Nicky English analysis: Waterford throw off the shackles

Plucky performances in the hurling match of the season

Waterford manager Derek McGrath  said in a pre-match interview that his team had decided to go for it, and they came out with all guns blazing:  Photograph: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Waterford manager Derek McGrath said in a pre-match interview that his team had decided to go for it, and they came out with all guns blazing: Photograph: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

 

It took its time arriving, but this was a worthy match of the season and the best in even longer than that. I was delighted that Waterford finally opted for a more free-flowing game and threw off the shackles. As manager Derek McGrath said in a pre-match interview, they decided to go for it.

Credit to them that they came out all guns blazing with a more orthodox, man-for-man formation and were superb all the way through.

Players who had had a nightmare in the Munster final were superb – Noel Connors, Tadhg de Búrca, who after a ropey start on Richie Hogan did a lot of hurling thereafter, and in the middle of the field against the much vaunted Kilkenny pair of Michael Fennelly and Conor Fogarty, Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron were exceptional.

Austin Gleeson was absolutely amazing in an orthodox, centre forward role and scored five points, necessitating the removal of Kieran Joyce and extensive surgery, which required Fogarty to go centre back. Pauric Mahony was at the same level from frees and play and you’d have to ask why they didn’t win, as to me they were the better team.

They had the All-Ireland champions on the brink of extinction and at three points ahead with time ticking away, they probably got overly-anxious in the run for the line and just narrowly failed with chances for Gleeson and Moran – the latter with a man better positioned.

Adding to the dramatics was the intervention of Hawk-Eye, which over-ruled both even after the latter had been signalled a score by the umpire.

Pauric Mahony and Brian O’Halloran had snap shots to take the vital score that would have put them four ahead, but just couldn’t make it happen. Kilkenny were on life support but still breathing.

Second Captains

Unfortunately for Waterford, they not alone fluffed those chances but all the time were abandoning the conventional formation and withdrawing further and further back, inviting Kilkenny on to them and leaving themselves open to the sucker punch which duly arrived with a classic goal by Walter Walsh.

Stunning finish

Waterford did really well to steady themselves and get back up the field. Jamie Barron’s run that ended in a free gave them a second chance, but their retreat from the puck-out showed the lack of experience.

Kilkenny had time not just to go to the first receiver but move it on to Paul Murphy and then to Fogarty, now at centre back; he showed tremendous bottle to go for the score and get it.

Waterford will be really disappointed that they only got a draw, but in the last play of the game, without an outlet Barron had to throw an aimless pass and was lucky it fell to Paul Murphy, who wouldn’t be the most practised at shooting winning points.

For me, it re-affirmed my belief in the potential of Waterford and that they’re capable of mixing it with the best. They went for it and did create goal chances – Shane Bennett in the first half and Moran in the second half – but in contrast to Kilkenny they lacked the slickness when the chances presented.

You have to hand it to the spirit and commitment but above all the know-how of Kilkenny. Able to hang in during a match that’s going against them – most of their players were second-best on the day, even in key positions, blown out of it at midfield and their first touch wasn’t sharp by their standards – they took their frees and made sure they stayed in touch.

Waterford showed a little lack of composure in conceding so many frees, although they’ll rightly feel aggrieved at a couple of them. Shane Fives was penalised for picking a ball off the ground and that to me was a wrong decision.

That composure deficit was also visible in the way they lost their shape at the end, but rectifying that comes with experience.

They’ve learned a huge lesson so far this year. They also showed savage work rate. To win silverware, I think you have to go man-to-man and by my metric you need to be better in nine of the 15 positions.

Unlucky

This will give Waterford plenty of heart, but if you get a chance to slay the dragon, you’d better make it count.

That Kilkenny were still breathing fire is a tribute to them but have they more where that came from?

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