Kilkenny hold their nerve in a thriller
All-Ireland champions forced to win game three times as Waterford dig deep
Richie Power’s penalty raises the green flag at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Kilkenny 1-22 Waterford 2-16
(After extra-time, Kilkenny 1-12 Waterford 0-15 after normal time)
Brian Cody is pulled from the debris of shattered bodies and broken wooden stakes with that calm glow of satisfaction normally reserved for their greatest All-Ireland victories. The only sense in all this now is that it makes no sense at all, that it’s looking less and less like the end of this Kilkenny team as it does another beginning.
They’re into the last six, more battle-hardened than ever, more fearless and fearsome too, and now they get a two-week breather before taking up arms again. They mightn’t be invincible anymore but suddenly the All-Ireland champions have never looked more unstoppable.
Cody knows it too – having seen on Saturday night the how and the why his team managed to win this game not once or twice but three times, after Waterford refused to lay down their hurls until the death, leaving every one of us in attendance at Semple Stadium rubbing our eyes in utter disbelief.
Kilkenny found the big players when they needed them most. In a game with constantly evolving starring roles, from Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly to Waterford’s Kevin Moran and Darragh Fives, and a couple of impossibly unpredictable turning points, it didn’t just come down to the team who wanted it more, but the team who could handle the adversity, and Kilkenny won both those battles with such brilliant determination that it must rank amongst their finest wins.
“It’s not about what we’ve achieved in the past at all,” said Cody. “The past now is just a memory. It’s not even a memory to me at all, it’s just something that happened one time. I think the hallmark of the team is very much that they always go out and work very, very honestly and play the game in a real genuine way. But all I can say is we’ll still have to improve . . .”
Rode their luck
Kilkenny weren’t perfect here, but Waterford rode their luck a bit in dragging it all out as long as they did – especially given the fact it all looked to be done and dusted after 70-odd minutes, as Mathew Ruth looked to have shot the late winner for Kilkenny – when in fact referee James Owens had blown for time, a split second before.
“All I know is we had a ball and I was sure it was going over the bar,” said Cody. “I don’t know when the whistle blew, I couldn’t hear it. But I was certain, obviously, we had won the game and then the lads said ‘it’s a draw’ and I said ‘okay, it’s a draw, that’s it . . .’
“But back in the dressing-room it was fine because excuses were banished from the dressing-room a long, long time ago. Any kind of a mental dip, or less than proper body language, and you’re handing over a phenomenal advantage to the opposition, and that would be a very, very silly thing to do. It could flatten a team . . .”
Yet it seemed then, having hit the last five points of normal time to draw level (the last from the impeccable Kevin Moran), the advantage was firmly with Waterford – especially given Kilkenny’s four games back-to-back to get here. Instead, Kilkenny hit the first five points of extra-time, and looked set to win it .
Then Waterford produced two goals before the end, and again inflicting some major psychological damage: first, Séamus Prendergast flicked off to Jake Dillon for a close-range goal; then, when Maurice Shanahan’s 20-metre free was saved, up popped substitute Ray Barry to slam the ball into the Kilkenny net, and so they were level again with two minutes of extra-time to play.
But as if on cue points from Colin Fennelly, Matthew Ruth, and Aidan Fogarty brought Kilkenny home, and yes deservedly so. Earlier, Richie Power’s penalty initially fooled the umpires, and only after the Kilkenny players objected, did Owens consul with his umpires, who agreed the goal was indeed a goal, as Power’s shot had rebounded off the stanchion.
Henry Shefflin played the last 20 minutes of normal time, and he’ll be a fitter, more productive player in the quarter-final, too. Indeed as hard as Waterford tried to wear them down, Kilkenny actually finished far stronger.
“Freshness!” joked Cody. “I suppose the game opened up very much then. Obviously a huge amount of effort and work had gone into the preceding 72 or 73 minutes from both teams, and the physicality maybe went a small bit out of it. But again we dug savage deep.”