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Monday 26 September 2016

Deise hurl up a storm but fail to kill the Cats

All-Ireland SHC Semi-final: Kilkenny 1-21 Waterford 0-24

Walter Walsh reacts after scoring a late goal for Kilkenny during yesterday’s All-Ireland
SHC semi-final against Waterford at Croke Park Picture: Sportsfile
Walter Walsh reacts after scoring a late goal for Kilkenny during yesterday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Waterford at Croke Park Picture: Sportsfile

And now Waterford know, through blood-draining experience, that you need more than a crucifix or clove of garlic to kill off the Cats.

Derek McGrath's magnificent underdogs summoned up a performance of epic grandeur in Croke Park yesterday. Here was collective fire and brimstone - and individual brilliance, typified by the sublime contributions of Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson.

They had Kilkenny on the ropes, several times. And yet, in the dying seconds, they were left thankful for small mercies that a 75th minute turnover gift to Paul Murphy was spurned, his shot from midfield trailing wide.

When Mahony teed up Gleeson for his fifth point, on 54 minutes, the Deise led by 0-22 to 0-17 and a first SHC victory over Kilkenny since the 1959 All-Ireland final replay beckoned.

But they couldn't close the door. Crucially, their hitherto stellar accuracy went west after the hour in the guise of six wides on the spin.

Kilkenny, those masters at hanging tough in adversity, sensed their chance but still wouldn't have survived without Walter Walsh's 69th minute equalising goal.

Jamie Barron atoned for his error in the build-up by winning the injury-time free that gave the peerless Mahony his 14th point (and tenth from a placed ball) ... but by now a tiring Waterford had abandoned their new-found orthodoxy, allowing Kilkenny a short puckout that led by Conor Fogarty's equaliser.

So the All-Ireland SHC semi-final roadshow will take a Thurles detour next Saturday (6.45). Who knows, maybe the smaller venue will still attract more than the 34,432 who witnessed the match of the year.

When it was all over, Waterford probably didn't know whether to bemoan a glorious chance that got away or talk up their day-two prospects. McGrath summed up their mix of emotions, of pride and regret, when remarking how they were "on the cusp of 60 years of hurt being evaporated."

The Deise boss was loath to trumpet any "We don't fear Kilkenny" mantras, highlighting the "fairly startling" evidence of their record in replays. But, on a more defiant note, he added: "The lads will take great confidence out of it, and I think the people of Waterford will take great confidence out of the way the lads just gave everything."

Criticised

His selector, Dan Shanahan, spoke of how "no one gave us a chance ... only the belief we had in the dressing-room" and how they fed off this negative talk. "When you're being criticised in your own county by a lot of your so-called greats ... they're entitled to their opinion, you don't have to agree with it. A lot of talk about the sweeper system. People telling you how to sweep. Telling you how to play the game."

As it turned out, though, it was McGrath's decision to jettison their defensive structure and go man-for-man that allowed his young guns to flourish. But for Richie Hogan's superlative first half (and second half knack for winning frees, all nailed by TJ Reid) it could have been game over.

"I thought today was a savage game ... I know I'm always saying that," remarked Brian Cody. Only this time, no one could disagree.

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