they have given it over the years doesn't mean that an 'anything goes' approach should be in place for them now.