Saturday 17 March 2018

Mahony and Déise fall just short in epic

All-Ireland SHC s-final replay Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 2-17

Colin Fennelly celebrates his second goal in front of a disconsolate Barry Coughlan during
Kilkenny's victory over Waterford in Thurles. Photo: Sportsfile
Colin Fennelly celebrates his second goal in front of a disconsolate Barry Coughlan during Kilkenny's victory over Waterford in Thurles. Photo: Sportsfile
Maurice Shanahan of Waterford in action against Joey Holden of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson of Waterford in action against Pádraig Walsh of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody reacts during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay game between Kilkenny and Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny supporters, from left, Andrew Brennan, age 8, Emma Manogue, aged 12, and Noah Manogue, age 10, all from 'The Village' James Stephens' GAA club prior to the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Was this the best double episode in hurling history? It can never be proven one way or the other, but those who are prepared to make the case will have lots of fun constructing their argument.

Level 15 times over the two games, with both sides enjoying periods of dominance only to be hauled back, so many scintillating scores that it's pointless trying to catalogue them, so much high-octane drama and physical endeavour that even watching it was energy-sapping.

And, near the end, extra-time beckoned when Pauric Mahony lined up a long-range free from the left-hand side. Sadly for Waterford, his strike lacked the purity of previous efforts. It appeared to have enough momentum to drop over the bar, only for Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy to fetch and clear.

Effectively it sealed the deal for Kilkenny and left Waterford bereft, facing a second sad retreat of the summer from Thurles, having also lost the league final replay to Clare in heartbreaking circumstances.

The seniors' close calls make it all the more important for the county that the U-21s win the All-Ireland, a task that seems within their scope.

Either way, Waterford are well-anchored and can look forward to being a serious force for a long time to come.

Derek McGrath's men weren't the first to discover that the task of unseating Kilkenny comes with challenges for which there can be no specific preparation.

Read More: Ferocious appetite of unbreakbale Cats underpinned by their messiah

Kilkenny, as ever, combined so many elements, on and off the pitch, to generate a force that ultimately proved unstoppable. It started with Brian Cody making three personnel, and several positional, changes from the drawn game.

Cody promoted Liam Blanchfield, Mark Bergin and Eoin Larkin to the starting 15 in place of Kieran Joyce, Jonjo Farrell and John Power. In the knock-on positional shake-up, changes were made in every outfield line except full-back.

It worked well. Blanchfield scored three points and came very close to poaching a goal. Larkin was always industrious, while the positional switches yielded results as well, primarily Michael Fennelly's relocation to centre-forward, where he delivered a thundering hour before being forced out with an Achilles tendon injury.

Conor Fogarty took time to settle at centre-back, but grew with the challenge, closing gaps that had been far too open in the drawn game.

Fennelly fire

Colin Fennelly hadn't scored a championship goal for over two years, but put two on the board in the first 10 minutes.

They were the perfect responses to Austin Gleeson's early goal and while Waterford added a second from Jake Dillon in the 20th minute, Fennelly's brace was crucial in settling Kilkenny into a positive rhythm that took them 2-10 to 2-7 ahead at half-time.

Some of James McGrath's decisions, especially in the second-half, angered Kilkenny - not least when a free was awarded against them after Jamie Barron was bundled over the sideline by what appeared to be a perfectly good shoulder in the 55th minute.

They were leading by three points at the time, but with marginal calls going against them and Michael Fennelly breaking down, it looked as if the gods were looking in the Deise's direction.

Fennelly's departure added a new layer of pressure, especially when Waterford defiantly hauled themselves level after 69 minutes, before TJ Reid pointed two frees in stoppage time.

Read More: Waterford fans fall in love again - but hats off to true champions

Maurice Shanahan pulled one back, before Mahony's late chance to level it up lacked the few vital inches which would have made all the difference.

McGrath's post-match comments that Waterford were trying to get away from the culture of moral victories encapsulated the attitude in the camp after two seasons of undoubted improvement, albeit without managing to beat Tipperary or Kilkenny from four attempts.

Still, there's so much for Waterford to enthuse about for the future.

It's painful now, but the reality is that they are right alongside Kilkenny in every department, except in experience of winning big games on a consistent basis.

Adding to Waterford's disappointment was the failure to capitalise on their escape from the goal drought after failing to score any against Tipperary, Wexford or Kilkenny (draw).

Indeed, this was the first time they scored more than one goal in the championship since last year's Munster quarter-final win over Cork.

It might well have been enough to make all the difference against any other opposition, but Kilkenny know exactly how to work their way through whatever problems confront them.

They did it again to book an All-Ireland final place for the 16th time in 19 seasons - 15 under Cody.


Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (6f), C Fennelly 2-0, R Hogan 0-4, L Blanchfield 0-3, P Walsh 0-2, E Larkin, M Fennelly, W Walsh 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-9 (7f), A Gleeson 1-2, J Dillon 1-0, Shane Bennett, J Barron, M Shanahan 0-2 each.

Kilkenny - E Murphy 7; P Murphy 8, J Holden 7, S Prendergast 7; P Walsh 8, C Fogarty 7, C Buckley 7; TJ Reid 7, R Hogan 8; W Walsh 7, M Fennelly 8, E Larkin 7; L Blanchfield 8, C Fennelly 9, M Bergin 6. Subs: L Ryan 6 for M Fennelly (8), J Farrell 6 for Bergin 61, K Kelly for Blanchfield (72).

Waterford - S O'Keeffe 7; S Fives 8, B Coughlan 6, N Connors 7; Philip Mahony 7, T DeBurca 7, C Gleeson 7; J Barron 7, K Moran 7; M Walsh 8, A Gleeson 8, Pauric Mahony 7; Stephen Bennett 7, J Dillon 7, Shane Bennett 7. Subs: M Shanahan 8 for Stephen Bennett (47), P Curran 6 for Shane Bennett (54), T Devine 6 for Dillon (60).

Ref - J McGrath (Westmeath)

Irish Independent

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