Wednesday 24 January 2018

Waterford could be made to pay dearly for not taking their big opportunity

Shane Fives of Waterford in action against Colin Fennelly of Kilkenny last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Fives of Waterford in action against Colin Fennelly of Kilkenny last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

An interesting exercise after the drawn game was to study how each player on both teams played.

Waterford scored higher on an individual basis, nor was there anything wrong with their team play, yet Paul Murphy had a chance to win it for Kilkenny in the final seconds.

If that chance had fallen to a Kilkenny forward, or to Conor Fogarty or Michael Fennelly, it's probable that Kilkenny would now be preparing for the All-Ireland final, leaving Waterford wondering 'how the hell did that happen?'

That's a worry for Waterford. With the exception of the final few minutes when their shooting standards dipped and they retreated deep into their own half, conceding large tracts of ground in front of the Kilkenny goal, their performance was excellent.

Collectively and individually - the latter best illustrated by the exploits of Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony - Waterford zinged along at a high tempo, yet couldn't burn off Kilkenny, who weren't anywhere near their best.

At 0-22 to 0-17 after 54 minutes, Waterford's opportunity to record a first championship win over Kilkenny for 57 years was big and inviting, but remained unclaimed as Kilkenny won the remainder of the fascinating battle by 1-4 to 0-2.

That has to be of concern to Waterford. If they had maintained the strike rate of the opening three quarters (it ran at 0-7, 0-6, 0-9) they would have finished on 0-29, winning comfortably.

They could even afford a 50pc decrease in the final quarter and still win but instead it slumped by over 70pc, enough for Kilkenny to catch them.

Granted, it took Walter Walsh's goal to accelerate Kilkenny's desperate chase for survival but then it was so typical of them to capitalise on the chance.

How did Kilkenny survive on a day when their trademark fluency was missing for long stretches? It came down to character, resilience and an instinctive determination to continue the epic story.

Nobody typified it more than Eoin Larkin. Dropped from the starting 15, he was the first (of only two) subs that Brian Cody called from the bench.

He replaced Jonjo Farrell, who had found life a whole lot less fruitful than against Dublin and Galway, in the second half and made a massive contribution. Still, he returns to the bench this evening, with Farrell getting another chance.

Deployed deep, Larkin imposed himself relentlessly on the action, with a crucial block down setting the tone. It was as if Cody himself was on the field, leading by example.

Instead, it was his 'Village' clubmate who personified the manager's spirit as Kilkenny appealed to their emotions and got a favourable response.

It's easy to make a case why Kilkenny, having survived in such difficult circumstances, will summon their vast reserves of experience to methodically impose themselves on the replay, but there's a lot more to it than that.

And it's not all favourable to Kilkenny either. Waterford were the more coherent force for long stretches, maximising most of their opportunities while doing to Kilkenny what Kilkenny do to so many opponents - hunting them down with fearsome fervour.


There's absolutely no reason why Waterford can't again bring the latter quality to this evening's game. As for the precision that lit up much of their play last Sunday, it has to be there again if they are to win.

But then if they are to take their development to the next stage, it has to underpin their play all the time. After the horror of the Munster final, they need no reminding of what happens if they are even slightly off -line.

That awful performance against Tipperary seems a long time ago now and, quite correctly, Waterford are regarded as having a massive chance of unseating the champions.

And yet, it's hard to get away from the fact that Kilkenny survived on a day when their power supplies were erratic.

Waterford didn't take their chance and may live to regret it.

Irish Independent

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