Monday 23 April 2018

Ferocious appetite of unbreakbale Cats underpinned by their messiah

Brian Cody shows his delight after Kilkenny's pulsating replay victory over Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile
Brian Cody shows his delight after Kilkenny's pulsating replay victory over Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Unbreakable is a 2000 American superhero thriller starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson based around a Philadelphia security guard who discovers he possesses superhuman powers and if writer/director M Night Shyamalan ever wants to make a sequel he has a ready-made cast in Brian Cody and his Merry Men.

No matter how high the bar is raised the Cats climb higher. Waterford threw the kitchen sink at the reigning champions in another pulsating contest but Kilkenny always found more. For a medal-laden bunch their appetite is ferocious.

It was end to end and blow for blow from the minute Austin Gleeson rifled past Eoin Murphy from an impossible angle, everything the hurling season wanted and needed. After a recent goal drought, we had four in 20 minutes.

Colin Fennelly parked himself on the six-yard box and with Waterford playing orthodox, the Ballyhale maestro made hay with two early goals, the Cats exploiting Barry Coughlan's vulnerability at No 3 with angled deliveries.

With Tadhg de Búrca occupied by Michael Fennelly and Richie Hogan, the Déise looked spooked when the ball went around the 'D'. After being bullied last week, Kilkenny were wounded and out to restore pride in their performance.

Their manic aggression was typified by their messiah. Rarely has the game's greatest manager had his feathers so ruffled but sensing an extra oomph was needed, Cody was more animated than usual with Semple Stadium exploding around him.

"Any person who was alive out there if they weren't animated they need to be checked out," a delighted Cody said. "It was frantic, it was helter-skelter, it was magnificent really. The attitude and the determination, the skill level from both teams.

"We played two games, 150 minutes of hurling. Two points divided us at the end of the day. That's how close it is between the two of us. We're just very, very happy to be the ones in front."

Their noses were just in front after Murphy denied Fitzgibbon Cup-winning colleague Pauric Mahony with a salmon-like leap to catch the Ballygunner man's 70-metre free which Cody felt sure would force another 20 minutes.

"I turned to the lads and said 'there's going to be extra-time' but it didn't turn out like that thank God. It was just a great bit of skill, a great bit of taking of responsibility which is what Eoin does. If it had gone wrong obviously there would have been consequences, he said.

The 11-time All-Ireland winning manager broke tradition with an unprecedented trio of late changes as Eoin Larkin, Liam Blanchfield and Mark Bergin came in from the cold in yet another tactical masterclass.

Dropped a few years back, Bergin was making his championship debut at 27 having only rejoined the squad in June while Blanchfield, 19, was launched in and hit three brilliant points in the opening 35 before making a ridiculous fetch to win a crucial injury-time free.

And all of this from a player who was held scoreless in Kilkenny's earth-shattering U-21 defeat to Westmeath less than three months ago as Cody showed his uncanny ability to pluck players from obscurity.

After a stale showing last week they "freshened things up" with Conor Fogarty slipping into centre-back and Hurler of the Year TJ Reid dropping to midfield and regularly featuring in defence. Cody shuffled the deck with his supposedly shallow panel.

He said: "It is not a big deal for TJ to play there so there is no need to go mad thinking about it. You look at things, toss things around in your head and sit with the lads and you come up with what you come up with."

"I always talk about the panel," Cody added. "I don't talk about 15 players, I talk about the panel and you know, that's what they're there for, it's competitive and fellas are never sure whose going to start."

A red-eyed Derek McGrath, who knew the 'real' Kilkenny team on Friday night, reflected how the hurling world, bar Kilkenny, felt after their heroic effort just fell short.

"The overriding emotion is one of absolute pride but devastation because these chances don't come along too often. I hate to be as grim but that's my honest opinion. Ultimately it was not good enough. The best team always wins and Kilkenny were the best team," he said.

It's a bitter pill to swallow for Waterford. They have brought this Championship to life in the last eight days, typified by the talismanic Gleeson, who caught countless missiles and dominated the Cats in the air in a way they're very unfamiliar with. Getting to an All-Ireland final seems like a distant possibility now.

"It's as far away as it ever was, in my opinion. Brian Cody came into our dressing-room last year, and he wasn't one bit patronising, he just spoke about how hard it is to get back to a semi-final. I think that's why Kilkenny are so sharp every year," he said.

"If we can get one thing, copy how Kilkenny have been in victory and defeat over the years, we'll have a chance. But other than that, we're just devastated. We're completely out on our feet. Devastated."

Not the first to be devastated, and certainly not the last to be by the unbreakable Cats.

Irish Independent

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