Friday 21 October 2016

Cody's men may need all their semi survival skills

T J Reid
T J Reid

For all you Kilkenny fans who are starting to feel jumpy ahead of tomorrow's date with the Déise, we have some statistical words of comfort.

This is Brian Cody's 16th semi-final in a 17-year span of unprecedented riches. Thus far, he has won 13 of those 15 semis with Galway the only county to buck the trend - twice, in '01 and '05.

That provides some context for what promises to be an intriguing collision between up-and-coming league champions and long-established superpower.

The counties haven't met since last year's league. What transpired was a humbling 20-point defeat for Derek McGrath, then in the midst of a fraught debut campaign.

McGrath had placed his trust in youth but, as policies go, it was a slow-burner.


This season, though, they've been a revelation. While Kilkenny can cite their near-perfect semi-final record under Cody, Waterford can counter with the here-and-now of nine wins, one draw and just one defeat from 11 league and championship matches this year.

Their defensive system has spawned multiple more column inches than victories. Whether you like it or not, clearly it's working. Moreover, you can scarcely question the productivity of a game plan that has delivered winning totals of 3-19 against Cork and 2-21 against Dublin, sandwiching their one losing blip, when confined to 0-16 against Tipperary.

They weren't far off the Munster final benchmark, trailing by just a goal beyond the hour before losing by five.

But that day in Thurles was still instructive of the journey yet to be made by the Deise. Last year's All-Ireland finalists eventually figured a way through the Waterford web.

Now the All-Ireland holders will provide another litmus test and - in the guise of Richie Hogan, TJ Reid (pictured) and Eoin Larkin - they have at least three forwards performing near the pinnacle of their prodigious talents.

Can Waterford's mix of man-markers and workaholic sweepers contain this stellar trio, plus Colin Fennelly and Ger Aylward?

Whether Hogan features on the '40 or at midfield is a moot point: either way he remains a massive threat, having carried last season's Hurler of the Year form into this summer's title defence.

Yet the prolific returns of Maurice Shanahan, and the ability of gifted young guns like Shane Bennett to slip seamlessly into the cauldron, must be an encouragement to the underdogs.

Their work ethic and their consistency have been season-long staples; now they must find an even higher gear.

If some top Cats misfire or suffer injury, Kilkenny's bench is no longer brimming with proven alternatives. In that scenario, this could get very interesting.

But can you back against Cody's 'semi' stalwarts? No.

Odds: Kilkenny 4/11, Draw 9/1, Waterford 3/1 Verdict: Kilkenny

All-Ireland SHC Semi Final: Kilkenny v Waterford, Croke Pk, Tomorrow, 3.30pm, Live RTE 2

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