John Allen: Waterford have the players to end Kilkenny hoodoo

Mental attitude will be vital for Déise while improved Tipperary can end Galway hopes

Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly and Pauric Mahony of Waterford shake hands after last Sunday’s thrilling drawn semi-final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly and Pauric Mahony of Waterford shake hands after last Sunday’s thrilling drawn semi-final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

From the start of the season a Tipperary/Kilkenny final was being forecast. Both teams had inauspicious enough finishes to their league campaigns but nevertheless the bookmakers weren’t being swayed by any short-term judgement on form or the absence thereof .

The facts ,according to them, were still the facts. Kilkenny are Kilkenny and Tipperary have enough quality players to be considered serious challengers.

So has anything changed that would alter that forecast?

Well Tipperary have shown a fair amount of very positive signs that they are serious challengers to the Kilkenny sceptre and crown and they are still the most realistic contender to possibly tumble the Cats to the ground where in the dust equal will be made (a bit of school poetry plagiarism there. Of course all this bit of prophecy might change and change utterly after tomorrow’s Kilkenny/Waterford replay in Thurles.

But of course Galway will have a say and on recent form maybe more than just a say. The usual clichés about them are padding out the column inches and the soundbites. There was much to please their supporters in their demolition of Clare. They, on that performance, might be on the way to having their best players in their best positions.

The composure

But really I suppose it is futile making comparisons with last year’s game. There are a number of changes on both sides and of course both teams are under new managements.

When the teams met then Galway were playing their sixth championship game. Tipp were on their third.

Second Captains

There was much to be impressed about in last years’ game but what impressed me most was the composure shown by both teams, particularly Galway, in the three minutes of added time. As the game headed towards a draw which seemed to be very much on the cards, Daithí Burke thundered out with the sliotar which he released to Iarla Tannian who in turn played a diagonal ball to Jason Flynn. Tannian was in a position to have a shot at goal which he didn’t take.

A minute later David Burke did the thundering, sliotar in hand, releasing to Joe Canning who on many occasions has shot from the 90 yards out he was from goal. But he released a beautiful diagonal ball to substitute Shane Maloney who sent over the winner. This was impressive.

On Sunday that kind of composure is necessary again against a team so skilful that are capable of inflicting mortal blows very quickly and sweetly as they did against Waterford. They play with the disadvantage of the five week break but they are definitely better than last year.

Galway will need to finish strongly which they don’t always do. For me Tipperary have the edge.

The burning questions for all hurling followers since Sunday last surrounds Waterford’s refusal or inability to be ahead of Kilkenny at the end of the terrific 75 minutes of action.

This was the game of the year so far. Derek McGrath and his management deserve huge credit for setting up his team to go toe to toe with Kilkenny. Down through the last decade we’ve seen Kilkenny dominate teams early on and end contests before half time. And while this isn’t a Kilkenny team of the same quality as five years ago, the Déise management were taking a big risk lining out traditionally, particularly coming off the heavy defeat they suffered in the Munster final.

I think Waterford now realise that they don’t need to play negatively and defensively. They will have learned much from Sunday’s performance and should go into tomorrow’s game with additional confidence.

It is probably fair to say that they wouldn’t be as competitive as they are in this early autumn of 2016 unless they had taken radical steps in the spring of 2015 to drag themselves up the pecking order. The defensive, high octane system was central to their progress.

Last year’s league win was a more than significant achievement given that they won coming from the second tier. Their three games with Clare this year consolidated their place among the serious championship contenders . But Sunday’s return to a traditional line-up and the subsequent attack-oriented performance will have added another layer to the confidence necessary to win tomorrow.

Positive history

Brian Cody

But it’s also a six-day turnaround which can’t be too helpful to Michael Fennelly in particular. He has been central to their latest two All-Ireland wins. He wasn’t central last Sunday and might find it difficult to be ready again in such a short time frame. Richie Hogan was the only forward who can have been happy with his performance from open play. There is room for much improvement there .

Waterford’s element of surprise is gone but they still have the players to complete the deed if they are in the right frame of mind.

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