Defiant Déise dig deep to stave off Cats' late surge
Waterford 1-15 Kilkenny 0-17
If there's an optimum method of launching the season, taking League points out of Nowlan Park is right up there, as Waterford's reaction to yesterday's success demonstrated.
The delight among players and supporters in the 8,793 attendance was palpable, lifting Déise spirits and warming bodies on a bitterly-cold afternoon.
The manner of victory was hugely satisfactory, as Waterford resisted a driving finish by Kilkenny which saw them pare a four-point deficit back to one in the closing 10 minutes.
And when Richie Hogan wound up for a shot at goal deep in stoppage time, it looked highly probable that he would complete the recovery, only for his effort to drift wide.
"We're delighted to eke it out in the face of a Kilkenny onslaught. It was very, very rewarding," said Waterford manager Derek McGrath.
Their significance may extend beyond mere League placings, moving instead into psychological territory and their relationship with Kilkenny.
Having been caught late on in last year's drawn All-Ireland semi-final, before being narrowly edged out in the replay, it was important for Waterford to show they could survive in a tight finish against the ultimate authorities in timing late runs to perfection.
Waterford had led from the ninth minute so it would have been very disappointing to get caught on the finish line, even if most teams would be happy to take one point out of Nowlan Park.
While McGrath was thrilled with the result, relief didn't enter his emotions.
"I think we're gone past the relief stage. We have gone past worrying about two points in the League or worrying about relegation. We are more concerned with improving and with performance - picking up two points is a bonus," said McGrath.
It's a pretty sizeable one too in a six-team group, where the difference between reaching the knock-out stages and facing a relegation play-off is almost always decided on the tightest of margins.
That adds to the significance of Kilkenny's visit to Ennis next Sunday.
"It's an important game. We're two points down and they're two points down," said Brian Cody.
He will have been pleased by parts of Kilkenny's performance, especially in the second-half but, overall, Waterford were the more uniform outfit.
They laid the groundwork for their victory in a solid first-half, which they ended with a four-point advantage, 1-11 to 0-10. The margin would have been greater except for a super save by Eoin Murphy from Shane Bennett in the fourth minute and some wayward Waterford shooting later on.
Playing with the wind added to Waterford's sense of initiative and with Jamie Barron making an important contribution in the middle third, the Kilkenny defence were often under intense pressure. It resulted in them conceding several frees which Pauric Mahony converted into points.
The jury remains out on the Kilkenny experiment of playing Padraig Walsh at full-back and Paul Murphy at centre-back. Both did well enough but there were times when the Waterford attack looked as if they might out-run the home defence, only to be foiled by a block or tackle.
An exception was for Waterford's breakthrough in the 13th minute when Patrick Curran fired home a goal. Mikey Kearney could have added another goal later on but his shot whizzed wide from a narrow angle.
"They had the wind in the first-half so they had more of the ball. It was travelling down the field to their scoring area more so than ours but I thought we were competitive. There was very little in it and that's the way it went all the way to the finish," said Cody.
The period just after half-time proved important in shaping the remainder of the game. Kilkenny would have expected to harness the wind to make early progress but instead it was Waterford who scored the first two points.
Kilkenny didn't score for nearly 10 minutes and while they then reeled off four unanswered points (TJ Reid matched Mahony for placed ball accuracy), Waterford broke their momentum with two points. It left them four points clear, which ultimately proved just about enough to see them home safely.
"To be able to dig it out and to show the composure we did was very pleasing. We kept the ball well in the face of relentless Kilkenny pressure," said McGrath.
It was Waterford's first League win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park since 2004 and while Cody won't be pressing the alarm bells just yet, it increases the urgency to pick up points against Clare next Sunday.
He will be pleased with the performance of Pat Lyng, who did well in the half-forward line before being forced off with an injury at the three-quarter stage.
Walter Walsh improved the attack when he came on at half-time but with so much action happening in the middle third, Kilkenny were unable to get close enough to Waterford goalkeeper Ian O'Regan to test his shot-stopping capabilities.
McGrath revealed he had concerns about how the team would gel after many of them were concentrating on Fitzgibbon Cup action in recent weeks. He needn't have worried as it quickly became apparent that Waterford were well-primed for a big test, which they ultimately passed.
Scorers - Waterford: P Mahony 0-10 (9f, 1'65), P Curran 1-1, J Barron 0-3, C Gleeson 0-1. Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (6f , 2'65s), R Hogan, P Lyng, L Blanchfield, O Walsh, W Walsh, E Murphy (f) and K Joyce 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy 8; J Holden 6, P Walsh 6, C O'Shea 7; K Joyce 6, P Murphy 6, C Buckley 6; O Walsh 6, C Fogarty 6; P Lyng 7, TJ Reid 7, S Morrissey 5; JJ Farrell 6, L Blanchfield 6, R Hogan 6. Subs: W Walsh 7 for Morrissey (h-t), P Deegan 6 for Walsh (52), R Leahy 6 for Lyng (56), S Prendergast 6 for Buckley (61), C Martin for Blanchfield (73).
Waterford - I O'Regan 6; N Connors 7, B Coughlan 6, S Fives 7; C Gleeson 6, T De Búrca 7, S Daniels 6; J Barron 9, K Moran 7; M Walsh 6, M Kearney 6, P Mahony 7; P Curran 7,T Devine 7, Shane Bennett 6. Subs: A Gleeson 6 for Kearney (53), B O' Halloran 6 for Bennett (55), J Dillon 6 for Devine (63), G O'Brien for Curran (69), S McNulty for Daniels (71).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary).