John Mullane: Big lessons will be learned from Kilkenny defeat
Our young team might regret not having a real cut but Kilkenny had just too much craft
Waterford fans were bloodied but unbowed leaving Croke Park yesterday.
The overriding emotion at full-time was one of natural disappointment.
I was optimistic and indeed quietly confident before throw-in but the game itself showed that we remain a work in progress.
Still, if you'd told me at the start of the year that we'd be back at Croke Park with a young team and competing against Kilkenny, I'd have taken the arm off you.
Our lads will have learned so much from this experience. We got punished for an awful lot of mistakes at crucial stages but Kilkenny were applying savage pressure all over the pitch.
TJ Reid referenced 'work rate' after the game and how this week in training was all about bringing a high intensity to Croke Park.
They were phenomenal in this regard and at stages there were Kilkenny players chasing down their opponents even though they had no hurley in their hands.
This work rate, manic hunger and physicality is what defines them.
Add athleticism and skill to those qualities and you have the complete package.
The goal was unfortunate from Waterford's perspective as Reid got in behind Tadhg de Búrca and Barry Coughlan.
Reid showed massive leadership, particularly in the first half, and Cillian Buckley was superb.
Paul Murphy and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy were other standout performers and Ger Aylward picked off some fine scores when he came out around the half-forward line.
TJ has put himself in the running for the Hurler of the Year award but the current holder of that individual accolade, Richie Hogan, won't be too far away again.
There was talk all week that Hogan was struggling with a back injury but he still managed to deliver another fine display.
Our struggle for scores was a bit similar to the Munster final and while we remained a little over-reliant on Maurice Shanahan, Colin Dunford finished very strong in the second half and was our top scorer from play.
Overall, I thought we looked tired at stages. This is a group of players that has been training non-stop since last October and we seemed to run out of gas.
That's perhaps not a surprise because of the high-octane game that Waterford have been playing this year.
I noticed an element of fatigue in our U-21s against Clare in Ennis too but these boys are still developing physically.
Kilkenny were also ready for our tactics, content to play with their six forwards and Hogan peeling off in that number 11 role.
They were happy enough to keep a spare man, Paul Murphy, back and Jackie Tyrrell's replacement, Shane Prendergast, was excellent.
Kilkenny were worthy winners, there's no doubt about that, and the challenge now for Waterford is to build on this year's progress in 2016.
As Clare have found out since 2013, and Limerick this summer, there's no guarantee that more success will follow.
The surprise element is now gone from Waterford and I believe that Derek and his management team will look to make the team a little bit more expansive in their play next year.
I just wonder, though, when the lads wake up this morning, if they'll ask themselves a question. Did we really go for it? At half-time, I was happy and content but when Kilkenny went four or five points up, we never looked like getting a goal when it was badly needed.
I'd love to have seen us take a chance and have a real go at Kilkenny but then again, they forced us to go long and often with the long ball.
Maurice and Colin were outnumbered inside and, for Kilkenny, those aerial deliveries are bread and butter stuff.
It was the kind of game that sums up the championship to date. We're still waiting for that edge-of-your-seat game because Kilkenny looked comfortable and in control.
Still, Waterford had a go and in another 12 months or two years, who knows where this team could end up? They've certainly taken three or four steps forward from last year. I remember walking out of Nowlan Park after losing to Wexford in the qualifiers, with our supporters outnumbered four to one, and wondering where we were going.
But we have our pride back and again. Waterford fans have a team to be proud of and to believe in. Derek, his management team and players deserve huge credit for that.
Tipp's defensive versatility will come to the fore in Galway showdown
A championship summer that badly needs a spark might finally get one on Sunday at Croke Park, and boy could we do with a good game.
Despite Kilkenny's march to another All-Ireland final, I'm going to stick with Tipperary to lift the big prize next month.
To set up another titanic showdown with the Cats, Tipp must first get past the challenge of a dangerous Galway team at GAA HQ.
I still believe Kilkenny, and possibly Tipp, are a year or two further down the road ahead of the chasing pack in terms of progression. That's why Tipp have a tentative nod from me, but they may have to win a high-scoring shoot-out against Galway.
How they cope with Galway's forwards will make for interesting viewing, but unlike Cork, Tipp have the defensive personnel to cope.
Their defenders are versatile and capable of operating in multiple positions.
What Tipp will probably end up doing is detailing each of their six backs to follow an assigned Galway opponent wherever he roams, but the Tribesmen are very dangerous opponents. If they bring 80 or 90pc of what they brought to the table against Cork, Tipp will have their work cut out.
Tipp won't need reminding either that they were six points down against Galway in Thurles last year before finishing strongly.
Galway won't fear Tipp and are riding high on confidence. It should be a game to savour and it's brilliant to see Noel McGrath back in around the Tipperary camp.
Whether he's ready to feature or not, only time will tell but Tipp have enough about them to get over the line.
A cracker would be a bonus.