John Allen: If Waterford take different route they could surprise
The All-Ireland hurling semi-final looks like a foregone Kilkenny victory for most
Waterford’s Tadhg de Búrca (centre) excelled in the sweeper role for Waterford against Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium last month. Photograph: Donall Farmer.
The quarter-final was just finished. Waterford were winners . The prize, arguably, was of the booby variety though. Kilkenny in the semi wasn’t really a just reward for a team trying to jump back up onto the confidence treadmill.
There was a bit of talk in Thurles that Sunday evening of it being difficult to fathom what the game did for Waterford. There was a lot being made of the wide count just witnessed. There was agreement Wexford weren’t great and that the game wasn’t of the highest standard. There was also a recognition that it was good to see Waterford rise again from the ashes of that beating inflicted by Tipperary.
There was such hope prior to that game. A capitulation of the kind witnessed wasn’t even a consideration. The general consensus, prior to that game, was that Waterford were better than last year. They had the two league finals as championship preparation. Since last year they had star forward Pádraig Mahony back on the field of play.
They also had given a fair bit of game time to a number of inexperienced players in the league campaign. They had reversed the league final result when they defeated Clare in the Munster championship.
The team were in a good place heading into their second Munster final in a row against the same opposition. But the underwhelming performance against Tipperary came completely out of the blue.
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Yes they dominated the game but did they learn any lessons from the Tipp game which were used against Wexford. The answer is not much it seems. Yes the work rate was high. Yes the amount of scoring chances created was high but the shot to score ratio wasn’t. The absence of inside forwards for long periods in the game meant there was little likelihood of them scoring many or any goals.
Tadhg De Búrca was excellent again as a sweeper. But will they beat Kilkenny with a similar performance? They go into the game as firm underdogs. There was much to be hopeful about approaching the Munster final. There is much to be fearful about approaching this game.
Given the strong second-half Kilkenny played against Galway in the Leinster final and the contribution of Richie Hogan when introduced as a substitute, it would be foolish to predict anything other that a victory for the All-Ireland champions.
If this was a court of law and the jury was weighing up the evidence before delivering their verdict I think their deliberation would be quite a short one and the judge would rule in favour of a Kilkenny victory on Sunday.
Prior to the Waterford/Tipperary game the evidence was probably weighted toward a Tipperary victory but only marginally so.
When pundits reflect in an effort to preview games and predict results the hard evidence has to be the main criterion.
The cold facts point to a Kilkenny victory. Has there been any shred of evidence at all to suggest Waterford could cause a shock?
Thread of hope
Winning in these conditions gives an indication of the resolve that this team possesses. The form of the under-21 team also has to be a source of confidence within the camp. But yes I know this is Kilkenny and they are seasoned and full of belief.
Their championship season performances to date have been workmanlike and at the usual intensity and ferocity.
But, all that being acknowledged, I think Waterford have a realistic chance of causing an upset. But they need to keep three forwards in the full-forward line area. They have to create (and obviously convert) more goal chances.
Their half forwards and midfield could play deep to augment their half-back line. They probably need to discard with the sweeper system and believe in the players and their ability to match Kilkenny .
In Kilkenny’s case the obvious usually is but there are been a number of surprises across a variety of sports this year and maybe Waterford’s time has come to join the list.