Thursday 23 January 2020

Jamesie O'Connor: Two great games that saved the hurling season

Jamesie O'Connor

It's not very often that the manager of a winning All-Ireland semi-final team can start writing his 'to do' list before he even knows who his opposition will be on the first Sunday in September, but that's the position Brian Cody finds himself in after last night's dramatic replay win over Waterford.

First on Cody's list would have been to do everything possible to have Michael Fennelly fit for the final, but unfortunately it seems as though his Achilles injury means that he will miss the clash with either Galway or Tipperary.

Fennelly was absolutely outstanding last night and it is a terrible shame that he probably won't grace the final. It will be a poorer occasion without him.

The second thing Cody will work on is Kilkenny's finishing and in this he will find himself facing an unusual task. Although they found the net twice in the first half, Kilkenny could, and perhaps should, have had two more goals after the break.

Had they taken those chances they would have saved themselves those agonising final few minutes when Waterford looked like they might force the game into extra time.

To get as close as they did will exacerbate the disappointment for Waterford, especially for Pauric Mahony who was immense in Croke Park last week and put in a serious shift again last night. When he got the chance to fire over the equalising point from a long-range free last night, he did everything right, but maybe the exertion of the previous 70 minutes caught up with him and he just hadn't the little extra he needed to get it over the bar.

But what an effort from Eoin Murphy to reach above the crossbar and prevent the sliotar from dropping over.

When they look back on this game, Waterford will realise that they simply weren't as efficient as they were last week. Austin Gleeson, in particular, probably didn't make the most of some of the possession he had and this came back to haunt them in the end.

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It's a cruel way to have the curtain brought down on your championship summer, but Waterford should take heart from the fact that their age profile means they will be back to challenge again next year.

And the first thing Derek McGrath should do is to make sure that Brick Walsh isn't harbouring any thoughts of calling time on what has already been an incredible career.

Walsh's ball-winning, distribution and all round work rate was off the scale again last night. He should give it at least one more year.

And when the rest of us have caught our breath, we can look back on two great games. Two games that saved the hurling season.

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