Waterford 1-15 Kilkenny 0-17
A good start to the Allianz Hurling League for Waterford was marked by the county's first win against the hosts in Nowlan Park for 13 years but it must have left their supporters a little mystified as to how a match they controlled for so long ended up in a breathless victory by the minimum margin.
After the high-summer festival of last August in Thurles this was altogether a more wintery occasion on a chilly afternoon in front of 8,793. The contest was dominated by rucks and the free-takers on either side – Pauric Mahony and TJ Reid each ending up with 10 points, all but two of which came from dead balls.
The wind played some part in the fluctuation that saw Waterford’s productivity dry up in the second half but Kilkenny led for only two minutes during the entire match and trailed from the ninth minute until the final whistle.
Yet the home side had a couple of chances to nail the elusive point and draw the match, the last, four minutes into injury-time when Richie Hogan dug out a shot under pressure but comfortably within his range, which fell wide of the right-hand post.
This promises to be a testing season for both counties: Kilkenny needing to refurbish the shop after losing last year's All-Ireland and Waterford carrying the expectations of an All-Ireland under-21 win and the agonising loss of last summer's senior semi-final replay against Brian Cody's team.
Manager Derek McGrath was predictably delighted with the victory and the manner of it with industry required in greater quantities than artistry.
“Look, 1998 was the last time we won in Thurles up until last year; 2009 was the last time we beat Kilkenny at Walsh Park in a competitive game up until last year, and this is the first time since 2004 we have beaten Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
“These are the milestones you look back on, but only if you have achieved the ultimate aim I suppose. If you want to try and build an absolutely selfish CV you would say those things, and I’m probably contradicting myself by saying those things but they don’t really matter for Waterford people now at this stage.
“We are just interested in getting better, and I keep saying it but we are going to stick with our process with player selection. Even with next Sunday in mind, we are going to give another couple of guys a go and see how they go against Tipp.”
McGrath has an established supply line with the recent under-age successes and although he is anxious not to make assumptions either about the certainty of success at senior level or its rate of arrival, his material is more scissor ready than Cody has at his disposal.
Although the Kilkenny manager as usual refused to make an issue of injuries there was little enough to stir his enthusiasm in Sunday’s auditions for leading roles.
Waterford maintained the lead at three or four for most of the first half. The central score was Patrick Curran's 13th minute goal, finished after a run from Tom Devine had opened up the defence for a 1-3 to 0-2 lead. The metronomic tick of frees on either side (13 of the 22 scores in the first half) kept the margin hovering around that mark and at the break the visitors led by 1-11 to 0-10.
Waterford’s forwards looked livelier and dragged their markers in all directions as well and if as some locals hope – and it’s not outlandish – Pádraig Walsh can make a go of a move to full back in the style of JJ Delaney, he’ll have better afternoons than this. Overall the defence was subdued, fumbling ball uncharacteristically and struggling in the air.
Kilkenny did however manage to stay afloat with some smart points from Hogan, Pat Lyng (who was carried off in the second half and awaits a scan for his injured knee) and Ollie Walsh.
Walter Walsh came on in the second half to add some heft and aggression but Waterford's defence remained steady with Noel Connors keeping a tight rein on Hogan and Tadhg de Búrca sweeping effectively.
Jamie Barron earned a merited Man of the Match award with his usual work rate and perpetual motion garlanded by three points, two of which in the second half were ultimately crucial to the result.
Waterford went 21 minutes without a score during which time the margin fell to two, 0-14 to 1-13, before Mahony’s 63rd minute free got the scoreboard moving again.
Kilkenny though and needless to say, finished like a train, suddenly awaking to the prospect of getting something out of the match. Eoin Murphy, who had made a terrific save from Shane Bennett in the early minutes, struck a free from his own 65 and Kieran Joyce bounded up the field in injury-time to reduce the margin to a point.
They ran out of road but it was a deserved milestone for Waterford.
WATERFORD: 1. I O'Regan; 4. N Connors, 3. B Coughlan, 2. S Fives; 9. C Gleeson (0-1), 5. T de Búrca, 17. S Daniels; 8. J Barron (0-3), 10. K Moran (capt.); 12. M Walsh, 21. M Kearney, 11, P Mahony (0-10, nine frees, one 65); 20. Shane Bennett, 23. T Devine 13. P Curran (1-1). Subs: 6. A Gleeson for Kearney (53 mins), 22. B O'Halloran for Bennett (55 mins), 15. J Dillon for Devine (63 mins), 19. G O'Brien for Curran (69 mins), 7. S McNulty for Daniels (73 mins).
KILKENNY: 1. E Murphy (0-1, free); 2. J Holden, 3. P Walsh, 4. C O'Shea; 5. P Murphy, 17. K Joyce (0-1), 7. C Buckley; 8. O Walsh (0-1), 9. C Fogarty; 10. P Lyng (0-1), 11. TJ Reid (0-10, six frees, two 65s), 12. S Morrissey; 13. J Farrell, 14. L Blanchfield (0-1), 15. R Hogan (0-1). Subs: 25. W Walsh (0-1) for Morrissey (half-time), 22. P Deegan for O Walsh (52 mins), 24. R Leahy for Lyng (56 mins), 19. S Prendergast for Buckley (61 mins), 23. C Martin for Blanchfield (73 mins).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).