Monday 18 December 2017

Waterford and Kilkenny to do it all again after epic Croke Park draw

Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-24

Shane Bennett, left, and Michael Walsh of Waterford in action against Cillian Buckley, Joey Holden, and Kieran Joyce of Kilkenny
Shane Bennett, left, and Michael Walsh of Waterford in action against Cillian Buckley, Joey Holden, and Kieran Joyce of Kilkenny

Dermot Crowe

Waterford and Kilkenny must meet again to decide who plays in this year’s All-Ireland after serving up the game of the year in Croke Park.

Waterford, outsiders going into the match after suffering a 21-point loss in the Munster final, produced a wonderful exhibition of hurling and looked set to claim a famous victory, their first over Kilkenny in the championship since winning the 1959 All-Ireland final. But a goal from Walter Walsh in the 69th minute brought Kilkenny level, having trailed by five points with 15 minutes to go.

Pauric Mahony scored his 14th point of the afternoon in stoppage time when Jamie Barron was fouled but Kilkenny, showing characteristic fighting spirit, saved the match when Conor Fogarty nailed a long range score from play with a minute of the five minutes of added time remaining.

At the end Waterford were the more disappointed, the only blip on an otherwise immaculate performance being a series of errors and wides in the final minutes, chances which they will greatly rue. One, from Kevin Moran, needed Hawkeye’s intervention with two minutes of normal time left. It ruled the effort wide and a minute later Barron spilled possession under severe pressure and Colin Fennelly put Walsh in the clear and he finished calmly from an angle.

The hurling standard was relentlessly captivating before a low attendance of 34,432, and contained a litany of memorable scores and some incredible fielding. Waterford went long on the puck out and the match was a relieving break from the stifling caution which has been a feature of the championship to date. Waterford had Tadhg De Burca sitting deep but they pushed more players up and competed heroically with Kilkenny in the air, with Moran and Austin Gleeson making some sensational fetches.

Gleeson finished with five points from play, giving an imperious display, but Pauric Mahony, who missed last season through injury, had the game of his life. His 14 point haul included four scores from play and he hit only one wide from 15 shots. It was illustrative of Waterford’s finishing, exemplary for the most part until the last few minutes. They hit only two wides in the first half and scored 13 points, Kilkenny responding with 12 points and three wides before the interval. Waterford had eight wides in the second half, though the majority arrived in the time when they led by a goal nearing the final whistle, one a lineball from Gleeson tailing a foot to the right of the post.

Tadhg de Búrca of Waterford in action against Conor Fogarty of Kilkenny
Tadhg de Búrca of Waterford in action against Conor Fogarty of Kilkenny

They defended tightly and denied Kilkenny a clearcut goal chance until Walsh’s late strike and they had two goal opportunities themselves, though both were half-chances: Shane Bennett in the first half was set up by Dillon, but quickly smothered and he lost possession; in the second half Moran went on a run but ran out of road and the ball went wide.

Kilkenny never gave up and Richie Hogan had another massive day, scoring four huge points in the first half to add to the five he notched in the Leinster final. Waterford managed to keep him scoreless in the second half but he won four frees which TJ Reid pointed. Reid didn’t have a major input from play but his 11 frees were invaluable to Kilkenny when many of their attack malfunctioned. Johnjo Farrell, who had been having a big season, had little impact and was taken off. They had more distinguished performances at the back where Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh put in massive performances. Conor Gleeson was one of three changes for Waterford from the win over Wexford in the quarter final and also had an excellent match.

Waterford didn’t start Patrick Curran aor Maurice Shanahan, and Darragh Fives wasn’t fit to play, but both forwards came on and scored. For most of the match Waterford led, Dillon putting them in front in the first minute and they took the game to Kilkenny. Not once did they rely on a short puck out, a refreshing change from the conservatism that has been a feature of this year’s championship.

They led 0-14 to 0-13 at half time and the teams were level for the sixth time when Hogan had his third score in the 16th minute. Wonderful scores from Mahony and Moran opened a three point lead but Walter Walsh, Hogan and Michael Fennelly had Kilkenny level again with 22 minutes played, 0-9 a piece. A brilliant catch and point by Gleeson started a run of three unanswered Waterford scores, before two late frees from Reid brought Kilkenny to within a point by half time.

Waterford restarted on fire, Mahony and Gleeson, with another exceptional score, extending their lead to three again. Reid, with a free, and Fogarty from play responded and by the 45th Kilkenny were level once more. In five minutes four Waterford scores pushed them four points clear and in the 54th minute they had a five point lead when Gleeson nailed his fifth of the day. A couple of Reid frees kept Kilkenny in touch and then Walsh’s goal stunned Waterford near the finish. They couldn’t have done much more to win it but this was another lesson in why Kilkenny are so notoriously hard to beat.

Scorers: Kilkenny - TJ Reid 0-11 (0-10 fs, 0-1 65), W Walsh 1-1, R Hogan 0-4, C Fogarty 0-2, E Larkin, M Fennelly, C Fennelly 0-1. Waterford - P Mahony 0-14 (0-9 fs, 0-1 65); A Gleeson 0-5, J Dillon 0-2, K Moran, P Curran, M Shanahan 0-1.

Waterford selector Dan Shanahan with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody
Waterford selector Dan Shanahan with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody

Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; C Fogarty, M Fennelly; W Walsh, R Hogan, J Power; J Farrell, TJ Reid, C Fennelly.

Subs: E Larkin for Farrell (45 mins); L Ryan for Joyce (49).

Waterford: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; Philip Mahony, T De Burca, A Gleeson; J Barron, K Moran; M Walsh, A Gleeson, Pauric Mahony; C Dunford, S Bennett, J Dillon.

Subs: M Shanahan for Dunford (half time); P Curran for Bennett (53); B O’Halloran for Dillon (63).

Referee: J Owens (Wexford).

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