Shane Stapleton reflects on Waterford beating Kilkenny 2-27 to 2-23, and how Liam Cahill’s men came from nine points behind to win this All-Ireland SHC semi-final.
BY SHANE STAPLETON
From so bad to so good, and from imperious to porous.
It’s difficult to explain how Waterford could start the game in such a damp manner, and finish with one of the most pulsating All-Ireland semi-finals win you could hope to achieve.
Liam Cahill and success have been easy bedfellows in recent years, but we didn’t know if that would translate to senior level in his first year — disjointed by Covid — with a team force-fed defeat over the past two seasons.
The Deise are supposed to be the team that leaves it behind them, and missing four of their first five shots — some of them crazy efforts — before going nine points behind suggested we would see more of the same.
A third weekend running, a manager with not enough time time to mould his troops, history weighing on them, and coming up against Brian Cody who almost never loses semi-finals. A litany of excuses were there if they wanted them.
Then, it changed. Stephen Bennett collected a pass from Jack Fagan on 37 minutes, who had just picked an apple from the top of the tree over Paddy Deegan, and went off to the races — goal.
Austin Gleeson woke up, and turned into a bad man in a bad mood. The Mount Sion star thrashed over four points, bullied Kilkenny men with zealous tackling, and gave a reminder of who he can be.
Kilkenny, who had been so good in that first half as TJ Reid, John Donnelly and Martin Keoghan imposed themselves, began to shrink.
They had come from behind brilliantly to beat Galway in the Leinster final, but perhaps the memories of some recent collapses haunted them (the 2016 and 2019 All-Irelands, not to mention the extra-time loss to Waterford in 2017).
They coughed up a 16-point lead to Dublin, yet they found a way through late Alan Murphy and Huw Lawlor scores. Still, perhaps the scar tissue was there.
Between the 38th and 53rd minutes, the Deise hit 1-11 to 0-3 to go three points clear. The Cats kept their shoulder to the wheel, but it wasn’t for moving.
Niall Brassil might have steered a ball past Stephen O’Keeffe after a nice flick from Colin Fennelly, but otherwise it was Waterford pushing on and on.
Barron, Jamie Barron, shaked and stirred and was the key man in this pulsating win. He might have had a goal late on, but the Kilkenny defenders kept working and got back.
Dessie Hutchinson hit two points here and assisted for more, and sometimes it looks like as if his feet are too fast even for him to keep up with, but what a find he is proving to be.
For Kilkenny, their reliance on Reid (33) and Richie Hogan (32) suggests they need more from the younger men, though John Donnelly and Martin Keoghan did well.
Fennelly and Wally Walsh came on, and perhaps proved why Cody didn’t start them. Both can come back, of course, and they will need to.
The impact from the Deise bench was again clear, and the goal from Darragh Lyons propelled them to this win.
In the heel of the hunt, a Leinster title amounts to a positive season for the Cats, but the Deise look the real deal now.
Whatever sauce Cahill poured on his players at half time, you can be sure it was of the hot variety.
“Why the **** didn’t we do this in the first half?” came the roar from the Waterford huddle during the second water break, from some unidentified player.
To win an All-Ireland, they’ll never 70 minutes of what got them there from an improbable position.