Déise defiance too much for sloppy Kilkenny
McGrath's men overcome shooting virus to beat All-Ireland champions
If Waterford were told in advance that their wides tally would reach 18, they would have expected the worst from League opening day so it says much about their defensive resolve that they survived such wayward shooting in Walsh Park.
Ultimately, Waterford's successful smothering of the Kilkenny attack was the match-deciding difference on a cold, blustery afternoon.
With ground conditions very much on the sticky side, it was always going to be a gruelling slog to decide whether the reigning All-Ireland champions or League champions got off to a better start to the new campaign.
It wasn't that Kilkenny were out-muscled but Waterford were that bit slicker once they managed to break from the many unseemly scrambles for possession and move the ball into open territory.
If Waterford had been more accurate with their finishing, they would have won by the sort of margins Kilkenny often inflict on others.
Instead, they had only four points to spare, with the last score coming from Jake Dillon deep in injury time. It eased the tension among Waterford supporters in the 7,000 crowd, who feared that Kilkenny might strike for a late goal and rescue a point which not even Brian Cody thought they deserved.
"Waterford deserved to win - no question about that. They could have won by more. I'm sure they would be disappointed with the number of wides they had," said Cody.
Eleven of Waterford's wides came in the first half, with Maurice Shanahan and Austin Gleeson hitting four each. Shanahan, who is usually so accurate from placed balls, missed three frees while Gleeson, who took his wides tally to six in the second half, also missed a free.
It led to a change of free-taker, with Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett sharing the responsibility in the second half.
Waterford led by 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time, an advantage that appeared unlikely to be enough to sustain them against opposition with a deserved reputation for second-half power surges. And when Richie Hogan and TJ Reid pointed in the five minutes immediately after the restart, it looked as if a familiar routine was about to unfold.
However, Waterford refused to read from the script and dug in for a real battle. Ever so gradually, they asserted themselves, with Colin Dunford, Jamie Barron, Gleeson and Bennett repeatedly driving at Kilkenny's defensive lines.
The pressure yielded three points between the 43rd and 48th minutes while, at the other end, the Waterford defence were driving their opponents to the edge of frustration with their close marking and beaverish hustling when the ball went to ground.
Kilkenny failed to register a score from the 39th to the 59th minutes - an incredibly long barren spell for a team that had 12 of last year's starting All-Ireland 15 on show.
Reid cut the deficit to two points approaching the hour mark but Kilkenny managed just one more point, whereas Waterford added three more scores.
Kilkenny's task was made all the more difficult in the 66th minute when Colin Fennelly was dismissed on a second yellow card.
It summed up a disappointing afternoon for Kilkenny, who managed only four points from open play, one of which came from defender, Padraig Walsh.
It's most unusual for a Kilkenny attack to return so little but then the sharpness usually associated with everything they do just wasn't there.
That was to be expected, since their training schedule is not as advanced as those of most other counties.
"It's our first game back but we're not using it as excuse. The better team won. You don't just click straight away in your first game. It was more a question of hanging on, which we were doing for most of the match. If their shooting had been a bit more clinical, we'd have had an even harder battle," said Cody.
Derek McGrath was relieved and delighted to have picked up two early points in an ultra-competitive group, which is certain to fluctuate in several directions over the next five weeks.
"I still think that it will come down to the last game here against Galway in terms of relegation play-off or quarter-final spot. It's going to be that tight," said McGrath.
He would favour a League format which allowed more room to experiment, rather than facing the top sides week after week.
"It's dog-eat-dog each week and I don't agree with it," he said.
Waterford were in the less competitive surrounds of 1B last year, which proved very helpful in building up the panel
"The contrast with last year is that we were able to blood fellas and bring them in, whereas I don't think this (1A) allows for that," he said.
That's why it was so crucial for Waterford to get off to a good start against the most powerful force in the game. Still, McGrath was keeping things very much in perspective.
"It's great to win but I don't think Kilkenny will be too perturbed by us beating them in the second week in February. I'd say we're ahead of Kilkenny in terms of how much physical work we've done over the winter. We're just glad to get the result and the two points and move on to Cork next Saturday," he said.
Naturally, he was concerned by the inaccuracy but, on the plus side, the points and wides return was 32, an impressive chance count in difficult conditions.
Kilkenny, in contrast, shot eight wides and scored ten times, underlining how difficult they found it to unpick Waterford's defensive locks.
And with Tipperary coming to Nowlan Park next Sunday, Kilkenny know that they need a quick response to avoid a repeat of last year when they got dragged into the relegation zone.
The fact that Cody fielded such a strong team yesterday showed his intent for the League but Waterford were better primed and reaped a rich dividend.
"It's a good start, no more or no less," said McGrath.
Scorers - Waterford: M Shanahan (1f), P Curran (1f), S Bennett (2f) 0-3 each; C Dunford, J Dillon 0-2 each; A Gleeson 0-1.
Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (6f), P Walsh,C Fennelly, R Hogan 0-1 each.
Waterford - S O'Keeffe7; S Fives 7, B Coughlan 8, N Connors 8; A Gleeson 8, D Fives 7, P Mahony 7; J Barron 8, C Dunford 8; K Moran 7, S Bennett 8, M Walsh 7; P Curran 7, M Shanahan 7, J Dillon 7. Sub: B O'Halloran for Curran (66).
Kilkenny - E Murphy 7; P Murphy 6, J Holden 8, S Prendergast 6; P Walsh 7, K Joyce 7, D Cody 7; C Buckley 6, C Fogarty 6; W Walsh 6, R Hogan 7, TJ Reid 7; J Farrell 5, C Fennelly 6, M Kelly 5.
Sub: J Maher 6 for Kelly (48).
Ref - A Kelly (Galway)