Waterford turn Kilkenny upside down and inside out
Liam Cahill: ‘The real good sign for me was that fellas didn’t give up on it’
Kilkenny’s Padraig Walsh chases Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford (both centre) down the sideline of Croke Park during the All-Ireland senior championship semi-Final on Saturday night. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Waterford 2-27 Kilkenny 2-23
When the final whistle silently blew some of the Waterford players fell to the ground to stop it from spinning, the sound of their own breathlessness still ringing loud around Croke Park.
Seconds before, in the final act of this continuing thriller series that is the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, Austin Gleeson had signed off with the proverbial security point to seal their passage into a December final that will already stand loudly alone. Hold on, 2020 is far from done yet.
In doing so they denied a Kilkenny team that under Brian Cody had owned this territory for the last 15 years, the talk now not of his extended winning streak at the semi-final stage, but a first semi-final win for Waterford manager Liam Cahill, the Tipperary native, in his first season in charge.
Waterford had come armed to the teeth with scoring ambition and potential, second only to Limerick’s faultless artillery; averaging 29 points per game, from three games, yet found themselves playing periods in the first half here when even close to goal they couldn’t find a score.
Instead they found themselves down eight points shortly before half-time, seven points at the break, then outscored Kilkenny 1-11 to 0-4 in the time up the second water break, and still there was no let up from there. They turned the game upside down and inside out, Gleeson and Stephen Bennett showing them the way.
“Thrilled and delighted,” said Cahill, unshaken and only mildly stirred it seemed before he walked the steps back down the Waterford dressingroom.
“It wasn’t down to anything dramatic I said, I can assure you of that. It was down to the players. Just their decision-making was costing us big time, in the first half we left quite a number of easy plays and chances behind us. We just seemed to be off it, but our mindset more than our legs, and we just tried to address that.
“We needed the green flag or two, to give us that chance of getting back in the game, and thankfully we got that. And the real good sign for me was that fellas didn’t give up on it, they kept backing themselves, willing and wanted to turn it around. That’s what decent teams are made of, so very proud of the players.
“Every day you play a team like Kilkenny, you need that ruthlessness to see out matches as well, and credit to the likes of Austin Gleeson there, he gave it everything he had. If ever a performance epitomised Austin Gleeson that was it out there tonight, in fairness to the man, over my reign anyway, he’s brought a whole new aspect to the game, and I’m delighted for him in particular. And Stephen Bennett is having a marvellous year, isn’t he? He’s always been a good forward, the difference is now he’s delivering consistently, and thrilled for him too.”
Whatever was said at half-time was promptly put into action, Cahill saying the lack of a crowd may have helped keep him and his players focused. The final in two weeks will be played behind closed too, but Cahill implored the GAA to allow the full panel attend.
“It’s hard enough to have the restrictions, without putting more restrictions on who you let in. But the only thing I would demand is that the extending panel and the rest of the backroom team are allowed in, which is another 10, 15 max. That’s another massive plus.
“I suppose I was happy enough at half-time there was no crowd tonight, I’m sure I would have got plenty of advice going down the tunnel. It’s strange, but it’s taking nothing from the intensity on field, the ferocity is intensive.
“But I think it was a realistic goal, to make the final, without sounding confident or arrogant, but we did feel if we got the balance of the team right we’d have a good chance, and we’re looking forward to it now.”
Once into second half Waterford were digging into the deepest of reserves, this their third championship game in 13 days, fourth in five weeks; playing into the rising moonlight for the first half, they looked a little spooked early on, but then finished without any symptoms of the Third Week Syndrome.
Cody had written chapter and verse on the winning semi-finals: in this his 22nd season as Kilkenny manager, this was his 20th semi-final, having won 16, he now loses the first in 15 years, without any excuses whatsoever.
“We’d a seven-point lead at half-time, that was never unassailable,” he said. “I can say absolutely the game lasts 70, 74 minutes. They were very, very strong in the second half, won an awful lot of ball, were very athletic, got great scores. And that’s it, we were beaten fair and square.
“They were strong in the sky, but that’s hurling, they haven’t done anything thing any team hasn’t done before, they deservedly won the game.
“We had opportunities too and didn’t take them on, but we were still fighting at the end, got it back to two points near the end. They tried to keep going, and great credit the players, they gave it all they had, and came up short. If you lose the game, you can’t be making excuses. And certainly Liam Cahill is a very happy man going home this evening, the quality of Waterford was serious, and they fully deserved to win it.”