Shane Stapleton reflects on Kilkenny’s two-point win over Waterford which sees them into a league semi-final against Cork.
Kilkenny 0-18 Waterford 0-16
A war of attrition at Nowlan Park, you say? Well, of course Kilkenny came out on top.
In truth, two hard-working performances couldn’t mask the meagre quality of hurling on show, in a game decided by the outstanding quality of free-taking from Billy Drennan.
The Galmoy youngster was peerless in wretched conditions all afternoon, sending his side into a league semi-final against Cork — a free hit to trial their championship tactics against a team from another province.
Waterford won’t be overly concerned by losing twice in the space of a week, though at least this time there were no red cards to continue that trend.
Davy Fitzgerald’s side were two points ahead with 13 minutes of normal time remaining, but fell away as they missed four of their final six scoring attempts.
Derek Lyng got an impact off the bench from Shane Walsh and Alan Murphy going down the stretch, though victory here won’t mask what was a somewhat turgid performance.
It goes without saying that the returns of Huw Lawlor, Adrian Mullen, Richie and TJ Reid — whenever that might be — will transform the side in key areas, and yet they need to settle other aspects.
Cian Kenny was again used in the half-back line and it didn’t work out, with Lyng withdrawing the Village man at half time. Paddy Deegan played as sweeper where he received multiple short puckouts and, perhaps by instruction, seemed to want to put every ball into the clouds.
It worked at times as Kilkenny got numbers to the breaks, and of course Reid will enjoy this type of ball, but it came at a cost of working it through the lines from deep. Though that may not be a Kilkenny strength, it is something they need to have if they are to beat the best.
Waterford missed five frees in the first half from a variety of ranges. Goalkeeper Billy Nolan and sweeper Tadhg de Burca went awry, while Patrick Curran sent a couple of askew closer to Darren Brennan’s goal.
In total, the Deise converted just seven of 17 opportunities in the opening 35 minutes — a 41% return which paled in comparison with Kilkenny’s 80% scoring efficiency (8/10).
The Cats tried to feed Eoin Cody — being tagged by Calum Lyons — as often as possible, with the deliveries largely directed towards the right corner-forward area of the pitch for Mossy Keoghan and Co.
The brilliant John Donnelly made an impact from further out the field, while youngster Gearoid Dunne once more showed some of the promise that has marked him out as a player for the future (a word of caution, though, he must concede fewer frees).
There was no goal chance and just seven points from open play in the first half, but for Kilkenny’s part at least they managed to get the ball into the hands of dangermen Cody and Drennan. They may have not been firing fully, but there was a sense of attempting to build an inside threat.
Lyng could well have used a Dessie Hutchinson in there, while Waterford decided that close to goal was the last place for that very man. The Ballygunner man roamed around the middle third, and it was only in injury time of the first half that we began to notice his presence.
Surely a large part of the Waterford game plan should revolve around getting the ball to Hutchinson near the opposition goal, though as with the Tipperary game that was not on the menu.
Shooting from further out seemed the order of the day, after attempting to puncture holes in the Kilkenny half-back line. Lyons came upfield more than once to do so, Colin Dunford was in and out doing likewise, while Neil Montgomery pointed down this route also.
In the game against the Premier, Waterford’s forwards had just three shots from play in the opening half for two points; this time, it was three from five attempts. Not quite the statistics of a side that can challengeed Limerick this year. In their defence, the absences of Austin Gleeson and Stephen Bennett helped not their case.
Simulation has been a hot topic in GAA recently, and it must be pointed out that the aforementioned Lyons clearly jumped into Donnelly on 33 minutes and pulled the latter to the ground, winning a converted free for the Deise.
If the GAA have the resources, retrospective yellow/black cards for such behaviour, with more than one offence leading to a one-match ban, should be brought in.
The Cats were the better side for much of the second half, with one concern being their only goal chance coming from a defensive spill by De Burca.
At the other end, Waterford also had a clear chance but Tom Barron blazed an effort over with the goal at his mercy on 43 minutes. That came amid a 0-4 to 0-0 scoring run for the Deise to move thee points ahead, but they presented minimal threat upfront thereafter.
Walsh, two Drennan frees, and then Murphy’s lovely point put the Cats in the lead during injury time. Waterford needed a goal and looked for one, but it would have been out of kilter with the game had one come.
We won’t see Davy and his charges again until April 23 when they host Limerick, and they will need to iron out plenty of kinks before then if they are to trouble the Treaty.
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