Kilkenny survive huge scare in Thurles thriller
Wateford denied after late rally forced extra-time
Waterford’s Kevin Moran scores the equaliser during normal time during the All-Ireland SHC qualifier against Kilkenny at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Kilkenny 1-22 Waterford 2-16 (aet): So, somehow, The Cats go marching on, Kilkenny still refusing to lay down their hurls just yet, thanks to a typically battling and utterly determined win over Waterford after extra-time at balmy Semple Stadium.
Before a combined attendance of 17,235 – Clare seeing off Wexford in the opening qualifier, after extra time – Kilkenny simply wore down a brave and somewhat fortunate Waterford, who did at least force the extra-time in dramatic style.
It’s a victory that puts Kilkenny into the last six of the MacCarthy Cup, and they’ll find out on Monday who exactly they will play in the All-Ireland quarter-final, set for two weeks’ time.
The dramatic conclusion to normal time almost defies explanation, as Matthew Ruth looked to have shot the late, late winner for Kilkenny – when in fact referee James Owens had blown for time, a split second before.
Kilkenny made amends for the strangeness of that decision in extra-time, hitting the next five points without reply, but then Waterford were handed another lifeline when Séamus Prendergast flicked off to Jake Dillon for a close-range goal – somehow defying the square ball rule in the process.
So, at 1-17 to 1-15, it was still all to play for, but Richie Hogan stepped it up considerably to hit one of the defining scores from Kilkenny. Then yet another lifeline for when Maurice Shanahan’s free was saved, but then popped into the net by Ray Barry, and so they were level again with two minutes to play.
At last, though, Kilkenny closed it out, three points without reply, the best from Colin Fennelly, finally bringing the curtain down on another hurling championship epic of 2013.
It was clear from the opening minutes that Waterford’s game was on – Richie Foley and Brian O’Sullivan opening the scoring from play in the first three minutes. They certainly weren’t lacking motivation either, as Waterford came to town seeking their first championship win over Kilkenny since the 1959 All-Ireland final replay.
Yet at times during the first half Waterford were almost over-enthusiastic, mistiming passes or simply taking the wrong option: still, they were up three points thanks to Foley, O’Sullivan and the excellent Darragh Fives before Kilkenny landed their first point, on 12 minutes, through Fennelly.
Things evened up after that, Hogan and Richie Power bringing it level on 27 minutes, after Waterford’s scoring suddenly dried up. Kilkenny briefly went in front thanks to a Noel Larkin free but then Dillon ended Waterford’s 14-minute dry run to ensure they went level for the second time.
But Kilkenny were back in front just in time for the break, thanks to a Power penalty that initially fooled the umpires. Aidan Fogarty was held back by Noel Connors, and Power hit the penalty with such ferocity that it was unclear whether Stephen O’Keeffe had saved it or not, as it jettisoned back out of the goalmouth with equal ferocity (with Walter Walsh then flicking it over the bar).
But after the Kilkenny players objected, clearly believing the ball had crossed over the line, Owens consulted with his umpires and they agreed the goal was indeed a goal, as Power’s shot had rebounded off the stanchion.
So, at 1-6 to 0-6, a perfectly timed boost for Kilkenny, and fresh doubt for Waterford, as the teams disappeared for their isotonic drinks.
The momentum stayed with Kilkenny, Power scoring easy, while at the same time – on 39 minutes – Henry Shefflin made his appearance.
That seemed to motivate Waterford, however, as they hit the next two points, Kevin Moran and then Fives, on 43 minutes. Further points were exchanged between Fogarty and Prendergast, but Waterford were still having a very hard time breaking down the Kilkenny defence.
Both teams looked increasingly desperate in search of scores, but Power’s second sweet free in succession put four between them, and Eoin Larkin then made it five, 1-11 to 0-9, on 57 minutes.
It seemed even then like a mountain for Waterford to climb, and so it proved, as time simply ran out for Waterford, while Kilkenny had every intention of holding out. Barry got it back to a two-point game with two minutes to play, then Kevin Moran’s long-range shot reduced it to one, before Moran, again, levelled it at the death.
But Kilkenny, as so often in the past, would have the last word.